Following Up on #MeToo

It’s been a little over 3 weeks since our #MeToo worship service, and the conversation is just beginning.  A few of our Senior Sisterhood groups have been taking up brave and tender conversations around #MeToo – sharing their own experiences and reflections with one another.  The small group conversations for women to reflect on problematic sexual experiences started tonight, with another on Saturday.  And, the conversations for Men and #MeToo are set to begin next Wednesday.  This last one has drawn the attention of NPR’s All Things Considered, who is doing a story on men and the #MeToo movement – they reached out to hear about our intent for these conversations, and how men are responding.

Another part of this continued conversation is also just beginning to take shape – the Restoring Wholeness Task Force announced by the Board as a part of the #MeToo service.  Over the past few weeks, the Board has been drafting the charter for this Task Force, and thinking carefully about the desired ends.

The Board has been clear that we are called to be a church that deals directly with sexual misconduct and harassment, and that we want to be a part of shifting the culture towards one of greater respect, equality, understanding, and mutual liberation.  To do this, we know we need to start by taking a good look at our past – for, as the Rev. Jan Christian says, “going back can change the way we go forward.”

Part of the work of the Task Force will be in collecting stories about our congregation’s past – including relationships between congregants and religious professionals, and the ways our congregation’s culture, as a system, may have contributed to a lack of clarity or other factors that may have allowed misconduct or harassment to occur.  The goal is to learn, to change, to grow, and to do better.

If you are someone who is wanting to share about an experience that you are thinking through from the past that may connect to this conversation, please email metoo@foothillsuu.org, which for now (until our Task Force is fully up to speed) will be responded to by me, or by Rev. Sean directly.  You can trust that your confidentiality will be protected, as together we continue to understand and learn from our own past – so that we can create an even stronger future.

This is brave, and sometimes challenging work.  I am proud to serve a congregation whose leadership has been willing to do the difficult and yet faithful thing at each step, with a commitment towards being that church that we know we are called to be.  And, I am grateful that we can create spaces and opportunities for this brave learning to happen together, so that we can all grow, and learn, and change, for the better.

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Why I’m Grateful We Won’t Be Sponsoring a Black Lives Matter Event This Weekend

It started the way that so many Unitarian Universalist actions start: with a question.

One of our members asked on a progressive social media site, why there had not been any response in Fort Collins to the most recent shooting death of a Black man by police officers – in this case, Stephon Clark in Sacramento.

Just a few days later, the event seemed to be well on its way.  Conversations were happening across various communities, speakers were being booked, permits were being pulled, objectives were being outlined.  Some of the organizing was messy – most of us didn’t know each other.  But we were figuring it out.  The Facebook event went live. It was happening.

To be honest, I have been waiting for this moment.  I knew it would come, hoped it would come. This moment when the right someone would ask the right question, at the right time, and movement would begin.  We could show up, as allies, and supporters with our presence as a predominantly white faith community to support the voices and leadership of people of color.

When it comes to race and racism – we are not well practiced at these conversations in Fort Collins, at least, not in the white community.  But in other spaces, amongst people of color, and sometimes across trusted friendships, it’s generations-long.   Before I lived in Fort Collins, I first heard about it from one of my favorite artists, Guillermo Gomez-Pena, who wrote a piece about a stay here in 2008.  He described the city as “one of the most racist places” he’d been in the U.S., and went on to describe a series of harassing anti-Mexican racist interactions he and his friend had while in town.

It’s long past time for all of us to be having this conversation, and to do the work to make change.

As the team started to discern its plans, it reached out to a core group of leaders of color in the city, hoping to invite their participation and engagement.  Instead of positive reception, however, this group expressed serious concerns and resistance.  First, at the focus on Stephon Clark and national issues.  They felt it perpetuated a myth that racism happens somewhere else, not here.  And second, that a single rally or event might help white people feel they were doing something, but wouldn’t necessarily make actual change for people of color in the community.  They asked the group to put the event on hold so that greater conversation, relationship building, and strategizing could occur.

