Announcing Our New Assistant Minister!

We are thrilled to announce that the Assistant Minister Search Committee and the Rev. Gretchen Haley have enthusiastically selected Sean Neil-Barron to be our new Assistant Minister.

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Our Process
In January, the Assistant Minister Search Committee (in its earliest form) held two congregational forums to consider together what we sought in a new Assistant Minister. Important attributes included a calling to pastoral care, interest in small group ministry, enthusiasm for the use of technology in UU ministry, and complementarity with Gretchen’s ministry. We agreed that we would hire (not call) an Assistant Minister for a period of one year, renewable for a second year. After that we can review and decide what we want to do for following years.

There’s a Denomination-wide process for recruiting and hiring ministers which has a seasonal cycle tied to the credentialing process for UU Ministers through the UUA. We advertised through the UUA process and began receiving applications almost immediately.

At our January meeting, the Board authorized a Search Committee for the Assistant Minister. It included Bonnie Inscho, Tim Pearson, Sara Edwards, and Scott Denning. We began meeting in late January and eventually considered sixteen applicants from all over the US and Canada.

From these candidates, we unanimously chose to invite one to Fort Collins – Sean Neil-Barron – in May. We met with him over three days and offered him the job on May 22. We were overjoyed when he accepted our offer!

Sean’s Background and Ministry 
Sean recently completed his ministerial internship with the New England Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association. His responsibilities included working with more than 20 congregations in times of transition and conflict with a particular emphasis on congregational relevance in the 21st century. He also served as the project manager for FAITHIFY, the UU crowdfunding site – overseeing over a quarter of a million dollars being pledged to UU initiatives.

Sean is the Convener of Wellspring Boston, an entrepreneurial UU spiritual deepening initiative in the Boston Area and currently sits on the Board of Directors of UU Wellspring. He preaches regularly in Greater Boston and his writing has appeared in the UU World Magazine and on the UUA’s Worship Web. Sean’s most recent project is a podcast created in collaboration with UU Historian Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie called “The Pamphlet,” aimed at uncovering UUs hidden histories.

Sean received his Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School and also holds a degree in Conflict Studies and Theology from Saint Paul University in Ottawa. Growing up on Treaty 7 land in Calgary, Alberta, Canada—a place not unlike Foothills in its geography and beauty—Sean found Unitarian Universalism as a queer youth and quickly fell in love with a community that explored together questions that matter. Having felt a call from a young age, it wasn’t until he found our faith that he realized that ministry was the call he had always felt. He remains connected to his colleagues and friends in the Canadian Unitarian movement. Sean has served as an OWL Facilitator, been on staff at the UU Goldmine Youth Leadership School, and has presented workshops on conflict resolution, contemporary church, and sexuality throughout the lifespan.

Sean’s ministry seeks to build communities of spiritual depth by harnessing the transformative power of our congregations to be places of formation, wonder, and service; addressing the deep spiritual wounds of our time: division, shame, and alienation.

Sean and his partner Charles will be joining us later in the summer with their dog Dollie. They enjoy the outdoors, biking, cooking, and tasting their way through new cities.

About Sean and his ministry fit at Foothills, by the Assistant Minister Search Committee 
High on the list of qualities we sought in an assistant minister was the ability to effectively provide pastoral care. Sean has experience with pastoral care and considers it one of his strengths. He impressed us with his thoughtful responses on this topic and with a moving story about one of his pastoral care experiences. Sean has some great ideas about how pastoral care can be effective in larger congregations and he has a keen understanding of the differing pastoral needs that are present in church settings.

Sean is genuinely kind, considerate and caring. We all picked up on this in our multiple interactions with him. From the beginning Bonnie said, “I feel really comfortable with him,” and we all feel that way. He just gives off a comforting, kind energy.

He exhibits an ability to listen to what is being said, reframe and restate in a way that is particularly helpful. He is a deep listener, but that he also has a frame of reference and point-of-view. This will serve him well as he works to facilitate individuals and groups in a variety of settings.

Another thing we were looking for in an Asst. Minister was someone who could take on the role of further developing small group opportunities. Sean feels a call to build communities of spiritual depth, has a deep passion for developing adult spirituality, and has experience leading UU Wellspring and other groups. He clearly understands the importance of relationship building within spiritual groups and the congregation at large, with its potential for faith formation and life transformation.

