Becoming Belonged

Dinner.  Sharing stories.  For-real check ins.  

It’s a simple concept, but it’s not an obvious one.   The conventional wisdom these days is that we’re so busy, the only way to get folks to engage is to make it as easy, short, and simple as possible. To ask that people meet every single week, for 2 hours or more, for 8 weeks, and maybe longer – it’s too much.  

But the fact that we are over-programmed is only one part of the truth; the other, is that we are under-belonged.

I know, “belonged” isn’t technically a word.  But it helps describe how it happens.

Belonging isn’t passive – it’s active, it takes work, and discipline, and commitment – from us, and from others.  Belonging requires partnership.

Although we have more opportunities than ever before for connection, belonging is in short supply.  Only when we decide to prioritize opportunities for real connection, when we show up for true relationship with those who are committed to true relationship with us – can it really take hold.

This is the theory behind our Gather Groups – a new initiative that isn’t so much an initiative as a whole new way of being together.  

Last month at our Group Link we launched 8 new Gather Groups – and 2 pilot groups were already under way – that makes 10 groups of about 10, all of whom are following that simple formula: Dinner, Sharing Stories (related to faith), For-Real Check-ins.  Every Week.  Eight weeks – and then…maybe more, or something else, or – who knows.

Simple, but not easy – and not that short.  Simple, and transformational.  

Meanwhile, we’re piloting a Leadership version – which uses the same formula while intentionally putting mentors (i.e. longtime church leaders) with mentees (potential future leaders) to intentionally tend to leadership development in our congregation.  We’re also piloting a Family version, where families with their children meet to gather and grow together, in community.  We’ll be launching both of these in their full versions by the fall.

If you missed that first Group Link, not to worry – we’re offering another one on March 17th.  More info and sign up here.  

When I look to our future as a congregation, I am excited about the breadth of our potential impact, but I am also overwhelmed by the depth of our potential connections, the power we have to ease the central dis-ease of life today – our separation, our isolation, our longing to be known, and to know one another – for real.  


The Business of the Church – from Board President, Erin Hottenstein

As the school year comes to a close, so does the church year. On Sunday, June 4 at 11:00 a.m. we will hold our official annual congregational meeting. Please save the date! All members will be asked to attend to vote on elected offices as well as bylaws changes and the annual budget.

Lay leaders – who are all volunteers/members of the congregation – and Foothills staff have been hard at work preparing for the annual meeting.
To help members prepare, a packet will be sent out around May 18th by email (paper copies available by request) that will contain the important information you need to know before voting.
At our Annual Meeting, in addition to the elections and votes mentioned above, we will be thanking our outgoing officers, hearing about the results of our stewardship campaign, and officially moving forward on our Governance trial year.  Because this is a lot to pack into a single meeting, and because we have over 600 members, we’d love to be in conversation with you before the meeting to hear your feedback and to help you learn about these various facets of our congregational life.  As a result, in other blog posts you’ll find mini-updates on each of these areas, as well as notices of meetings where you can discuss these topics more fully with their respective leaders.
We look forward to talking more about all of these things with you and moving our congregation forward as we continue to unleash courageous love!  So, please,
mark your calendars and watch your email around the 18th. We look forward to seeing you soon!

Nominating Committee Update

This update is a part of a Governance Update being sent by email to all Foothills members.

As part of our upcoming Annual Congregational Meeting, we will be electing two new board members and a president-elect. This will leave us with a seven-member board for the coming year (assuming that our Governance trial year receives congregational support).

The three current members of the Nominating Committee will continue on for the next year as their terms are not yet concluded.  As our Governance trial requires a three person Nominating Committee, we will not need to elect additional members this year.

As required by the bylaws, we will be proposing a slate of nominees to be elected by the congregation at the Annual Meeting. You will receive information about these candidates in the packet sent out to all members on 5/17.

In addition, our Committee, in conjunction with the Board and the Governance Task Force, has been taking a more active role in leadership development this year, with the goal to not only identify those ready and willing to serve, but to give them the training needed to be successful in lay leadership positions within Foothills. If you are interested in becoming part of our leadership development process and/or serving as a leader in our congregation, please contact one of our Nominating Committee members by the first week of May if you’d like to be involved this year, and at any point for future leadership.

Thank you!

Nominating Committee – Steve Undy, Chair (, Linda Kothera, Rich Young and Adam Henk


General Assembly – this year in New Orleans

Each June, representatives from our UU Congregations gather together for our annual General Assembly (GA) to learn and worship together and to conduct the business of our association.  This year, GA is in New Orleans and will run from Wednesday June 21st through Sunday June 25th.  Find out more information about the programming here.

It is a powerful experience to gather with other UUs from all over the country, and beyond – to feel the power of being with others far beyond our own congregation, and the power of our faith in all its different forms, and our core similarities.

