Our 3rd Service Experiment: The results are in…

In February, we began our “3rd Service Experiment,” with an intent of trying out three Sunday morning services for 13 Sundays – through April.  The Board charged the staff team with moving forward with this experiment in December because they realized that 2 services could not accommodate the numbers of people who wanted to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Our goal for the three services was to learn as much as we could about what it would take to sustain 3 Sunday services (how hard would it be?!), how people would react to an earlier (or later) service, and whether or not it would indeed accomplish the goal of serving more people.
In the past few weeks, our Committee on Shared Ministry (Glenn Pearson, Margie Wagner, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Sue Sullivan and Ward Sutton) have held a few feedback circles with various groups to help gather up some of this information we hoped to learn. These have provided us critical information as we begin to look ahead to the next steps for our worship services this summer and beyond.
If you weren’t able to attend one of these circles, I hope you will fill out this short survey about YOUR experience and lessons from the 3rd Service Experiment (By the end of April, please!).
We have two big pieces of news resulting from our lessons learned and our feedback so far.
First – much to our surprise – is that, instead of asking us to hurry up and be done with the three services – there is a shared desire to extend the three services through May 21st when our regular religious education classes will conclude. Anything sooner would disrupt our classes and our teachers too much.  Also, as a staff team, we have realized that a third service isn’t that hard – we actually like it! We like that it means more space for all who come, and that we can indeed serve more people.
Which brings us to the second insight – which is that for the period of February through this past Sunday, we are consistently serving nearly 40% more people than we did this time in any prior year.  Instead of seeing attendance plateau at our seating capacity, and then drop back down, it’s remaining steady, and growing.  Whereas previously we would see 200-300 adults on a Sunday, we are now routinely seeing between 350 and 450.  There are probably multiple reasons for this, but we can say with confidence that we are accommodating more people on Sunday morning, which was the goal.
Also, for the summer time, based on last year’s numbers we know that we need to have 2 services instead of 1. The summer time seems like an ideal time to offer our 8:00 service.
All of this means that, starting on Memorial Weekend and running through Labor Day, we’ll hold services at 8:00 and 9:30, with an extended fabulous social hour/community fun time at 10:30.
After Labor Day we will return to three services – and the times for these will be sorted out based on your feedback in the survey as well as through other efforts to collect feedback.
Thank you so much for your willingness to try out this experiment, and for making space for all who want to gather with us on Sundays. I know it has sometimes meant stepping out of your comfort zone, missing out on seeing some of your usual friends on Sundays, and changing around your routines.  Thank you for keeping your senses of humor in tact and for learning along with us so that we can keep serving our mission in these times when our church and our values are so needed, by so many.  33682878575_f8987089f2_k.jpg
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Third Service Experiment, from Board of Trustees Member, Gale Whitman

“Welcome to Foothills; sorry we don’t have any seats left!”

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A very cozy congregation

Have you noticed how full the church is on Sunday mornings? While it’s wonderful that so many people are coming to church, the members of the Board of Trustees are wondering how many folks we are unwittingly turning away, with the message that there’s no room for anyone new here.

Our parking lots are full; the sanctuary – even if there are a few seats available here and there – looks full; there is often a scramble to put out enough chairs in the Social Hall at the start of services for the overflow from the sanctuary. It’s easy to see how a newcomer may feel discouraged from coming back and finding their spiritual home with us.

Aligning with our congregation’s new mission statement to “unleash courageous love in Northern Colorado and beyond,” The Board of Trustees has enthusiastically asked the ministers and staff to explore adding a third service to Sunday mornings at Foothills Unitarian Church. For now we mainly want to make more space to serve the people already coming and to keep them coming.

Beginning in February 2017, and continuing for 12 Sundays through April, the “Third Service Experiment” will be conducted. The times of the three services will be 8:00am, 9:30am and 11:30am. There will be a short social hour from 9:00-9:30 and a longer one from 10:30-11:30. The nursery will be open and pre-K through 2nd grade religious education (single classroom) will be offered at 8:00; the other two services will continue with the current arrangements for the 9 and 11 services.