Sean has been a proven leader is in congregational life and in his understanding of church governance. In his year at First Parish, Brookline, MA , he was charged with facilitating the updating of their policies and bylaws, which had not been updated to match the growth and changes in ministry over the past decade.Whether Sean is charged to help in that role at Foothills or not, his understanding of church governance and dynamics especially in times of transition, will no doubt be valuable to us.

Sean said he was drawn to our congregation because we are aspirational. He too is aspirational. You will soon see that he has a strong sense of vision. Part of his vision is to link the future with the past by building bridges between where we have been and where we will go. In this way he aspires to help UUs find relevance in the 21st century.

And speaking of bridges, Sean believes in bridging across age boundaries. When our team asked him how he would engage young adults and older congregants he told us that his goal would be to help create opportunities that would appeal to members across generations.

Sean’s work at Faithify has revolved around crowdfunding online. He will work on a viral social media campaign to collect UU stories. His hobbies include video games, “technology and gadgets,” and design theory. He even uses an AI personal assistant named “Amy.”

His groundedness in UU theology is evident. In our face-to-face conversations, we noted him bring UU beliefs and theology to the forefront in a number of different conversations. We appreciate his commitment to the UU beliefs and his ability to bring this point-of-view to bear in discussions related to being human and building community in the UU faith. He will add a great deal to our development as UU’s in the now and in the future.



Sean with the Search Committee after we’d made the invitation and he said yes.

We were struck, and we hope you will be struck, by the wisdom Sean exhibits — wisdom beyond his years. He has thought deeply about what it means to be a minister of a UU church. His theological insights and his genuine desire to lead our congregation on a spiritual journey convinced us that Sean is the right choice to be our assistant minister.

We read impressive testimonials from seven of Sean’s colleagues and as we prepared for our Skype and then in-person interviews, we were hopeful that we would see the qualities described: “commitment to our faith,” “instincts for congregations” “a natural minister,” and someone with “a maturity, self-awareness, and … understanding of the UU tradition that sets him apart.”

Rev. Sue Phillips, New England Region Lead for the UUA, wrote a very powerful and enthusiastic recommendation in support of Sean’s application. She wrote:

“Sean’s experience, wisdom, and commitment to Unitarian Universalism distinguish him not only from other young ministers just out of school, but from most ministers with many years of congregational experience … His instincts for congregations, how they work, and what they are capable of are outstanding for a person of any age. He is exactly the kind of ministerial candidate I would choose, combining as he does generationally astute vision with broad congregational experience that few older ministers can match. I have worked with hundreds of congregations and countless lay and ministerial leaders, and I can testify that Sean is among the most talented I’ve encountered.”

We saw these qualities and more. We felt in Sean’s presence that he is someone with innate and genuine inner wisdom – a “wise soul”. As the Rev. Sue Phillips described it, “What Sean has cannot be taught.” We think you will sense this too as you meet and work with him.

As Sean says in his video, there will be many opportunities in August and September to meet him and begin to get to know him. Look for info in the “Extra” and help us welcome our new minister as we begin this next new phase of our walk together at Foothills.

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Getting silly with the Search Committee, Sean, Sean’s partner Charles, and Gretchen’s kids Gracie & Josef


Plans for the Ministerial Transition

Over the past few weeks, I have been working and planning with many of you, with the staff team, and with Howell. I have sought counsel from colleagues, and I have talked with UUA staff that I trust, most especially the Rev. Nancy Bowen.  Through these conversations, Howell and I have started to formulate plans and priorities that will move us through the next six months – the remaining time of the official interim.

During this time, Howell will remain as the Interim Lead Minister, and we will work in a close partnership to ensure a smooth transition before the end of his contract in June and my official beginning as Senior Minister in July.  Generally speaking, Howell will be leading and working on those efforts that relate to the intended work of the interim, and I will be leading and working on those things that establish the foundation for the future.  More specifically, here is a breakdown of our priorities and plans for the next six months. As always, we welcome your input, questions, ideas and partnership.  And, we’ll be sure to bring you regular updates here and in upcoming forums on Sundays (next forum: 1/10/16).

