From Covenant to Healing: How We Care, and Belong

I remember hearing a story about a young couple that showed up at a church for the first time. They had recently moved to the area and were church shopping. Walking into the church they quickly noticed that nobody, and I mean nobody, was even close to their age. If you took their parents’ age and added it to their age, you would get in the ballpark of the average age of the congregation. But…five years later they were still there. Why?

After they visited the congregation for the first time, one of them was diagnosed with cancer.  Even though they had only been to the congregation that one time, a church member followed up with them.

The afternoon after the first chemo treatment, the couple responded to a knock at the door and they were met with the sight of a casserole sitting on their front door, steaming, and the back of a church member hurrying away. And the casseroles kept coming. For months. Why did they stay? Because the congregation cared about them deeply, and they knew they belonged.

I have only been getting to know Foothills for a short time, but in that time I have witnessed a spirit of love rippling outward. People at Foothills actually want to hear the truth when we ask them “How are you doing?” What a healing balm that is, and how critical it is to that hope we all have to feel like we belong.  

Within our congregation, we have dedicated teams that actively partner in our shared ministry of care and belonging:

  • Our Parish Visitors care and visit with dozens of people within our community each month who need a listening ear.
  • Our Meals Team jumps into action to provide meals during times of stress and need.
  • Our Cards Crew helps us reach out and share our concern 
  • Our Caring Team connects people to rides to church and supports hospitality during memorial services
  • Our small groups – each led by a trained and supported facilitator –  offer a sense of intimacy, connection, and shared spiritual growth

Our professional ministry team, Rev. Haley and myself, extend this care by offering pastoral care and counseling, end of life support, rites of passage, and alleviate financial burdens for members through the Ministerial Discretionary Fund.

If you would like to join one or more of these teams – if you think you may have, as we spoke about this Sunday, a calling to this important ministry, please contact Sean (sean@foothillsuu.org). 

In a church our size, it can sometimes be hard to figure out how to access this care, and you can often wonder if they are meant for you. They are. Dropping by or calling the church office, sending an email to caring@foothillsuu.org or connecting directly with Sean (sean@foothillsuu.org) are the easiest ways to start the conversation. If you think you know a member who might need some support, please let us know in these ways, as well.

This month, our theme moves from covenant to healing.  It is our ministry of care where these two themes come together.  May our walk together be one where we deeply care for each other, healing ourselves, and our world.

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Eagerly Enthusiastic, Passionately Provoked

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About 50 of us from Foothills toured the new Mormon Temple last Tuesday.  Here’s Eleanor Van Deusen, Sean Neil-Barron and Gretchen Haley in the photo op they offer at the end of the tour.  

I’ve come to the realization that I’ve officially over-used the word, “excited.”

How do I  feel to finally be starting my new senior ministry? Excited.  How am I feeling about Sean’s new ministry? Excited. How am I feeling about the church – all that’s going on, and all we’ve got planned? I’m so excited.

Time to consult the minister’s BFF, thesaurus.com.  And now, I am happy to share with you that….

I am delighted with the great summer we have had.  Our worship attendance has been regularly record-breaking for summer – if you were at Water Communion, you got a taste of what I mean – many summer Sundays had more than 250 adults and children for a single service, and we have welcomed at least 80 newcomers over the course of the past 3 months.  Wow!  (To all of you who may be reading this: Welcome!)

What’s more, I’m passionate about the services we’ve been able to offer each Sunday this summer, especially with the steady partnership from Lehne Leverette who coordinated music for five Sundays while our music director, Ryan Marvel was away.  And because of our increased hours for Ryan in this year’s budget, I was thrilled to have him return from his time away four Sundays earlier than usual.

I’ve also been extremely animated about the Faith Cafe and Community Office Hours, as it’s allowed me and other staff members to meet and connect with you in smaller groups, and go deeper more quickly.  We’ll definitely be continuing these (with some tweaks) as we head into the fall.

