FELLOWSHIP, ORDAINING, AND CALLING

Further Thoughts on Sean Neil-Barron’s request for Ordination from the Committee on Shared Ministry

We were happy to hold a well-attended informational forum between services Sunday, Jan. 8, to answer questions about the upcoming congregational vote on whether to perform our congregational role of ordination of a new minister into the Unitarian Universalist faith. This vote is the sole item on the agenda of the January 29th Congregational Meeting, scheduled for 10:15 am.

The questions at our informational forum highlighted what a complex process becoming a UU minister is, and we thought it might be helpful to outline the differences between the UUA-run fellowship process, the right of ordination that congregations hold sole responsibility for, and the separate act of calling a permanent minister.

Assistant Minister Sean Neil-Barron is currently serving our congregation on a one-year contract, which will end in August. Before that time, the Board of Trustees will convene to consider extending his contract to a second year.

Our vote on Sean’s request for ordination in no way affects that process or reflects any commitment to hire Sean on a permanent basis. The process of hiring a minister for a permanent position (associate minister or senior minister) is known as calling, and is a separate and much more involved congregation-level decision making process.

Ordination is a ceremony that also reflects our unique UU history of congregation-based decision-making — in particular, the right and responsibility of UU congregations to identify and name the ministers they see fit to serve our faith communities.

UUs have a long tradition of reserving certain rights for individual congregations that other denominations give to their governing body or diocese.

These congregational rights include self-governance, the right of congregations to own their own church properties, and the right to say if an aspirant is suitable to serve in our faith tradition. The latter right and responsibility is called ordination – when a congregation affirms that a ministerial candidate possesses the qualities needed to serve the Unitarian Universalist faith community.

Ordination happens once in a minister’s lifetime and cannot be revoked. It is considered a sacred duty and honor for a congregation to perform. It is generally requested after a ministerial candidate has entered preliminary fellowship with the UUA.

Which brings us to the process of fellowship, distinct from ordination.

To support individual congregations, the Unitarian Universalist Association created a Ministerial Fellowship Committee to be the credentialing body of the UUA and to ensure the quality of ministers who seek to serve UU congregations.

Ministerial candidates still in theological schools as well as ministers who are transferring from another denomination or are seeking to be accredited to serve in more than one religious tradition all become accredited through the UUA’s very rigorous Ministerial Fellowship program.

To become a candidate for ministerial fellowship, Sean and all other aspirants must have a masters in divinity or its equivalent from and approved theological school, have completed a clinical pastoral education program, an internship, and a long list of other qualifications, including demonstrating a strong motivation for our ministry, a balanced and healthy personality, a capacity for self-understanding, a concern for others, and ministerial leadership skills.

Obtaining preliminary and final fellowship through the UUA’s Ministerial Fellowship Committee is a lengthy and intensive commitment, a commitment that seeks to ensure the quality of the ministers who serve our religious tradition. Sean is 8 months into his preliminary fellowship, and is on track to complete it by 2019, at which point he will have his final fellowship.

He could have requested to be ordained by any of the UU churches he has previously been affiliated with, such as his home church or the church where he served his internship, but he waited to ask the first congregation that he served as an assistant minister.

This is a great honor for us and we, the Committee on Shared Ministry (which has, among its responsibilities, the job of evaluating Sean periodically during his preliminary fellowship process) believe that Foothills Unitarian has amply experienced the talents, abilities and passion that Sean brings to his professional calling — talents and abilities that have been verified and vetted by the UUA’s Preliminary Fellowship process — and that we are well equipped to make the decision to ordain him as a Universalist Unitarian minister,  thus allowing him to claim the title of Reverend Sean Neil-Barron.

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Making a Reverend – from Sue Sullivan and the Committee on Shared Ministry

You might have noticed that Sean doesn’t wear a stole on Sundays, or call himself Reverend. That is because, while he has completed every other necessary step along the path to becoming a minister, including graduating from Harvard Divinity School and completing his post-graduate studies and internship, he has not yet asked a congregation to ordain him — the ultimate symbolic, practical and spiritual step in the process of becoming a UU minister.

Sean could have requested ordination from any of the churches he has been affiliated with (the church he grew up in, the church where he first answered his call to become a minister, or the church that he did his field work in, for example) but he knew that he wanted to be ordained by the first church he served…and that’s us!

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The Committee on Shared Ministry shares about Sean’s ordination at the December 18th service

We are excited to share that we have been asked to enact this fundamental ceremony of our Unitarian Universalist faith, one that we have not performed for more than 25 years – the ordination of a minister to serve in our religious tradition (our last ordination was in 1991 when we ordained our then intern, the Rev. Thomas Perchlick). And not just any minister, but our own Sean Neil-Barron.