  1. Worship Leadership and Planning – Howell and I will work closely in worship over the next six months, hopefully offering a number of Sundays with both of us present!  We have created a calendar that has Howell and I each in the pulpit on average, twice a month, and Diana McLean, our Ministerial Resident will be returning once a month once she’s fully recovered from her injury.
  2. Pastoral Care and Support – I will continue to act as lead for pastoral care, including supporting our Parish Visitors and Caring Team.
  3. Mission Task Force – Mission is the reason we are here, why we exist, as a congregation, and helps us move forward with confidence together. This is why the Board has created a sub-committee to engage the congregation around our mission in the coming months.  It will build on and reinforce the work done a couple of years ago on our mission statement, as well as our Appreciative Inquiry and Ministerial Search Discovery Sessions and Survey.  Look for notice about conversation opportunities in upcoming Extras.   Howell and I will both be support for this important Board work.  
  4. Governance Task Force – As was discussed in the October Congregational Forum, the Board is appointing a Task Force that will oversee and coordinate our governance transitional process.  Generally, we will follow the timeline and concept outlined in Dan Hotchkiss’ book, Governance and Ministry that many of you read and discussed over the summer.  (Still available for check out in the office!).  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind
  5. Personnel / Human Resources Task Force – We value our employees and being a just and good employer.  Which means, we need to be thoughtful and intentional in creating an effective structure that includes both professional and volunteer partnership in order to effectively and legally address all the many areas of personnel – from policies to organizational structure to compensation to benefit management and liability to work environment and professional development.  As a result, the Board will be appointing a task force to work with me to review current and potential new policies, to recommend an appropriate structure to address personnel issues (in collaboration with the Governance Task Force) and to address fair compensation for our employees.  This will result in an updated job description for our Personnel Committee, which we will re-institute at the conclusion of this Task Force’s work.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Gretchen Haley 
  6. Committee on Shared Ministries – Previously known as the Committee on Ministry, this important team was put into recess during the transition, but as we move out of this transitional time, Howell and I look forward to its full re-instatement.  Howell will work with the Board to clarify its purpose, share that with the congregation, and gather up both past Committee on Ministry members as well as new appointees as we begin again with this group whose mission remains to ensure the health and vitality of our shared congregational ministries and the right relations of our community.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind 
  7. Stewardship and Finance – Critical to an effective transition is successful management of our financial resources, including a successful pledge drive.  I will start attending Finance meetings this month, and be a part of the Stewardship campaign and budgeting process that will begin in February.  As I said throughout Candidating Week, I am very much looking forward to this part of the senior minister role, as I find that when we speak openly and non-judgmentally about money and its role in our lives, it can be as healing as any other ministry we might engage.  I also find it so inspiring to experience people’s generosity in service of our shared vision – and this congregation is so generous, this is simply really fun work.   Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind 
  8. Search for the new Assistant Minister – I had a great conversation with the UUA Transitions Office last week, and as a result, we have now listed our opening for an Assistant Minister to begin next July or August with the UUA.  This is just a simple notice of a job opening. In the coming months, the Board and I will convene a few forums to hear about your ideas and questions about this position and your hopes for who might fill it. The Board will also be appointing a selection committee who will work with me to identify the right fit.  It will be a hired and contract position, for 2 years.  This will allow us the time and space necessary to think through what we want in the long run and to make sure we have the right person for the position.  Lots more information to come on this! Ministerial Lead: Rev. Gretchen Haley 
  9. Nominating and Leadership Development Process – Given all the ways our congregation has changed and the changing needs for leadership today, we know we need a more robust process to identify, train and continually develop leaders in our congregation.  As a result, Howell will be working with the Nominating Committee to clarify job descriptions and a process for identifying and developing congregational leaders.  Howell brings a wealth of experience in facilitating this process in many other congregations, and so we are lucky to have him with us as we address this very important need in our congregation.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Howell Lind 
  10. Faith Foundations – I learned a lot over Candidating Week about the learning and reflecting opportunities we need to set a foundation for the coming years together.  I realized we need to be talking more about generational changes, the cultural shifts happening in society, the history of Unitarianism and Universalism – especially three of our sources – Protestant/Heretical Christianity, Transcendentalism, and Humanism – as well as trends in today’s Unitarian Universalism, the ideas and practice of covenant, and emotional/family systems. As a result, we intend to focus most of our offerings in Religious Exploration in the next 5 months in these areas.  We’ll offer opportunities in a variety of ways – classes, small groups, online options, spiritual practices, book groups, and forums – and in a variety of days/times, with a variety of commitment-level options, and targeted to all the life stages and ages present in our congregation.  Our hope and goal is that by the end of May, a good number of you will feel more confident and clear in these important areas of our faith so that we can set a stronger foundation for what we are up to, and why, as a religious community and as individual Unitarian Universalists.  Ministerial Lead: Rev. Gretchen Haley
  11. A few other important things: Howell will be initiating our new Hospitality Learning Community, helping us to enhance our welcome, especially on Sunday mornings.  I will be working with the Climate Justice Team, especially in March and April as we continue to strengthen our congregational engagement with sustainability and care for the earth.  We will also continue and strengthen our partnerships in addressing homelessness, economic justice and immigration and racial justice related issues – especially in the ways all these things are connected.  Our campus ministry is growing, we are offering targeted programming to meet all of life’s stages and ages in our community – from new parents to empty-nesters to elders, and we continue to experiment in partnership with the UU Church of Greeley to bring our values and faith to more of our northern Colorado community.