Speaking of the fall, I’m fired up at all we’ll be offering to grow in spirit, connect in community and serve in partnership this fall.  Check out our “Next Big Thing” section for more details, but let me summarize by saying – we have been thinking carefully about what our community needs – across all our ages and stages – in light of the November election, considering the particular challenges of the various stages of life, and in service to our Unitarian Universalist good news and commitment to lifelong learning.  We have created a robust offering of small groups, classes, spiritual practices and other ways to- as our new mission statement puts it – embrace diversity, grow our faith, and awaken our spirits to the unfolding meaning of this life.

I hope it piques your interest to learn that our theme for the whole year will be “Learning to Lovingly Disagree.” This is in addition to the monthly themes we’ll continue as a part of the Soul Matters Sharing Circle.  This fall we’ll be delving into covenant, healing, story, and presence in worship, and across all of our lifespan religious education.  Sean, Ryan, Eleanor and I are weaving together a series of Sundays to address the breadth and depth of human experiences, and that will continue to strengthen our sense of belonging and connection with something greater than we are.  Don’t forget the return of the vespers services on September 22nd at 6 pm!

I am especially enthusiastic about the many ways to serve our greater community – we’ll continue our partnership with Faith Family Hospitality, start a few new villages for One Village One Family, and we’ll partner with the Food Bank on a pilot program for mobile food distribution 2 Sundays a month starting in October (did you see the article in the Coloradoan this Sunday? see if you can find our mention tucked in there).  This last one I am particularly on fire about because it is an opportunity for families to serve together – we’ll welcome kids 10 and up (willing to actively help)!

And, I am charged up at the energy I am feeling from many of you who are seeking to serve within our congregation in new ways, and hopeful that I can work with Sean and the Nominating Committee to create better and fuller pathways to help more of you more easily find your place where service becomes joy.

Through all of this programming, I can’t forget to mention the event I am most eagerly anticipating – my installation service as senior minister, on October 2nd at 4 pm.  I am beside myself thinking about the choral piece we have commissioned Ryan to compose for the occasion, the charge we might hear from Rev. Justin Schroeder for this congregation where he grew up, the story featuring choreography from Eleanor Van Deusen, and the powerful experience it will be to all be together in a single service (as we’ll be holding it at First UMC on Elizabeth and Stover).  Look for your invites to arrive this week!

I hope you’ll join me in eager enthusiasm, passionate provocation, and all around fired-up-ness.  There’s so much good going on, and most of all, it all becomes good because you are there.  You are what makes it good.  I am so grateful.

In partnership,

Gretchen

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,

Gretchen

Great News from our Stewardship Team

After many years of charging a fee for our Religious Education program, in consultation with ministers and staff last summer, the Board of Trustees decided to eliminate the RE fee. The idea is that we are all in this together, we all contribute in many ways to fulfilling the mission of our church, and a fee-for-service approach is counter to this. This bold step meant that initially we let go of the $10,000 generated by the fees for children and youth programs; yet the resiliency and commitment of our church community is truly amazing. The wonderful news is that our members with children and youth in the RE program actually INCREASED their pledges this year by $15,000, for a net positive effect of $5,000. Thank you!

This is another example that, like the amazing growth in the Share the Plate program, people respond in generous ways when inspired by opportunities to help. Our church members and friends also recognize the value to our children, congregation and wider community of a solid RE program that helps our children, youth and adults explore questions of ethics, spirituality and social action that exemplify our mission: “to further the reach of love in our own lives, in Northern Colorado and beyond.”

More Great News! Besides increasing the church’s funds through this thoughtful decision, our members and friends have increased their contributions dramatically over the last five years: total pledges in 2010 were $388,477. This year, pledges are $567,480! 