Many of us have heard Sean’s thought-provoking sermons since he joined us as assistant minister in August. Some of us might have received pastoral care from him, or attended a Foundations class, a Vespers service or one of the other small group experiences Sean has helped facilitate with energy, warmth and a passion for deepening our connections with each other and our larger community.

Sean is asking us, as a Universalist Unitarian congregation, to affirm that we find in him a strong and capable minister for our faith. We are honored to affirm his ministry not just generally, but in the many ways we have felt the power and care of his ministry personally.

Unitarian Universalism, unlike other religions, reserves the right to ordain ministers for congregations alone, and not a centralized church leadership. We the people do the ordaining.  In doing so we are not making an offer or a call to the minister, but simply and solemnly declaring that we see in him or her a minister fit to serve the Unitarian Universalist movement. We are fulfilling our role and responsibility as a congregation to select the ministers that serve our religious movement, and affirming and authorizing the minister into their service and leadership in Unitarian Universalism.  It is a solemn responsibility, as ordination is for life.

At the request of the Committee on Shared Ministry, the Board of Trustees voted last week to hold a special congregational meeting on January 29th with one action item – whether we agree as a congregation to ordain Sean Neil-Barron into the Unitarian Universalist ministry.

All those who have been members for 30 days prior are eligible to vote. If the vote passes, we’ll hold an ordination ceremony in April. The Committee on Shared Ministry will hold a forum between the Sunday services on January 8th to answer any questions about the ordination process.

The Committee on Shared Ministry includes Glenn Pearson, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Margie Wagner, Sue Sullivan, Rev. Gretchen Haley and Sean Neil-Barron. To a member, we are thrilled that Sean has asked us to perform one of our tradition’s most fundamental religious ceremonies and we look forward to answering any questions you might have about it at the January 8th forum.

In partnership and passion for a brighter world,

Sue Sullivan

Welcoming Our New Minister

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Sean Neil-Barron

We finally find ourselves in mid-August, and after much anticipation, I am thrilled this weekend will mark the official beginning of Sean’s ministry with us.  He will be arriving to town this Friday, and will be in worship this Sunday.  Please come and introduce yourselves (I’ve told him we save the name test for at least a week) and help him feel welcome in our community.

We have convened a Transition Team for Sean – Anne Hall, Hannah Mahoney, Tim Pearson and Erin Price – who will be helping him get oriented and setting up times for him to meet with as many of you as possible in the next couple of months.  We should have an initial schedule of these opportunities in next week’s Extra.

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Sean and the Assistant Minister Search Committee in May after he had accepted our invitation to join our team

Sean will be spending the next few weeks listening, getting to know people, and learning about our congregation – our values, our stories, our challenges and our hopes.  In the next few months he will begin to take the lead on our membership ministry, our pastoral care, and our small groups.  You’ll see him in Worship on Sundays, he’ll be leading classes, and he’ll be piloting a new program called Wellspring. And more important than any specific thing he may do, I am most grateful to know he will be a caring, wise, faithful partner to all of us as we travel life’s journey together.

Finally, I have to end this otherwise happy announcement with something less so. Because Sean is a Canadian citizen, we have had to apply for a Visa.  Unfortunately, this application process has become more complicated in the past few years, so that a site inspection to verify we are a church is required.  This site inspection has a 6 month waiting list. As a result, we are now anticipating a likely approval of December.  During this waiting period, Sean is able to continue to live in the United States, and I am grateful to report that he has generously agreed to volunteer his time with us.  Rest assured we have been working with legal counsel throughout this process to ensure we and Sean are in complete compliance with the law, and our attorney is confident he will receive his Visa after the inspection concludes.

I hope you’ll all join me this Sunday in welcoming Sean -and in these coming months ensuring that we have a great beginning to a wonderful new shared ministry.

In partnership,

Gretchen 

 

Assistant Minister Search Update

Written by Tim Pearson, on behalf of the Assistant Minister Search Committee

The assistant minister search team hoped we would be able to reveal our choice to the congregation this week. Unfortunately, that is not possible. After carefully vetting several candidates we identified two we thought would be a good fit for our congregation. One of the two candidates accepted a position in another church before her scheduled community visit. The other candidate visited during Easter week.