More details will be coming from the staff team, and the Board will be hosting an informational forum on January 18. Throughout the experiment, we want to hear from YOU about how it is working… there will be regular opportunities to give us your input and dialogue with church leaders.

We look forward to learning from this experiment and using your feedback to prepare for a longer term third service effort. Together we are Unleashing Courageous Love!

The power of presence

brene-brown-courage-show-up.jpgWhat can I do? When things feel off track in our lives or in our world, most of us ask ourselves this question.  We want to help, to act – do something! Yet so often, there isn’t anything really obvious to do, which makes us feel helpless, confused, and even more distraught.

One thing that is often overlooked is also one of the most powerful ways to have a big impact – which is to simply show up.  Show up for your friends with a phone call, email, or text asking simply, “how are you?” Show up for your children or grandchildren with your full attention sans phone or other distraction.  Show up for your friends or for others in the church with coffee, or a meal.  Show up on Sunday with a friendly smile and a “welcome!” Show up for your neighbors by cleaning off their walk as well as yours.  Show up for your own life, fully present.

The power of our presence is also instructive when it comes to our response in our greater community.  For example, the immigration-advocacy group, Fuerza Latina has launched 9 different committees to begin work in various ways to tend to the safety, protection and care of immigrants in our community.  At the meeting of the Sanctuary City group on Monday, I was struck by the power of two dozen of us in the room together, all self-selected citizens just wanting to “do something,” and struggling to figure out once again, what to do.

There were CSU leaders, dairy farmers, teachers, social workers, and scientists – and everything in between.  Together we stumbled through the questions and task before us, the question of organizing ourselves and coordinating, and attempting to articulate what it was we hoped to accomplish.  I’m not sure what will come of it, yet the showing up together remains important.  We need to be together, learn together, question and struggle together.

Throughout the meeting it struck me how many other meetings just like this are happening not just in our city, but across the country.  Democracy and human relationships are clumsy and slow and yet also beautiful and kind and so well-intentioned. Sometimes the lessons of showing up aren’t just about what you get done, but about cultivating the patience and the perspective to remain steadfast through all the messiness of the real work.

Fuerza Latina is just now getting clear about how best to leverage the great desire to “do something” that exists in our community.  I’ll let you know as these and other more action-based opportunities become more clear.

Until then, showing up for one another and for our immediate circle remains vital, and foundational.  We have a long road ahead, and our presence for one another and in our own lives is what will make all the difference as to whether or not we can keep showing up for our neighbors – and whether we can, as I said on Sunday, keep doing so with joy, laughter, love – and dancing!

Thank you for your partnership, and for your continued presence.

 

The space for courageous love

Check out the video above for the video version of this blog – or if you prefer, read the text below…or both! 

You may have noticed that we are often at our capacity on Sunday – these past few weeks, even more so.

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Look at how full that sanctuary is! 

Recently, we reviewed our worship attendance data for the last 8 years, and we realized, that we’ve been at capacity pretty much that whole time.  We’ve flirted consistently with 80% of capacity, to be specific – sometimes above, sometimes below – but never really staying above for too long.  This is important, because studies show that once you hit 80% of capacity, your attendance flatlines because people get a subconscious message that there isn’t enough room for them.  And that’s exactly what our data shows.

Even before the election, we were pondering what to do about this.  But with the results of the election and the many big questions before us, it is even more urgent that we ensure that we are making space for all who may be needing a religious community grounded in the practices of courageous love.  The data shows, capacity is the driver – and so our question is: how do we increase capacity?

With all this in mind, the Board has asked the staff team to explore a “3rd Service Experiment” beginning around February and continuing through April – during which we could figure out what it would take to maintain 3 services over the longer run, if it’s possible, and what will work best.