Your generosity over these years is reflected in our capacity to better serve our members and our wider community.  It has meant – for example – the addition of a second minister, the year-round employment of our Director of Religious Exploration, the growth of our incredible music program, significant progress in moving towards fairly paying our staff, the availability of childcare at all events and programs, significant new justice ministries like Faith Family Hospitality and ESL Tutoring, enhanced excellence in worship and a greater capacity to meet the ever-growing administrative and technological needs required to support ministry today…and much more.  We have made so much progress in moving from a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance – a culture where we ask how big our vision can be and live into that big vision.

New to your Stewardship Team’s responsibilities this year is overseeing all fundraising in the church, to ensure that fundraisers and events not only do not conflict with each other, but complement one another.

Your Stewardship Team will further the wonderful work that has been done over the last five years. During this time of transition in our church, we will continue to nurture the culture of abundance at Foothills that has been created and grown with care. We look forward to helping guide our church into the future.

Thank you for your commitment and generosity to our church –

Kay Williams, incoming chair of the Stewardship Team, Karen Johnese, Peg MacMorris, Jim Lathrop, Lynn Young, Nels Broste, Scott Denning, and Rev. Howell Lind

Freeing Forgiveness – Exploring October’s Theme

forgive-everyone-everything“What does it mean to be a people of Forgiveness?”

As a child, growing up Catholic, my sense was that we should give away forgiveness like candy at Halloween: freely and readily, to anyone who comes asking.  As an adult Unitarian Universalist, however, I have realized that forgiveness is a lot more complicated and challenging than that image would imply.

What should we ask of those who have hurt us before we offer forgiveness – if anything? Must someone seek your forgiveness in order for you to forgive them? What if they can’t or won’t? What about self-forgiveness? Is there a point where something or someone is beyond forgiveness? What about forgiveness of a group, community, or institution? …Or life itself?

Forgiveness is connected to memory and time.  It asks us to engage our feelings about something in the past in order to change our experience in the present, and move into the future.  Forgiveness is an act of vulnerability – both from the one seeking forgiveness and the one offering it – as it reveals the risks of trying to love in an imperfect world.

In September, we have been asking “What does it mean to be a people of Invitation?” Inviting requires we make space in our lives and in our hearts – create a clearing, open our hands, and let life move freely in, and out – as it is all a gift.  And living with open hands and an open heart requires we become a people of forgiveness.

Since forgiveness is not as simple as candy on Halloween, we will offer many opportunities this month for reflection, practice and exploration of October’s monthly theme, forgiveness. This Sunday, October 4th, we will begin with a multi-sensory worship experience exploring forgiveness.  After service, we will offer a workshop on the theme from 12:30-1:30.  I will be leading Forgiveness Practice Circles on Tuesdays in October at 6 pm – come to one or all of these to literally practice forgiving – whatever or whomever needs forgiveness in your life.  Our popular evening vespers (contemplative) services return October 15th at 6 pm where we will be exploring forgiveness through song, meditation and ritual.  And finally, I want to encourage you to join our new small group that will delve deeper into the Sunday sermons and the theme, which kicks off Sunday the 18th, although after this month will run every 2nd and 4th Sunday at 12:30. You can “drop in” to experience these sermon-based reflection circles, though our recommendation is you attend at least 6 throughout the year to strengthen the experience for everyone.

It will be a rich month, and I look forward to exploring all of this and more with you.  – Gretchen

Connecting at Buckhorn Retreat and Beyond – Guest post from church member Dee Wanger

Wanger, Mark and DeeTwenty years ago, our family experienced a “spiritual perspective-changing health crisis” that nudged us to look for a spiritual community that would take us from our current awakening to a more spiritual future. With Mark raised in the Jewish tradition, and myself raised in the Presbyterian tradition, we weren’t sure what we were looking for, but began our search by attending a service at Foothills.

The sermon that day had been written especially for me, or at least it seemed. I was able to deeply listen and apply the ideas to my current crisis. It was magical.  We and our daughters saw friends we knew from other walks in our lives.