We felt we had a strong candidate after showing him around Fort Collins and conducting an in-person interview. As his visit drew to a close the committee unanimously agreed to offer him the position. Understandably, he asked for time to think it over. He did think it over, for a week. Ultimately he decided not to accept because he needed more time to sort through some very important personal matters. He liked Fort Collins and he liked our church community, however, after much introspection, he decided he was not yet ready to make the transition to a new community.

We are disappointed and we are ready to move forward in our search process. A second round in the search process begins on April 22. Those churches and candidates who did not find a match during the first round will have another opportunity. The second round will include some new candidates who did not participate in the first round. Our church and our broader community have much to offer. In this regard we have a strong advantage as we seek a good match. It is our hope we will be able to announce a new assistant minister by early June.

In Peace,

Scott Denning, Sara Edwards, Rev. Gretchen Haley, Bonnie Inscho, and Tim Pearson

Our Annual Every Member Canvass is upon us!

stewardshipSunday we kicked off this exciting season.  It’s time to affirm how important Foothills is to you. We have experienced so much generosity, caring, and serving together over the past year, and no doubt next year will be just as transforming. Our theme for the 2016-2017 canvass is Together – We Are Transforming. We hope that Foothills is transforming you, as we transform the community and even the greater world.

Speaking of generosity, a very grateful thank you to church member Steve Sedam, who designed the beautiful brochure that you received in your mail recently (that’s right – I said mail, not email!). It highlights the many vibrant groups and activities that we love about Foothills.

In order to keep those programs going, we need your responsible financial commitment (which is what we call a pledge).

Other big goals on the horizon:

  • Bringing Ryan Marvel to full-time!
  • Meeting the UUA fair compensation guidelines for our staff who are the drivers and supporters of our congregation’s many great programs.
  • Funding the 12% increase in staff health insurance.
  • Performing some basic building maintenance that has been too-long postponed.

Please help us achieve these goals and more. Thoughtfully consider your pledge to your church, think about what Foothills means to your family, and give as generously as you are able. Together, we can make a big difference in the life of our church.

Let us continue to nurture the culture of abundance that has been built and grown here over the years. Be Transformed!

Thank You – Your Stewardship Team

submitted by Kay Williams, Chair 

Assistant Minister Search Update

The search for an assistant minister to start in August is well underway! Here are the highlights of what we shared in our update on Sunday, as well as a list of the questions we got (along with their answers).  If you are wondering about anything not answered here, or have any feedback about this position or the process, we welcome your dialogue!

Assistant Minister Selection Committee: Rev. Gretchen Haley (gretchen@foothillsuu.org), Scott Denning (Scott.denning@colostate.edu), Bonnie Inscho (bonnieinscho@aol.com), Tim Pearson (Timp1600@comcast.net) and Sara Edwards (sara.edwards.rocks@gmail.com).

Summary of our process so far…..

  • January 3rd – Congregational Input Gathered and Conversation on the Process (Completed) – Here is the summary of those meetings. 
  • Week of January 4th – Job Description Finalized (based on feedback from congregation, lay leader input, staff conversation and input from the Board of Trustees) and Posted to our website and to the UUA transitions website  (Completed – click here to see it) 
  • January 18th – Selection Committee (3-4 People) Appointed by the Board (Completed) – Scott Denning, Tim Pearson, Bonnie Inscho, and Sara Edwards will serve as the Assistant Minister Search Committee
  • January 31st – Application Deadline  – we received a total of 9 applicants from across the country, with equal representation of both men and women, all early career ministers, all strong applicants that we were enthusiastic to receive applications from
  •  Throughout January – Get-to-know-you conversations with Gretchen (Completed)  all 9 applicants had an early conversation with Gretchen after their initial expression of interest
  •  Week of January  25th – Selection Committee and Gretchen review applications in first meeting (Completed)  – through this process, narrowed down to 7 candidates
  • Week of January 30th –  First Interviews Conducted (with Gretchen) (Completed) – these notes were shared with the search committee and from these interviews, we narrowed the field to 5 candidates
  • Week of February 7th – Meeting with Search Committee to determine who they will interview and questions they will use (Completed) – The Committee decided to proceed with 2 Interviews, based on the strength of the top 2 candidates.  All other candidates have been notified.
  • February 14th – Congregational update (Completed after both services – questions from these services are below.) 
  • Week of February 15th – Second Interviews with Committee (Scheduled) 
  • February 22nd – Determine plan for in-person interviews and potential for pre-candidating
  • Throughout March – Check References and UUA Files and Complete On-Site Interviews
  • No later than April 1st – Reach final decision on candidate
  • No later than April 7th  Make Offer
  • April 10th – If we have an accepted offer, announce our new assistant minister to congregation
  • Please note: If no match is found in this round, we will re-post and seek additional applications, knowing that the Ministerial Fellowship Committee sees new candidates in early April, so some will be looking for a job in April, and generally we would follow the same process as above, just completed in the months of April and May.  