As a large congregation, we are allotted 12 delegates who are responsible for voting in any business matters.  This year we are electing a new President of the UUA, so this role is especially important.  If we have more interest than delegate slots, we will designate delegates based on the following preference order:

  1. Members currently serving in elected positions in the congregation who will be continuing into next year (i.e. Board, Nominating, Personnel, etc.)
  2. Members currently serving in non-elected ministry roles in the congregation (i.e. Belonging Team or Stewardship Committee…)
  3. Members who are potential leaders for either 1 or 2 type roles in the next few years
  4. Based on order of expressing interest (still must be a Foothills member)

Delegate status is not required to attend GA – in fact many attendees prefer not to be tied into attending all the business elements and so attend as a non-delegate.

Are you interested in attending GA this year? As a delegate, or as an attendee? All are welcome to attend.  Limited scholarships are available.

If you are interested, or if you have questions, contact

Looking forward to spending some time in New Orleans and representing our congregation at our General Assembly!



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!


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


On a Mission: Finding Focus for 2016-17


Rev. Gretchen Haley and Sean Neil-Barron at General Assembly in Columbus OH in late June, just before they walked in the Service of the Living Tradition to honor receiving (respectively) Ministerial Final Fellowship and Preliminary Fellowship with the UUA.

Last week I wrote on my blog about my search for a personal mission statement for the coming year, something that would ground and focus my ministry with you for the coming year.  There are so many worthy things that might pull on our time and attention – but what are the right things for this year, this time – for who we are now, and what we are called to become in our emerging future?

Inspired by the book, Simple Church, I have discerned a three-point mission statement for myself as I move fully into my senior ministry with you.  Here it is: Lead and call us towards our bigger mission and vision; support, develop, lead and work in partnership with our staff team; and recruit, support, develop, lead, and work in partnership with our lay leaders.  Here are a few notes on what I am thinking about with each of these areas of focus.

  1.  Lead and call us towards our bigger mission and vision. Over the past few years in conversation, worship, learning, and service, we have been discerning both implicitly and explicitly a new mission and vision for our shared ministry.  The explicit part of this work is most obvious in the work of our Mission Task Force, which has articulated a new mission statement – the first update in nearly 20 years! – for our congregation.   And yet, even more than this specific “mission statement” work,  this element of my ministry focus is about calling us towards our individual and collective sense of vocation, our larger purpose in the world as a Unitarian Universalist congregation in this time, and this place – to ask questions, invite conversation, and prioritize opportunities where we can, as an organization – keep discerning and remain connected to this greater purpose.  This focus shows up in the way I lead worship and oversee our worship calendar, as well as in how I partner with other leaders in establishing our ministry and programming calendar.  This area of focus is the foundation for the partnerships I am building with interfaith and non-profit leaders in our community, and it is the driving force for my work and witness for justice in our Northern Colorado community, as well as for my continued collaboration with other Unitarian Universalist congregations in our area, across Colorado, and beyond.
  2. Support, develop, lead and work in partnership with our staff team.  As a large congregation with a growing professional staff, it is increasingly true that successful ministries are led and supported through paid staff. Despite what you might anticipate, this increased role of staff does not take away lay partnership, but rather studies show that the more consistent the presence of a paid staff person, the more consistently you can recruit and retain volunteer partners.  We are incredibly lucky to have an amazing staff team at Foothills.  An incredible staff team deserves professional development, consistent supervision, clear lines of accountability, a supportive work environment, robust communication, and intentional leadership both for the staff members individually and for the staff team as a whole.  Especially as we bring on our new assistant minister, Sean Neil-Barron this month (just one more week!), this element of my ministry is one of the most critical ways that I can reach out to all 1200 adults, children and youth who consider themselves a part of our community.  This ministry priority led our staff team to develop a staff covenant in the past few months, and is the reason I am committed to re-convening a Personnel Committee to advise me and the Board as we establish new Personnel policies, Human Resources practices, and compensation standards.
  3. Recruit, support, develop, lead, and work in partnership with our lay leaders. As we’ve been blessed with incredible staff, we’ve also been amazingly blessed with so many dedicated, passionate, and healthy lay leaders.  It always amazes me how much depth of commitment, capacity and dedication there exists within our congregation.  And yet, I am aware that we are always at risk of turning to the same 30 or 40 people – even in a congregation our size – to do the work of the church.  Rather than leveraging our full power as a large community, this potential practice keeps us limited both in terms of who feels a sense of ownership in our mission and vision, and in terms of our impact in people’s lives and in our larger community.  We need to keep drawing the circle wider.  We need to ask who isn’t yet leading and serving in partnership, and then help them find their place.  But this recruitment is just the beginning, from there we need to support and develop our leaders, ensuring they have the training, skills and ongoing partnership so that they can feel like what they are doing matters and is making a difference – that it is playing a part in that big picture noted in item #1 above. This area of ministry will show up this year in my partnership with the Nominating Committee as we seek a new model that will better and more systematically identify, recruit and train leaders in our congregation.  Our hope is that we can create a path of service and leadership that is intentional, integrated with our faith formation, and forward-thinking.  And most of all this ministry focus will show up in my support of and partnership with the many lay leaders already doing the work of our church: Board members (and their task forces – Governance, Mission, and others), stewardship leaders, committee on shared ministry leaders, finance leaders, personnel committee members, nominating committee members, worship leaders, justice leaders, and through partnership with Sean’s ministry, parish visitors, caring team members, small group leaders, and membership ministry leaders.