It was as though we had walked through a think vine overgrowth into a secret garden. Yet, we soon learned that there was no secret here!

A very public Medieval Festival was offered to the community, there were several active human rights advocacy groups, and church representatives were involved with interdenominational organizations in the community. We wanted to be part of the fun and sharing!

We continued to hear that Buckhorn was one of the best ways to meet people and have a meaningful spiritual experience together. We signed up and did, indeed, have a bonding experience with conversation over meals, shared laughter and singing during evening programs, thoughtful discussion about books and articles, playing board, card and outside games, a nature walk led by a knowledgeable church member, and star gazing with powerful telescopes. There was something so organic about being in nature, playing, and talking that helped us appreciate the breadth and depth of the people in the Foothills community.

What we witnessed at Buckhorn, and have appreciated in our continued involvement with Foothills, is the talent, wisdom, humor, and commitment of the people. Just as programming at Buckhorn was organized and presented by congregants, so is much of the leadership and programming present and successful because of the contribution of congregants.

We found that we had much to gain, as well as much to offer. We have grown through our “receiving” activities with groups for women, men, mothers, crafting, reading, hiking, discussion, parenting, travel, and films, but also in our “giving” activities as ushers, coffee-makers, religious education teachers, youth group advisers, sound booth tech, OWL teacher, choir member, carpet cleaner, landscape crew, rummage sale helper (and shopper!), service auction event hosts, Madrigal Dinner servers, Faith Family Hospitality supporters, summer Sunday service coordinator, chalice lighters, and more.

Though we look back in wonder at the serendipity of that first visit, we’ve never looked back at our decision to join. In fact, it is what kept us going then. The messaging at Sunday services is inspiring, grounding and thought provoking, but it’s the connection to the people that keeps us coming now.

Through my work on the nominating committee, I’ve come to realize that there’s a lot of untapped wisdom, inspiration and talent that hasn’t found its place on the leadership path at Foothills.  If you are one who hasn’t yet found your place to give and receive, I want to encourage you to try Buckhorn this year – perhaps like it was for us, it may just be the beginning of a lifelong journey of connection and community.

Appreciative Inquiry Results – from the Transition Team

We began our Appreciative Inquiry Process in January with a series of workshops and conversations where members could share their stories about the church and their sense of our core values and their dreams for our future.  A summary of that process can be found here.

Since those conversations concluded in mid-February, the interview summary sheets were typed into a spreadsheet, and then that spreadsheet was given to a Analysis Team headed by Tim Pearson and including Carolyn Mita, Peg MacMorris, and Ruth Rice.  The Analysis Team produced a report summarizing the trends and information in the sheets.

Additionally, in the workshops themselves, groups of 6 participants came together and summarized their self-understanding of their own trends and most important points.  This information has been captured on a 2-sided single sheet called “Our Appreciative Trends from the Summary of Six Conversations.”

Next, our Provocative Proposals team of Lenny Scovel, Anne Haro-Sipes, Clay Carter and Brendan Mahoney used these two ways of summarizing the interview data to create vision statements.  These statements were to be: stated in the affirmative, linked to a dream acknowledged in the data, and based in a strength already existing in the congregation.   The team came up with a total of 20 Provocative Proposals that can now be used as the starting point for the Board and the Search Committee and for any other leadership body to use as a jumping off point for a strategic plan as well as other plans for our future.   Throughout the next few months, we will engage these Proposals through an interactive display, and in August and September, there will be a series of Chalice Lighting reflections around each of these Proposals.

Thanks to the many people who participated in this process, and to the Analysis and Provocative Proposals Teams for your time and attention and care to summarize and distill and discern the core messages and possibilities within these conversations.  This is a great beginning for our ongoing process of looking ahead and creating the church of the future.

– Transition Team: Anne Hall, Chris Frey, Lenny Scovel, Bob Bacon and Jen Iole

Appreciative Inquiry Documents (paper copies are available in the office):