Phew! That’s a lot! Good thing it all sounds like fun and enlivening work! And good thing it is work done in partnership, with all of you.

Questions? Things I left off you are wondering about? Let me know.  As I said, this is an evolving understanding of what is needed and what will work best to facilitate a healthy and smooth transition in the next few months. I’m so looking forward to all that this second half of this church year will bring, and the foundation it will set for the many years ahead.  Thank you for all you have done, and all you will do to help bring all this goodness into our community and our world.

In partnership,


SearchLight: the new Ministerial Search Committee Blog

Did you know the Ministerial Search Committee has its own blog? Be sure to check it out for regular updates about the process of searching for our next settled Senior Minister.

The address is: Just like with this blog, you can subscribe to receive regular updates.

Looking Back on the Church Year 2014-15

For most of the world, it’s decidedly mid-year.  But for schools and churches, we are coming towards year-end.  Although our congregation- like most UU congregations today – does not shut down over the summer, but we do move into a different rhythm.

With just a single worship service (starting June 14), we will have a more intimate feel, and also a little more casual/experimental air.  Our religious exploration program will offer programs targeted to the many first-time visitors we see over the summer and most of our ministry teams will be in “planning season,” studying and reflecting as they gear up for next year.  Which makes it a great time to get involved – we are currently looking for new partners in membership, stewardship, worship arts, welcoming, and our parish visitors.  Email me if you’re interested!

Even as we look ahead, we also look back.  Rev. Keyes, will offer his “State of the Church” address this Sunday, and given his time with us is nearing its end, I am grateful his reflection will offer a certain objectivity about our church.

As for me, I claim no such objectivity.  I am deeply invested in our continued and strengthened future and our partnership.  I shared recently about the ways I know this year has been hard for many of you.  But just as importantly, there has been so much good this year!! I am proud of what we have done together, and I don’t want this to be overlooked or understated.

With this in mind, I offer this summary overview.  It’s a lot of information, and yet for every word I write, I have left out hundreds of others.  It’s really incredible how much good we do together, freely, in service of bringing more love and hope to more of the world.  Thank you for your partnership and investment in all this goodness.  Let’s keep moving forward.

Summary of Ministry Partnerships 2014-2015 

This year, we have seen a huge increase in participation and engagement of our community in the shared ministry and programs of our congregation.  Here are a few of those stories…..