Coming to this focus for my ministry for the coming year has been liberating and immensely clarifying.  It is not set in stone as I may discover throughout the year that something needs to be changed somewhat – but I have been sitting with it long enough now that I think it’s pretty close to just right.  It also doesn’t mean that I will only do these things – but rather that these things will take priority, and that in all of my ministry, I will be asking how and if it serves one or more of these three areas of focus.

Maybe you notice what isn’t listed here – things like faith formation, pastoral care, or small groups – that have been a big part of my ministry with you up until this point.  Not to worry, I remain as committed to these things as ever, and until Sean is fully up to speed over these next few months, they will remain in my sight and work.  And yet, my job over these next few months is to begin to hand over these things to Sean – to introduce him to the many of you who help make these ministries so meaningful and important, and then to support you all as you take up a new partnership in this work together.

As I take up this ministry, I wonder if you have your own version of a mission for the coming church year? What would you say is your ministry mission – those things that are just yours to do in your lives, in the world, and in our congregation as a result of your specific gifts, calling, and convictions of faith?  Play with some ideas- three is a good number – sit with them for a while, see how they feel.  Write them down for yourself, and when you’re ready, tell someone else in our congregation what you’re thinking.  Exchange ideas, and commitments. Help each other live up to your mission.  Let’s keep growing, and learning, together.

With love, and in partnership,




Board Updates – Leadership Workshop & Pledge Drive

Spring is here and with that a lot of good work is being done at Foothills.

We hope you’ll join us this Sunday at 12:30 for our Congregational Forum where we will be providing an update on the Governance Task Force, the Mission Task Force, and some financial updates.  Bring your questions and your feedback, and as always, we thank you for your partnership and for our walking together in this important work.

This past Saturday, Foothills hosted a gathering of of senior lay leaders from UU congregations all across the area – we had representatives from congregations from Littleton to Casper, with over 40 total participants! It was led by the Rev. Nancy Bowen, Regional Lead for the Pacific Western Region of the Unitarian Universalist Association.


This gathering focused on the leadership of the Board of Trustees, the Nominating/Leadership Development Committee, and the Committee on Ministry.  We spoke about what partnership and alignment looks like among a these leadership teams, and how being aligned doesn’t mean doing the same work, but that we are working towards the same thing, same mission.

12924412_1067181093338607_5450508639949069289_nSome of my favorite take a-ways from the day were:

  • How a congregation can grow quickly while successfully protecting human connection.
  • How to find and prepare new leadership
  • The tensions that arise in governance/organizational structure shifts – specifically the ways that as these transitions occur, the organization becomes temporarily centralized in order to establish the new systems, and then as these systems take hold, the organization “exhales” into a less centralized structure.  We spoke a lot about these sorts of polarities, and the need to keep a healthy balance.
  • How we need to strive to be like-hearted instead of like-minded – can we be curious rather than judgmental in our differences?
  • The key leadership practices that demonstrate a covenantal partnership
  • We watched the video from Simon Sinek in his TED talk about the Why, How and What….and how this idea translates inside our congregations – how we too need to start with why.  (This was a perfect set up for the meeting right after this workshop when we continued our good work on our mission statement!)

It was a rich five hours where we all contributed to one another deepening our understanding of leadership in our faith. Your Board, Nominating Committee, and soon to be a new Committee of shared ministries are excited to put these ideas into practice as we complete this church year, and prepare for our future years.

Speaking of our future years – thank you to all of you who have participated in our stewardship campaign over this past month, and an extra thanks to the many of you who have increased your pledges. Your generosity is inspiring and much needed for us to fulfill the very good work of this church. Thank you very much.

As members, we are responsible for our church. Our operating budget is funded almost completely from pledges. This coming year we are paying for 12% increase to our staff’s healthcare, 2 full time ministers, hoping to move Ryan to full time, paying our staff fair compensation per the UUA, as well as pay a living wage.

I ask of my fellow members who have yet to pledge this year to please do so as soon as you can. Your pledges allow us to finalize our budget for the coming year, which we will then present to you all at our annual congregational meeting on June 5th.  When we each participate in the most generous and responsible way we can, we are able to continue the good work we are here to do, and fulfill our mission of making a transformative impact on the world around us.