We know that this will require some discomfort on all of our parts – but as I said in a prior blog post – unleashing courageous love does not mean being comfortable, but only the safe place in which we can manage discomfort, together. So our hope is that we can learn together, grow together, stumble together, offer each other grace – all of which will allow us to truly unleash the big huge love that exists within us and among us.  We need this, the world needs it – now more than ever.

I’ll keep you updated as our staff and lay teams for worship and religious exploration start to figure out the details.  For now, I am so grateful for your partnership at this time, grateful to be learning with you, wrestling with these big questions together, and unleashing courageous love, together.

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This photo is from our gathering at the Islamic center last year….A year later, there are even more souls who are hungry to gather in light and love – how will we make space for all who seek to join together on this journey – the space for the greatest impact for courageous love to be unleashed?

Seeking Partners in a Shared Creation

It’s the time of year where we are actively looking ahead to the new year and seeking out new partners to be a part of this great shared ministry that allows us to serve our mission and bring greater life and love to both those within our congregation, as westewardshipll as far beyond.

If you are seeking to serve and offer your gifts in the congregation, take a look at this list and see if there’s something here that may be a fit for you – that place where service and joy overlap.  If you’re interested in learning more, and finding your place in the partnership of our congregation, please let Rev. Haley know at gretchen@foothillsuu.org.

  • Hospitality Learning Community – We are looking for those who care about making this a welcoming congregation for all who arrive or who have been here for a long time.  The “Learning Community” aspect means that rather than a set agenda, this group tries to ask questions and learn ways to better practice hospitality as a congregation, and brings these experiments and ideas back to our wider congregation. Time Commitment: Monthly gatherings for learning and building connections with others, and then additional time based on the experiments and learnings the group discovers.  We ask for at least a one year commitment.
  • Auction Team – Now seeking partners in putting on our annual goods and services auction.  This is a great way to have a big impact on the congregation and our mission, and throw a big party along the way! We’re looking for people who are good at organizing others and a fun event, those who enjoy reaching out to the congregation as well as the wider community for donations, and then we also need help with data entry and details. There are a few different jobs, and we’ll work with you to make it work.   Time Commitment: Varies based on the role, but is concluded by November 2016 when the auction occurs.
  • Grocery Cards – Our longtime volunteer overseeing our Grocery card sales is retiring.  We need someone who is detail oriented and who loves to make a major impact behind the scenes to step in and manage this important fundraiser for the church. Time commitment: Weekly in-office and some outreach to wider community.
  • Religious Exploration Teachers – We are beginning to think about RE Teachers for children and youth for the fall.  No experience necessary. This is a great way for you to go deeper into your faith journey and Unitarian Universalism – by teaching our kids! Eleanor makes this easy and meaningful for all who teach.  Time Commitment: Twice a month, along with an orientation session at the beginning of each church year.
  • Small Group Leaders – We are hoping to launch a number of new groups in the fall, and we have a good number of leaders who are wanting to step back.  Maybe you’d be interested in facilitating a group as they grow in self-awareness, understanding, connection with others, and courage in living the life they hope to live….? This is an incredibly meaningful way to serve and give.  There is training and ongoing support if you are interested – as well as many different options for day and time.  Time Commitment: Varies – after an initial 3 hour training, groups can run for 4-10 sessions if they are “closed” once the initial registration is set, or indefinitely if they regularly find ways to integrate new people.
  • Office help – We are always in need of a little extra help in the office – filing, printing, sorting, organizing, data entry, answering phones……everything! Time Commitment: Can be one-time or ongoing, very flexible!
  • Finance Team – If you love numbers and budgets, this is the place for you! We meet monthly and review the current cash flow and budget, as well as other financial reports.  We try to catch financial challenges the church may be facing early, and brainstorm ways to address it.  We work directly with the Administrator and the Senior Minister, and have a strong ongoing dialogue with the Board.  Time Commitment: Monthly meetings.
  • Caring Cards – We are always looking for a few more folks willing to help at our Caring Cards Table. These cards are a great way for our congregation to send our love and support to someone through a difficult – or joyous – time in their lives.  Those who staff it also end up hearing about other joys and sorrows in people’s lives, and os it is important that this person be a good listener and someone people feel comfortable talking to and with.  Time Commitment: Sign up for as few or as many Sunday services as you would like!
  • Ushers and Visitor’s Table Greeters on Sundays: Although it is going pretty well with our groups filling Sunday roles, there are often still gaps.  We could use about 10 new people to sign up as “Free Rangers,” which means, we’ll call you if the group can’t find enough people for their service.  Ushering and greeting are among the best way to meet new people – and you’ll be going a long ways towards making this a more hospitable congregation.  Time Commitment: Could be one Sunday, or multiple.  Can be both services, or just one.
  • Meals Team: It can mean so much when one in our community is sick or has experienced a loss, or whose spouse or other family member is injured or ill, for another in our community to bring a hot meal.  We are always looking for people willing to be on the list to bring a meal when it is needed.  Once you’re on the list, you get an email when meals are needed, and then you can sign up for a slot that works for you.  Time Commitment: Bring one meal, or many – based on your schedule and capacity.