Pastoral Care and Caring Team 
After being trained and launching officially last spring, our group Parish Visitors have been regularly visiting about 20 of our congregants, growing the reach of our care and ensuring a steady presence of our church in the life of our members.
Meanwhile, these Visitors have been working in coordination with our Caring Team – they rotate as an on-call intake for any caring needs we hear about, ensuring that our people get the support they may need.  Our Caring Team provides meals, rides and cards to many congregants over the year, supporting people through surgery, grief, illness and other life transitions, in addition to providing meaningful support for memorials for our beloved members.  And, our Caring Team has been working to coordinate more fully with our small groups such as our Senior Sages, our group for older adults, to ensure better communication and use of the informal networks of support.
Lifespan Religious Exploration 
Eleanor Van Deusen and I took over the direction of the adult religious exploration program this year, and launched the three-fold program of spritual practices, classes, and small groups.  We saw regular attendance at our Spiritual Practices in opportunities like yoga, meditation, ZenTangle, Artist’s Way, chanting and drum circle. Over the course of the year we have seen an explosion in participation in small groups, with nearly 400 members participating in small groups exploring everything from social justice to Unitarian Universalist history to personal grief to your own spiritual journey and faith development.  Along the way you have strengthened your connections with one another, your own sense of spiritual depth, and your connection to something greater than us all.
The Adult RE classes have been hugely successful this year, with tracks focusing on Unitarian Universalism, Social Change and Tools for the Spiritual Journey.  Our Intro Sundays have regularly seen 20-30 in attendance, and classes on Transcendentalism, Unitarian Justice Roots, Islamic and Jewish Influences in Unitarian Universalism, Atheism/Theism Theological Constructs and others have all seen 30-40 in regular attendance.  Our classes on end of life conversations and tools for ending the cycle of poverty saw even greater numbers.  It’s been a wonderful time of growing and deepening our sense of our living tradition and our call to transforming lives – our own, and the wider world.
Finally, our Adult RE program and worship services were integrated this year through a new theme-based ministry initiative.  Exploring topics like faith, gratitude, grief, hope and justice allowed us to delve more deeply into our big questions, and to experience a greater sense of cohesion across our programming and our life stages.
Meanwhile, our program for children, youth and families has never been stronger.  Eleanor built on our themes and used a workshop rotation model for her classes to allow for greater member participation and more experiential learning for our students, while still offering rich content and meaningful children’s worship for our kids  Our high school youth continued to strengthen their relationships with one another and our faith, with highlights including small group ministry, service outreach, collaboration in a Sunday service, and the annual 9th grade trip to the Navajo Reservation.
Worship and Music 
Our Worship Learning Community has grown over this year, adding new members to an already strong group that began not quite 2 years ago.  In addition to providing all of the music and lay support for worship last summer, this group was responsible for leading and crafting our Vespers services – evening mid-week worship that is more contemplative, music-driven and interactive than our Sunday services.  We averaged about 60 people in these services, with special highlights being our Winter Solstice (over 100 in attendance) and Earth Day Vespers service (which was intentionally multi-generational and was led in collaboration with our youth group).  This Worship Community has also been responsible for enhancing our overall professionalism on Sunday morning through their role as Worship Hosts.
Our Music program has continued to grow this year with Ryan’s continued compassionate leadership and exceptional talent, especially as seen in our collaboration with Plymouth UCC where their choir came for one Sunday with us, and another Sunday, we went to their church.  It was also a joy to see our children’s choirs continue to grow this year with performances over the winter holidays and again in the Spring.
As for Sunday services, although we have had a change in our Senior Minister of the past 23 years – which in many churches results in a huge (usually temporary) decrease in Sunday attendance – we have generally seen a steady attendance and participation on Sundays.  We have welcomed many guests to our pulpit, and have continued to be blessed by a strong collaboration across our music, religious exploration and administrative teams to offer a welcome and creative opportunity for gathering around our deepest values throughout the year.
Membership Team 
Our Membership Team clarified its focus and mission over the summer – to welcome people as they came in and to help them find their place of connection in the congregation, particularly in terms of the process from their first visit all the way until they decide to become members.  Over this year, the Team has been working to improve and enhance its 4 Ways to Connect, which includes our Path to Membership classes (offered 4 times), Connections Dinners (offered 3 times), Explorations Small Group Ministry (offered 3 times, all over-full) and Intro Sundays (offered monthly) – all of which have seen regular strong attendance and positive feedback from attendees.  Beginning a year ago, Membership has also been working in collaboration with staff to offer our Hops & Hospitality and Wine & Welcome trainings, beginning to focus additional efforts on being a welcoming congregation and to strengthen our welcome on Sunday mornings.  Out of these efforts, we will be forming a new Radical Welcome Team starting this summer.
Social Justice