 

Questions from the February 14th Congregational Update: 

Question:  Why is it all happening so fast?

Answer:  Each year, UU ministers who are thinking about a new ministry, apply for positions in January of each year.  If we didn’t get on track with this application process/timeline, we miss that potential applicant pool.  This year, about 90 ministers were all looking for their new ministry as of January 1 (to start in church year 16-17).

Question: What interview questions are being asked of the candidates?

Answer:

  • Here are the questions Gretchen asked each of the candidates:
    • What is the best team you have worked with and why it was the best? What did you accomplish together? What was your role on that team?
    • What do you hope for in a supervisor?  How do you see our relationship working?
    • What is your process for getting to know a congregation?  How do you keep track of people’s stories, especially in the bigger system? What experience from your past had you keeping track of multiple people’s stories and helping them feel known?
    • Tell me about 2 or 3 lay leaders that you identified and developed.  What was the circumstance, the outcome, and how is it going now? What kind of ongoing training have you offered? Tell me about a recruit that didn’t go the way you expected – that was disappointing or frustrating.  How do you know someone might be a good fit for a role in the church, and that they are ready – and how do you cultivate their skills and capacity?
    • How would you describe what we are up to when say we are doing “pastoral care”? What does it entail? How is it different than therapy or simply listening? Tell me about a meaningful experience you have had with pastoral care.  How do you fit pastoral care within your other priorities? How do you decide how to prioritize your time related to pastoral care? Finally, tell me about how you have navigated boundaries as it relates to pastoral care.
    • Tell me about your experience with small groups.  What models have you encountered.  How have you trained facilitators.  What qualities do you look for? How do you keep them fresh? What role should small groups play in congregational life.  How have you seen them work in your experience?
    • Who is the theologian or writer who you have to stop yourself from referencing every sermon.  What is it about their work that you respond to?
  • Here are the questions that the Selection Committee plans on asking the applicants:
    • Scenario question related to pastoral care
    • Scenario question related to small groups
    • Our church has rapidly grown from small family oriented congregation to 800 adults/300 kids….there is now a mix of those who have been here a long time – great sense of tradition with smaller church….but also those who are brand new and excited about all the new and change – After 20 years of 1 minister, you will be the second new minister in 2 years – how will you work with this mix of continuity and novelty?
    • How will you relate with different theological views – how do you engage with those who identify as humanists/atheists and who might struggle with “religion”?
    • How would you bring your passion for multi-culturalism into our congregation?
    • Given that you’re relatively new to ministry, how do you go about gaining a sense of pastoral authority as you work with congregants? How do you connect with and serve people who are in different ages and stages than you are? Have you encountered prejudice in terms of your age or experience? How have you dealt with that?
    • How do you minister to the growing senior population AND the growing millenial population?
    • Where do you see yourself in your ministry in 5 years, 10 years….?
    • What would you say is your biggest challenge in ministry?
    • How do you see yourself working with the staff?
    • What systems or tools or structures would you use to manage and track your work – pastoral care, small groups, membership, etc.?
    • What do you see as the way you complement Gretchen? What do you see as your challenges?

Question: How flexible will the role of the new A.M. be as far as being able to follow his/her own call and passion?

Answer: It is hoped that the new A.M. will bring in new ideas and creativity to help build our future, while also fitting with our mission and vision. There are 3 key areas where we will want the new A.M. to take a strong role: Pastoral Care, Small Groups, and Faith Formation (early connections, membership integration, and UU identity, as well as leadership development).  Beyond that, we hope that we can encourage a full ministry partner who can collaboratively participating in determining where we will go next, and building the systems to get there.  A lot will be determined by the amount of time that these three focus areas will take – they are the priority.

Question: Is the search committee looking for someone who will have “regional” (geographic) comfort?

Answer: Yes. There have been applicants from across the country, with the exceptions of the SE and NW. The applicants’ fit with our regional culture has been a big part of the search committee’s discussion and discernment.

Question: Can the new A.M. help with long range planning?

Answer: Yes, we are looking for a team member who will contribute new ideas, perspectives, and suggestions for the future development of Foothills.

Question: Tell us more about the role of the A.M. with small groups and pastoral care.