Again, if there’s something here that strikes you as a fit for your gifts and skills, let Rev. Haley know.  If there’s nothing here that quite fits, but you still are trying to find a deeper connection and ownership in the church, please let Kathryn our office assistant – kathryn@foothillsuu.org or 493-4906 – know so that she can track your interest on our gifts and service database.

Moving Forward Together

12247140_10153987859389156_6166450952576757111_nOver the past few weeks, there have been a lot of pictures of me up and around.  It’s been a little uncomfortable, I confess.  The process as a whole has been an interesting and important one, for all of us – sometimes uncomfortable sure, but also sometimes funny, sometimes exhilarating – and often filled with love and grace.
Still, I think the more accurate picture, the more helpful picture for us to lift up at this point is the one I see when I am looking out on Sunday: the whole wonderfully crowded sanctuary and social hall, filled with all of you in all the places you are in your lives, the stories I am aware of, the many I am not, the ways you are connected to each other, the ways you care for each other, your commitment to this church and our liberal religious faith, the questions we all have, the struggles and the triumphs, together. Our church and a successful ministry isn’t about any one of us, and definitely it isn’t me – it’s about us – all of us, together.  We are all in this together, all of us.
In these first few days since my call, I have begun to think about the work ahead, and what we will need to do, and when and how we’ll need to do it.  Over and over I come back to the message I offered the first Sunday of candidating week:

Imagine, it is our task to create an environment and the appropriate forums for it to be safe for any of us to speak honestly, about those things which matter most – about our fears, our hopes, and struggles…..Imagine it is our core task to make space for all the different metaphors, and language, and meaning-making any of us might engage along life’s journey….And imagine that in our Big Tent, rather than believing it is possible to hold this much diversity and maintain a perpetual sense of ease, imagine that it is our practice to be that ‘safe place where we can be uncomfortable.’ …..Imagine that central to anything we do is our Big Tent where we make space for all who welcome all.

As your new senior minister, this is my central commitment to you and to this congregation, that we continue to cultivate an environment where all are truly welcome – all those who are willing to practice with us this idea of welcoming all who welcome all.

To begin, I know that there were a number of you who hoped for a different outcome to my call. I’d like to hear from you.  I want to listen to your concerns and your fears, as well as your hopes and your dreams.  I’d invite you to write me a letter, or make an appointment – after Thanksgiving, perhaps.  I promise I will not take your vote personally or hold it against you – I will respect you – in this, and in all things, to come to your own conclusions.  That is what a free church must ultimately continue to affirm – a trust and a faith in the people to freely choose – and to respectfully disagree.  There is no coercion in covenant – choice is perpetual, and choice is powerful.