Our Justice efforts have built on an already-strong foundation this year, beginning with our continued work with Faith Family Hospitality, where in the range of 100 of our members regularly volunteer to host and support families experiencing homelessness.  After gathering for our training on Cycles of Poverty in January, we discerned that our next step together would be to engage the One Village One Family program that mentors homeless families as they re-stabilize in housing.  We will launch 5 villages (30 participants) this Sunday as they companion 5 families back into stable housing in the next 5-6 months.  They will also act as supports for one another, and will be strengthened by their connection to and support from this faith community.
We have also seen the continued good work of our ESL Tutoring program where about 40 members volunteer weekly, as well as additional development in our work towards immigration justice, beginning with the Do You Know Who I Am? autobiographical play we sponsored with Plymouth UCC in late summer, and leading to our immigration class series in the fall.  We will build on this work next year as our adult education program will offer a series on Intercultural Competency and in partnership again with Plymouth, a curriculum based on the play, all leading towards a possible Borderlinks trip next spring.
We have also seen activity in addressing the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, supporting our partner church, and we have been early partners in the newly formed Northern Colorado Pride Coalition to support welcome and advocacy for GLBTQ persons in the area.  I was happy to represent our values as one-half of the first legal marriage ceremony for a same sex couple in Colorado in October, and it was great fun to see the Coloradoan pick up our wedding photos!
Most recently, we have been excited to see the newly revitalized environmental justice team, launching based on the UUA’s Commit2Respond initiative in mid-March.  This group has been meeting regularly and reflecting on our call to act on behalf of the earth and its resources, and we look forward to significant progress on this front in the coming year.
Over this summer, we anticipate pulling together our justice leaders to have a conversation about intersectionality in our justice work – which is a way of seeing justice issues as all interconnected so that we can better collaborate rather than compete with our resources.
Our Stewardship Team has also been extremely active this year, starting in the fall as it worked to analyze our current trends in giving, as well as partnering with our adult ed program to offer classes in financial health and linking money to personal values.  Stewardship was also critical to the successful roll out of our new Share the Plate Program, which is on track to give away over $20,000 to our community partners in homelessness, domestic violence, suicide prevention, immigrant support, international support, and direct food relief by the end of this church year.
The Stewardship Team is also responsible for the reverse-offering program where we gave the church money in a worship service rather than collecting it, resulting in $800 of money being handed out and that money growing to at least $15,000 of impact into the community as you worked together and “passed it on” as a part of the good news of the Foothills Unitarian Church furthering the reach of love.
On top of all of this Stewardship oversaw our highly successful canvass, where we saw a 10% increase in our pledges and about 40 net additional pledging households, with over 25 canvassers personally speaking to about 25% of the congregation.  And although the increased pledges were meaningful, just as important were the personal connections we heard many people made by reaching out one-on-one and talking about what they cared about and why.
Young Adult and Campus Ministry 
We launched full campus ministry this year led by Chris Sharp and lay student leaders Kelly and Rosalinda. We are anticipating regular worship gatherings on campus in the fall and strengthening our partnership with the Gellar Center.  Chris also helped to strengthen our young adult ministry this year, adding targeted support for our parents of younger children as well as a Sunday evening vespers/small group opportunity.
Transition Team
Our Transition Team, formed in the Fall, has led the way in our review of our past, celebration of our present, and our looking ahead to the future.  This began in the fall with our history wall and our chalice-lighting reflections where members shared about their experiences in each of the decades of the church, and continued with workshops and conversations leading to the creation of a covenant of right relations.  The Team then moved into the leadership of our appreciative inquiry process, which resulted in a strengthened positive sense about what we care about in our congregation.  This Team is now turning its attention to meeting with every group, committee and team in the church to check in around how it is doing, how it sees itself as connected to the wider community, and to help it gain the support it needs to move forward.
Partnership with Other Area UU Congregations 
We have grown significantly in our relationship with other UU churches in the area, especially in our connections across our staff teams.  We have started providing administrative support to the UU congregation in Loveland, and bookkeeping support for the church in Greeley.   In the coming year we will share a staff position with Greeley to address our membership and volunteer coordination needs, which will significantly strengthen our relationship across staff and members. Our ministers have met monthly with the ministers of other area congregations, and our staff has met twice with other congregations’ staff teams for shared learning and team building.
Final thoughts
I cannot conclude this report without an acknowledgement of the Board for its hours and hours of good, patient, and thoughful work this year.   So much of their work goes unseen, and it is hard to describe just how much they have done this year – it’s pretty amazing to consider that most of them have full time jobs and all of them have very busy lives – let us say thank you a thousand times!!  And I also want to lift up our staff team, who continue to bring this congregation so many gifts – their passion, energy, commitment, goodwill, and the skills they each bring to their jobs.  We are truly blessed!
It has been a big year with so much going on.  Surely not everything has been perfect, but we need to be proud of all that we have done, and stay focused on this goodness as we look ahead to the future.  I am so grateful for all of you and look forward to our continued partnership.
With gratitude,
Rev. Gretchen Haley