I already said that the early stages of this process were messy.  But this was something else.  This was – painful. Confusing.  There was a plan in place, a lot of publicity.  Already a group of volunteers being recruited. No one disagreed with the need to address race and racism – and yet it matters how, and with whom.  As the Black Lives Matter organizers have said it, we need to move at the speed of trust. And these relationships, this partnership, it didn’t have the trust yet.  We realized, we needed to start there.

So the lead organizers put the event on hold.  There have been hurt feelings as a result, and some angry words – especially coming from white activists invested in the event.  It’s been even messier than those first conversations.

And yet ultimately, I’m grateful that we aren’t moving forward with the event.  Because an event is not the end we’re after.  The event was just a means towards the bigger end, which is racial justice – and a Fort Collins where all people, including people of color feel welcome, and included, seen, and heard, and valued – for who they are.  That end is going to take a lot of messy conversations and a broad coalition of partners.  And it’s going to take a willingness to put things on hold when key leaders of color in the community ask for a pause, to slow down to build that trust.  It’s going to mean listening, and re-assessing, and learning together, and privileging relationship over publicity, or facebook events – even when they have gotten many likes, and many people indicating their desire to attend.

With the event on hold this weekend, we are re-assessing our plans, and stepping back into that critical relationship-building work, and strategizing together in the way the group of leaders asked for.  We’re engaging some help from community leaders who have walked this path before, and we’re taking a breath.  We’re committed to the long-haul work, and to doing our part to build the Beloved Community.  Most of all, I am grateful to get to be a part, to listen and learn, and to be on this journey, together.

 

Foothills Students Add Their Voices to National Outcry for Stricter Gun Control

by Karen Marcus, Foothills Blogger

“Children are dying who could have been future leaders, scientists, or doctors.”

—Cameron Montague, Sophomore at Poudre High School

Over the weekend, hundreds of thousands or people participated across the U.S. and internationally in “March for Our Lives” protests to demand stricter gun laws in America. These events were spurred by actions taken by students in the wake of the February shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

On Wednesday, March 14 — one month after the Parkland shooting — students across the U.S. walked out of their classrooms to honor the 17 victims killed in that event, and to push lawmakers to enact new gun restrictions. Students from elementary, middle, and high schools — as well as some colleges — participated by marching, holding signs, and speaking about their experiences.

Fort Collins students had heard about plans for the national walkout, but the date fell during their spring break; so they scheduled their own walkout and rally in Old Town Square on Tuesday, February 27. The student-led demonstration attracted about 1,500 students and supporters, who carried signs, chanted, and engaged in a moment of silence for the Parkland victims.  

Many Reasons to Participate

Among the attendees were several young people from the Foothills Unitarian Church community. At a discussion about the event with Reverend Sean Neil-Barron on Sunday, March 4, the students said their reasons for attending the walkout included wanting safer schools and stricter gun laws. One asked, “Why should I have to learn to run for my life?” As part of the first generation that regularly participates in “lockdown drills,” they noted that lawmakers haven’t been listening to adults about this issue, so maybe they’ll listen to kids.

Cameron Montague, a sophomore at Poudre High School, said she never hesitated about participating in the walkout. “Social justice and activism have been a big part of my life,” she commented. She started the walk from Poudre to Old Town with friends, who had similar reasons for participating. “We all share strong beliefs about change, having our voices heard, and doing our part,” Montague said.

Piper Levinson, an 8th-grader at Lesher Middle School, participated in the walkout because it was specifically for kids. In addition, she said, it was conveniently close to home, and she was able to easily learn the details about how to participate. Levinson supports guns for sport, and may even try them when she’s older, but noted, “It’s ridiculous that there aren’t more restrictions — ridiculous that people can get an assault rifle with no mental health check.” She pointed out that, by at least one count, just this year, there have already been 18 gun-related incidents, and she finds herself wondering, “Am I next?”