And just as importantly, for those who are excited about the outcome, I’d love to hear from you as well.  What inspires you, and how do you see yourself fitting in the journey ahead? And, what questions do you have? What ideas, hopes, needs?

Far beyond this moment, over time, any of us may disagree around small or big things.  If we are to do anything of vision or purpose, we are going to disagree.  That is ok! We can disagree and stay in relationship – that is the big and crazy idea behind “we need not think alike to love alike.”  Paraphrasing the Rev. Kirk Loadman-Copeland, we are not going to be like-minded.  Let us strive instead to be like-hearted.  Our hearts affirm that behind our differences, something more important connects us.  And so at any given time throughout our shared ministry that you find yourself disagreeing – let’s talk about it.  Let’s trust each other enough to assume good intent; and trust that we are all committed to what we understand as the good for this congregation.

In her Facebook post on Monday after the vote, Board member Gale Whitman reflected on the past 48 hours, and shared this hope: “Let’s work together to build a better tomorrow; the world needs us!” I couldn’t have said it better.  There are so many places in our world today where life is at risk, and all around us the earth itself is at risk – our world – and we – need us to work together in service of our shared affirmation that all are worthy of love and belonging, and we are all in this together.  We need all of us.  Let’s keep moving forward, together.

With love, and HUGE gratitude,
Gretchen

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Our New Sunday Morning Hospitality Plan: Connecting Our Many Groups

It’s no secret that we have been trying all kinds of ideas to help our community be a part of the ways we greet, usher, and provide social hour hospitality on Sunday – I am beginning my fourth year with Foothills, and I think we’ve tried at least 5 different big ideas since I started to try to find just the right fit.

With over 800 adults and 300 kids and youth who consider themselves in one way or another a part of our community, it is somewhat of a funny mystery why we struggle so much to fill our ushers, greeters, visitor table staff, and coffee-maker jobs every Sunday.  It’s not that our community isn’t willing to pitch in – we have in the range of 200 people doing some sort of service for the church or on behalf of the church every week! Yet….nearly every Friday, we keep finding ourselves without sufficient folks to take on these important jobs….

Over the past couple of months, the Membership Team and the staff has been brainstorming and thinking through what’s going on with this dilemma.  Through lots and lots of conversation, we came up with a plan that we are all feeling very good about, and two Sundays ago we launched our new plan.

This plan invites all of our groups – and I do mean all – from the Board to the Choir to ESL tutors to….everyone! – to cover at least one (and if they are big, more than one) Sunday in the church year, filling all of the hospitality roles as a team.  We created a calendar slotting everyone in, and we discovered that when every group participates we are able to cover the whole year of Sundays without any problem!

The group providing these important hospitality roles will in turn be promoted through an insert in the order of service and with special nametags, which will help our wider community to know more about all of the ways to connect in our congregation.   Serving together also allows the group to strengthen their relationship with one another, their sense of teamwork, as well as their connections to the congregation.  We had in mind building on the model the Brotherhood has kept over the years where they serve coffee together regularly – giving back to the community and strengthening their relationship with one another.

If you want to serve on Sunday but you aren’t a part of a group, don’t worry! We have created a group called the Free Rangers where we will invite you to fill in when groups aren’t able to cover all the slots, and a few Sundays in the year are reserved for the Free Rangers entirely.  To sign up for the Free Rangers, contact Kathryn at kathryn@foothillsuu.org.

If you are a part of a group, ask your group leader when YOUR Sunday is, and get it on your calendar now! We hope everyone will show up for their group’s Sunday, help people know about their group and ways to get involved, provide a wonderful welcome for everyone who comes on Sunday, and have fun along the way.

Thank you to all who do so much for our congregation.  I am constantly amazed and grateful to be a part of this generous, joyful and welcoming community.

– Rev. Gretchen Haley, in partnership with the Membership Team and the staff