Appreciative Inquiry Update & Next Steps for the Transition

Greetings from you Transition Team.  

Here it is April already: hard to believe we are 10 months past Marc’s retirement, but the time has flown because of how busy we’ve been.
We’d like to begin by expressing our appreciation for the tremendous turnout we received for the Appreciative Inquiry sessions.  Over 300 people participated in numerous groups.  By all accounts the conversations were rich and rewarding, and if the process went no further that in itself would mark a success.  In the March at team led by Tim Pearson read every single response sheet and quantified them in a spreadsheet. By looking at repeating themes, several narratives became apparent.  In April, a new team, this time led by yours truly, will take those themes and develop some Provocative Proposals, aspirational Calls-to-Action that the Board and the Senior Minister Search Committee can use as we move ever closer to our church of tomorrow.  We look forward to sharing those with you.
And Coming Soon…… The next project the Transition Team will embark on revolves around the various ministry teams in the congregation.  We plan to meet with virtually all of the groups who do the work of the church, and through conversations with each group we’ll hear how these teams see their particular mission, how that mission supports the larger mission of the church, and how they practice decision making and leadership succession.  We will neither offer guidance nor advice,we are there to simply listen. The purpose of these conversations is purely to invite these groups to consider how they currently function, and by extension how they might function even better and sustain their worthy efforts for the long haul.  These conversations should be enlightening and enriching, and we look forward to launching this project in May.  Look for us at a meeting near you!
In recognition that our time with Reverend David Keyes will soon be drawing to a close, the Transition Team would be remiss if we did not offer our gratitude for the wise council and deep wisdom he has imparted to us.  The time of transition will continue after he’s gone, but the groundwork we’ve laid together will serve us well in the work still ahead of us.
In Faith,
Lenny Scovel on behalf of the Transition Team

Appreciative Inquiry at Foothills

Guest post from Joan Woodbury, Transition Team Member

Tell your story, dream your dream.

As our congregation transitions from one successful ministry to the next, we are taking the time to celebrate our past and appreciate our present before we turn towards the future.   In November and December we had an opportunity to become more familiar with the church’s history, to hear personal remembrances about the past from our own members and to be a part of our collective timeline. In January and February we turn our attention to the present with Appreciative Inquiry.

As described on the UUA website, Appreciative Inquiry uses positive questions and interviews to focus on how a church functions at its best. It is the cooperative search for what is best in our church. During the process, we use specific questions to discuss our own experiences and to generate hopes and dreams for the future.

The process begins with one-on-one interviews with each other in the presence of facilitators. We then come together in larger groups to continue the conversations and learn from each other. The information we gather will help us with another step in the search process – information for the search committee about what we all value and what we want for our church in the years to come.

This is an important step in this interim period and the more people who participate the more meaningful it will be.
Please join us!

There are currently six (6) sessions scheduled and you need only attend one session:

Wednesday, January 21st – 5:30 to 7pm (before Choir practice)
Sunday, January 25th – 12:30 to 2 (after second service)
Saturday, January 31st – 9 to 11:30
Tuesday, February 3rd – 6:00 pm
Thursday, February 12th – 2 to 4pm
Friday, February 13th – 6:00 pm (during Fab Family Friday)

Then Our Promise Finds Fulfillment, and Our Future Can Begin

It’s probably no coincidence that the service led by Rev. Rob Eller-Isaacs this past Sunday began with the familiar UU hymn “The Fire of Commitment.” You see, Rob is not only the co-senior minister at Unity Church Unitarian in St. Paul, Minnesota – he’s an expert on the church governance style known as “policy governance,” and one of the founders of Unity Consulting. Rob wasn’t just a visiting minister, here as a guest in our pulpit. He’d also spent much of the weekend educating members of our Board on the governance structures that work best at large UU churches, and how to put them into practice. And that hymn is clearly an ode to the impact of the governance style Rob had been describing.

What’s that? Governance doesn’t spring to mind when you hear “The Fire of Commitment?” Well, perhaps I should explain….

“Governance” is simply the way decisions get made in a church. There’s a strong correlation between the size of a church and the decision-making systems it most successfully employs. As churches begin to outgrow their governance, there’s a tendency to make incremental changes, adding new committees and staff in response to challenges as they arise. As programs, budgets, and staff grow, a board that seeks to manage the activities of the church begins to find that it is too busy to step back and consider the big picture.