Poudre High School junior Ted Davies had similar reasons for participating. He said, “The shooting in Florida just repeated the trend of school shootings using AR-15 assault weapons. I don’t believe the general population should be able to purchase them. They’re designed to kill people, and ordinary citizens don’t need them.” He would like to know why Congress hasn’t done anything yet, and would like to tell Senator Cory Gardner, “You need to take a progressive stance on gun control because the people you represent take that stance, and your job is to represent their views, not yours.” He hoped his presence at the event would contribute to getting these messages across.

Another big reason for participation in the event was a sense of fear that underlies students’ every-day lives at school. Both Montague and Davies said it’s become mostly a back-of-mind issue for them throughout their school days, but they do think about it at certain times, such as if they see someone unfamiliar at school. They ask themselves if that person could have a concealed gun. Recently, said Montague, a lockdown occurred at her school because of a disturbance in a nearby neighborhood. When teachers were asked over the school’s intercom system to check their email and close the blinds, but no explanation was given, she became genuinely afraid and thought, “This could be it.”

Drills for kids used to involve only instructions to “hide and be quiet,” but now they’re also instructed to “fight” if necessary. Davies said, “That possibility used to scare me, but now I’ve heard it so often that it doesn’t really register.”

A New Paradigm

The purpose of the walkout was to make student voices heard, as the people who would be most directly affected by a school shooting, and as soon-to-be voters. Students at the group discussion said their ideal scenario would be a world where everyone feels safe, where students don’t fear being hurt at school, and where people truly listen to each other. They noted that their intention isn’t to take guns away completely, but to impose limitations on who has access to guns, and to eliminate access to military-style weapons.

Montague said she understands why people want guns, but, “The current situation is not working. Children are dying who could have been future leaders, scientists, or doctors. Our generation is the future, and we’re being killed in the places where we’re supposed to be learning how to be the best we can be. What does that say about us as a society and as part of the human race?”

Levinson thinks gun control should mimic the types of restrictions we place on other dangerous items, such as cars and drugs. She explained, “With cars, their purpose is to drive, but they do kill many people every year; with prescription drugs, their purpose is to help people become healthier, but they also kill sometimes. With both of these things we have a lot of restrictions in place to prevent those negative outcomes. Why shouldn’t it be the same with guns, since their sole purpose is to kill?” Davies agreed: “Assault style weapons designed to kill people shouldn’t be covered by the second amendment because they’re a danger to society when in the wrong hands.”

The Foothills students spoke about the influence of the NRA in the gun restriction debate. They want to send a message to the NRA and the politicians supported by it that kids’ lives are worth more than the money they’re getting in exchange for not acting on citizens’ desire for tighter gun restrictions. Levinson noted she’s pleased that some corporations are cutting ties with the gun-rights group. “I think it’s really effective,” she said. “It shows they put their values above money, that they’re serious about this issue.”

Hope for the Future

Students at the group discussion described their experience with the walkout and rally as “overwhelming” (in a good way), “powerful,” and “feeling like a part of something bigger.” They noted a sense of unity as they started walking from their schools to Old Town with their own classmates and peers, and as they were joined along the way by students and supporters they didn’t know, and encouraged by observers who cheered, honked horns, and held “you make us proud” signs.

Levinson said, “The most inspirational part for me was how passionate people were. They took it really seriously. It was very moving, because usually kids don’t get a say in these things, and the event was centered around kids, not adults.”

Davies commented, “I thought, wow, a lot of people that go to other schools in this town really do care about this issue. Seeing that all these people care, it’s a surprise that nothing happens in D.C.”

The event created a sense of hope that these students would like to see continue. Being in dialog with friends, fellow students, and caring adults at Foothills, as well as becoming more informed and active are ways they’re perpetuating that hope. Davies said he’ll try to speak out more when he sees things like this happen, and make his voice heard at future events. He added, “Our generation can do a lot. In the next few years we’ll have the right to vote, as some of my friends do now. Elections will be influenced by us and how vocal we are about topics that are important to us. And eventually some of us will get into office and put our views into action there.”

Montague said, “The event showed me there are so many other people who support and believe what I believe. Now I know there are hundreds of teens that want gun reform; it’s refreshing how many there are, and how many voices are speaking out for peace, change, and action.”