Answer: We are seeking someone with experience in these areas, but who also expresses a passion for these important aspects of church life. Gretchen will continue doing pastoral care as well. Most of the applicants are strong in both these areas and will bring innovation.

Question: Could the position of the A.M., which is short term, be continued beyond 2-3 years?

Answer: This new position is by hire, not call. Per the Bylaws, Foothills will contract for one year, which hopefully will be renewed for a second year, if it is a good fit. No promises are made beyond that, but it is possible that the A.M. could stay longer. However, we will wait until into the second year before even beginning such discussion, because we are still in flux after having just called our Senior Minister. We first need to all see how Gretchen’s ministry unfolds and see how it feels to have two ministers.

Question: What is the process for making the decision of to whom to make the offer?

Answer: Because of the relative short term of this position, and that it is a position that reports to Gretchen, the ultimate decision is Gretchen’s, but with strong input and consultation with the A.M. Search Committee. It is not by vote of the committee or the congregation.

Question: What are some of the general characteristics of the candidates?

Answer: The 7 candidates come from across the country, almost equally balanced by gender. Ages range from mid 20s to early 50s and all are at relatively early stages (new to 7 years of ministry) in their ministerial careers.

Question: What qualities are you looking for in the candidates?

Answer:

  • A good team member/collaborator who can get the work done
  • Experience and passion for pastoral care and small group leadership
  • Having a shared vision with Gretchen and the congregation
  • Someone who works well in relationship with trust
  • Good preaching and writing skills
  • Works well with lay leaders
  • Has theological and personal depth
  • Comfortable with technology
  • Great communicator (listener and sharer of info)
  • Has good self-care and time management skills, and good boundaries

Question: Will there be 3 services after the new A.M. starts?

Answer: This has been talked about for awhile and next year we will first survey the congregation about the need for this and what it should look like. We will hope that we can expand our mid-week worship (currently the 10 times per year vespers services) to at least twice a month starting in the fall. Some of this depends on expanding our lay leader capacity, and we are working on that now.

Question: What is the evaluation process for deciding whether or not to renew the A.M. contract?

Answer: In our covenantal faith, the best way to provide feedback is on an ongoing basis -that’s true for this position, and for all of us.  So our hope is that we begin to know about fit relatively early on, and then through ongoing dialogue we are able to discern throughout the year if the contract can be renewed.  With that said, we are currently working to re-convene the Committee on Ministry (COM).  This team will partner with Gretchen to gather and provide feedback to the assistant minister in February of 2017, in a similar to fashion to the feedback and evaluation process that we provided Gretchen at the end of her first year with us.  In consultation and collaboration with the COM and the Board, Gretchen will determine the contract’s renewal.  Beyond this process for our hired minister, we are also working with the Committee on Ministry to establish best practices for feedback about all of our shared ministries and their impact in our congregation and beyond, including a regular evaluation and feedback process for our called ministers.  More on this in the coming months.

Our Membership Ministry from Diana McLean, Ministerial Resident

Diana K. McLeanOver the last few months, I’ve spoken with quite a few people who have been connected with Foothills in a variety of ways, but hadn’t officially become members. The purpose of my conversations wasn’t specifically to get them to join, but to find out how  connected they feel to the church, help them find ways to deepen that connection if they were needing that, to answer questions they might have, and to invite them to small group membership conversations with Gretchen. A number of those people did then join the church, and others have found ways to connect—either through the offerings that are part of our 4 Ways To Connect program or through other classes and groups at the church.

I’m beginning to also talk with fairly recent members, to find out if they are feeling enough connection to the church. For those who would like more (or deeper) connections, I’m helping them to find the best ways to connect that suit their interests and schedules.

Along the way, I’m really enjoying getting to know more of you in more depth! I want to explicitly invite anyone—member or non-member, new to Foothills or have been here for decades—to get in touch with me if you’d like a conversation with me about membership or just to get to know each other better!

Another exciting development in the membership area is that our Membership ministry has expanded from one team into three Learning Communities: Hospitality (facilitated by Howell), Connections (by Gretchen), and Covenantal (by me), each focused on a different stage of becoming deeply connected with the church.  All three learning communities would welcome new members, if this is a place where your interests meet the church’s needs! The Connections and Covenantal groups are looking for new members, and Hospitality would both appreciate new members as well as those who may not want to be on the team but would be interested in serving on Sunday mornings.  No expertise is required–sign up for a Sunday (or more!) and we will train you. It’s an easy way to connect with and give back to this beloved community. You can sign up for Sunday hospitality by calling the office, or here: http://foothillsuu.org/volunteer/