It’s a pattern we’ve seen first-hand at Foothills. When the interim task force was preparing our application for interim ministry this spring, we invited comment from the entire congregation, and made especially sure to poll current and former members of the various committees and the Board. The lay leaders with first-hand experience doing the work of the church (and our ministers, too) all listed an updated governance structure as one of the most important issues our church needed help with. And so, we chose an interim minister with proven expertise in – among other things – helping large churches implement policy governance.

But what exactly is policy governance? If you ask Rev. Keyes, he’ll tell you that it’s a democratic process that unleashes creativity in churches. If you ask Rev. Eller-Isaacs, he’ll describe it as “a radical separation of means and ends.” It might require a slightly less pithy answer, though, to satisfy those of you still reading this far along.

In policy governance, the board and congregation work to clearly state the church’s values and mission, and decide what specific outcomes the church’s work should produce. These outcomes are the “ends” that Rob Eller-Isaacs was referring to. A board in policy governance has the task of drafting and continuously refining policies that state the impact the church seeks to have on the world, define how progress towards those goals should be measured, clarify how the organization should be structured in pursuit of those goals, and establish some limitations on the ways those goals can be pursued.

On the other side of the spectrum in Rob Eller-Isaacs’ definition, the “means” are the methods used to pursue those ends, and they are the domain of the ministers and staff of the church. The board places final responsibility for the success or failure of its goals on the “executive,” which is typically the senior minister, or sometimes a small team including, for example, the ministers and church administrator. Once the board has defined the goals the executive is responsible for achieving (and placed whatever restrictions it deems necessary upon those efforts) it allows the executive or executive team the freedom to decide on the means it will employ to succeed.

To offer a concrete example, suppose that our church had decided to eliminate homelessness in Fort Collins. That process might look something like this:

  1. The importance of the goal would trickle up from the congregation to the board;
  2. The board would draft a policy charging the executive with achieving this goal;
  3. The executive would be prevented by existing limitations policies from selling the church building to raise funds, from employing means inconsistent with our principles to pursue this goal, etc.
  4. Within those boundaries, however, the executive would be free to align its efforts with other partners in the community, and to choose which facets of homelessness might be most important in achieving the goal. We might focus our resources on addiction services, or mental health services, or rent assistance, or using the church budget to fund a shelter, etc.
  5. The executive would report to the board periodically on how successful our efforts have been towards the goal.
  6. The board may choose to refine the goal – for example, we might determine that it was naïve to expect to end homelessness entirely, but a more reasonable goal that the church should ensure that psychological, legal, financial and material assistance are available to all who face homelessness. And the process would begin again.

Clearly, this is a significant change in how our church operates, and it won’t happen overnight. Our board has begun, in small ways, to operate on a policy basis: we have delegated to Rev. Keyes the role of chief of staff, and have been working to articulate the kind of impact our church should have on our lives and the wider community. We’ve begun considering the governance policies of other large UU churches for instruction and inspiration. We’ve directed the Transition Team to work towards a covenant of right relations, and are drafting a conflict resolution policy. We’re making a real effort to listen to the congregation’s hopes and concerns, and to communicate in return how we intend to represent them.

We’re learning as we go, and a lot of work remains to be done. The transition won’t be painless. But continuing to run a large church as if it were a small church would mean settling for a community where our values don’t have much influence. Foothills is one of the bigger UU churches in the country, falling within the top 5% by membership already, and continuously attracting new members in a rapidly-growing city. Nearly all large UU churches (and the UUA itself) have implemented policy governance, or are actively working to do so, and we hear success stories from those who have made the transition all throughout the denomination. If we want to see the seven principles actively shaping life in Northern Colorado, we’re going to have to accept the reality of our size, and adopt governance practices that unleash our very real capabilities.

When we’ve completed this transition, it’s my hope that our board and congregation will be focused on important questions like, “Where does injustice exist in our community?” and “In what ways should Fort Collins be transformed by our presence?” All of the work we do together will be guided and fueled by an awareness of how that work furthers our mission. If we can accomplish that, I think, Foothills will be entering a really exciting new era.  Or, in the words of the hymn,

When the fire of commitment sets our mind and soul ablaze,
When our hunger and our passion meet to call us on our way,
When we live with deep assurance of the flame that burns within,
Then our promise finds fulfillment and our future can begin.

See you Sunday,

–Rich Young