Showing Up for Democracy: The Women’s March

from Foothills Blogger, Jane Everham

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The Women’s March isn’t just for women!

Brian and I attended the first March in 2017 where the organizers hoped for 20,000 attendees – they got 100,000 instead! This delayed the march as the logistics were re-worked, but the standing around with like-minded strangers gave us hope and good cheer.

The 2nd Annual Women’s March took place in downtown Denver on January 21, and even more came to march! Despite the March starting on-time at 9:30, it still took us almost 90 minutes to funnel with the crowd onto 14th St and Bannock – we were so many! This year we encountered numerous of the dozens of Foothills UUs that rode buses or carpooled down to join the March. They carried signs made at various Sign Parties sponsored by church members. The sign I carried said, “Hick, Pardon Ingrid!” and UUs from Boulder and Quakers from Denver, all part of the larger Support Ingrid coalition, recognized its meaning and stopped to talk. Many strangers asked, “Who’s Ingrid?’ and were enlightened on how they could support Ingrid and stand up for justice. It was heartening to hear them express gratitude and support for our Sanctuary efforts.

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Many of the beliefs and principles of Unitarian Universalism were on display at the March.

The demographic of the marchers was extensive and inclusive – babes in arms – girls 3and women – the elderly in wheel chairs – men and boys – LGBTQ – the disabled on scooters – a rainbow of colors. They were from all over Colorado. Most carried signs – many marchers brought extras to share. The signs varied from sweet to snarky to political, and many were very funny:

“It’s about all of us!”  “Girls just want to have FUN-damental rights!”

“I’ve seen better Cabinets at IKEA!”

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Note the Ingrid balloon in the background!

We were a mighty, joyous, and peaceful crowd!

Mark your calendars now for the 3rd Annual Women’s March – it is a moving experience of Showing Up -not to be missed!

January 19, 2019.

 

Breaking Bread Together

by Anne Hall

Last summer several of us on our Sanctuary team heard a wonderful speaker, Rev. Alexandria Salvatierra, speak to the community-based Sanctuary Coalition. She spoke about the importance of broadly defining how we provide sanctuary to those in need within our community. While she recognized the importance of the traditional, physical sanctuary in our churches, she also spoke about the other needs of many members in our Hispanic community and how we might accompany them during this time. This message sparked our program “Breaking Bread Together”, where members of our church are now getting to know more closely families of The Family Center/La Familia.

Patricia Olson and I are members of our Sanctuary team, and we met with Lorena Mendoza from La Familia to find out how we could begin to get to know the families she works with. We all agreed that it was best to start small–with ten members of Foothills to meet and share food and stories with ten La Familia families.  On Saturday afternoon, November 18th, ten people from Foothills, including Rev. Sean, went to The Family Center/La Familia where we met ten families and their children.  After a brief welcome from Lorena and Sean, we broke into small, very informal conversation groups.

In her opening remarks, Lorena mentioned the work we were doing with Sanctuary in our church. Later, there were many questions about our program in the small groups.  The three women in my group really wanted to share how difficult their life as women had been in Guatemala and how much they appreciated their life in Fort Collins.

At the end of our time together, both the people from Foothills and from La Familia said how much they wanted these conversations to continue. Our plan is to schedule our next get together in mid-January at The Family Center/La Familia in the hope that our work of accompaniment will grow and flourish.  

If you would like to know more about this partnership and perhaps join us on this journey, feel free to contact me at annehall4@comcast.net.  or call 970-282-3829. 

We Are A Sanctuary Congregation

Dear Foothills friends and members,

The sanctuary was filled with an incredible energy on Sunday as 165 members and another 30 or so friends came together to discuss and ultimately vote on the question of becoming a sanctuary congregation.  A few wondered if this was the best way to improve our broken immigration system, and others were concerned about the risks involved.

Ultimately, however, these concerns did not overcome the 92% who voted to affirm that becoming a sanctuary congregation was a core part of our religious practice, deeply connected to our affirmation of the inherent worth and dignity of every person and our understanding that we are all in this life, together.  With this overwhelming majority, we are now officially a sanctuary congregation. 

Which of course means, the real work begins! Today many of us were working on logistics, which basically fall into the following areas:

a) Our Guest – The Guest Relations Team (previously the Applicant Team) has been solidified to include Jessica Davis, Jeff Dean and Johanna Ulloa, and myself.  We have finalized the applicant process and are moving through the steps.  My sense is that we should know by the end of this week or early next week who will be the first guest to take sanctuary with us, and when.

b) Funding – We have established a fund to support building enhancements, legal counsel, furniture, living items for our guest, staff support dedicated to supporting the sanctuary initiative, and other incidental costs required to ensure we and our guest are able to make this work.  Donate to this fund here (and feel free to pass this on): foothillsuu.org/sanctuary-fund

c) Communications – There’s going to be a lot happening, and quickly, especially in the next few weeks.  We are creating systems to ensure that those of you who want all the information can get it – and those who want just the highlights can get that too – and everything in between.  Look for more information on this in the next few days.  Meanwhile, we’ve already been connected with the local press – check out the article in the Coloradoan.  An article with the North Forty News will be coming, and there will be more extensive press release once we have someone in sanctuary.

d) Volunteer coordination – Sue Ferguson is working with Rev. Sean to establish an easy and integrated way to schedule our volunteers into the needs.  We’ll soon have more information on this.  Meanwhile, you can express your desire to be a part of the core volunteer list by joining this group here.

e) Building, Safety and other details – We already have a new and improved plan for where our guest will be staying during the time before we can remodel the basement. We also moved forward with the insurance policy application.  And we formulated the organizational structure for this work moving forward – more information on this in the coming days.

On Sunday I spoke about leaning into uncertainty as our friend – this process definitely gives us some good practice in this – as there’s a lot we’re trying to work out, and quickly.  So it’s a good thing we all have a good sense of humor, and that we know we are all just doing the best we can to try to do that next right thing.

Thank you all for your partnership,

Rev. Gretchen

Becoming a Sanctuary Congregation – Vote on August 27th

Dear Foothills friends and members,

While the blatant hatred and racism displayed in Charlottesville on Saturday left me feeling helpless and despairing, our time together yesterday morning engaging the questions of becoming a sanctuary congregation brought me to gratitude, and resolve.  It is a privilege to serve a community that is engaging in such important and compassionate work.  

If you missed the service yesterday, you can catch the sermon from the Rev. Mike Morran on this video.  It was a powerful exploration and charge for us to get real and serious about this very real opportunity before us.  As I shared on Sunday, our partners at the American Friends Service Committee have already approached us about a potential guest for our congregation, a woman seeking sanctuary with us.

She has six children, age 3 to 17, all US citizens, and she also cares for her niece. She has been in the US for over 20 years after immigrating from Guatemala, and other than minor traffic violation in 2005 that brought her into deportation hearings, she has never committed a crime.  Without sanctuary from a faith community, her deportation will occur within the next month.

This process reminds me so much of my process of adopting my children – who were adopted through foster care.  As with then, there’s the timeline you have in mind, and then there’s the reality of receiving a call.  We did not anticipate having this possibility looming as we were reaching these two weeks of discernment, but also, this is how it sometimes works when you begin to be in relationship with those doing the on-the-ground-work of immigration justice.  

Our work now is to decide if a) we feel it is our congregation’s mission to be a sanctuary congregation and accept someone into sanctuary; and if yes b) to get the space, people, systems and finances ready to go to be able to do this.  

A lot of the initial groundwork was laid in yesterday’s service and workshop after the service.  If you missed the workshop, please plan to attend the workshop on August 23rd at 6:00.  You can sign up here.  If you can’t make that but want more information, or if you want to start reading up on our process and plans, check out this Q&A, this summary of our application process, and this resource describing our partners in this work.  

Most of all, we hope you will join us on the 27th for the vote at 11:30.  Please see this letter from the Board describing the details of our vote, the percentage required for a “yes,” and other information on the meeting.

Thank you for taking up this important conversation, and for continuing to travel this path of justice and compassion together.

 

In partnership,

Rev. Gretchen