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

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Worship Themes 2015-2016

We are excited to be entering our 2nd year of theme-based ministry. This year, we have decided to join with a collaborative of many other UU Congregations (including all those in our immediate surrounding area) as a part of Soul Matters, a theme based learning circle, and will for the most part be following the shared themes of the collaborative.  This means we will get to share resources and ideas about how to implement the theme in religious exploration, through music, and in our small group settings.  Find out more about this collaboration at http://www.soulmatterssharingcircle.com.

Our Worship Themes for the coming year will be:

  • September: Invitation
  • October: Forgiveness
  • November: Grace
  • December: Expectation
  • January: Resistance
  • February: Desire
  • March: Liberation
  • April: Creation
  • May: Blessing
  • June: Simplicity

Do you have a favorite poem, book, or article that speaks to one of these themes? Do you have a personal story about your own reflections on one of the themes? Let me know (gretchen@foothillsuu.org) before the 15th of the prior month, and we may be able to incorporate your submission into our theme based programming and/or worship service during that month.

As with last year, we will be “kicking off” the theme on the first Sunday of the month, primarily through our worship where we will usually be sharing in an All-Church Sunday where all ages are together for at least the first portion of the service to explore a story related to the theme, and begin to share in questions and reflections.

We will also continue to hold a Theme-Based Workshop after the second service where we will go deeper into the theme for all who are interested, which is an especially useful time for religious exploration teachers and small group leaders to come and have some time to reflect on the the theme before teaching and leading it for others.

New this year, we are also beginning a small group focused on the theme as well as sermons as our texts.  This will begin in mid-October, and will meet twice a month through June.  Look for more information on all of this by mid-August with the release of our Adult Religious Exploration 2015-16 Catalogue.

Our New Sunday Morning Hospitality Plan: Connecting Our Many Groups

It’s no secret that we have been trying all kinds of ideas to help our community be a part of the ways we greet, usher, and provide social hour hospitality on Sunday – I am beginning my fourth year with Foothills, and I think we’ve tried at least 5 different big ideas since I started to try to find just the right fit.

With over 800 adults and 300 kids and youth who consider themselves in one way or another a part of our community, it is somewhat of a funny mystery why we struggle so much to fill our ushers, greeters, visitor table staff, and coffee-maker jobs every Sunday.  It’s not that our community isn’t willing to pitch in – we have in the range of 200 people doing some sort of service for the church or on behalf of the church every week! Yet….nearly every Friday, we keep finding ourselves without sufficient folks to take on these important jobs….

Over the past couple of months, the Membership Team and the staff has been brainstorming and thinking through what’s going on with this dilemma.  Through lots and lots of conversation, we came up with a plan that we are all feeling very good about, and two Sundays ago we launched our new plan.

This plan invites all of our groups – and I do mean all – from the Board to the Choir to ESL tutors to….everyone! – to cover at least one (and if they are big, more than one) Sunday in the church year, filling all of the hospitality roles as a team.  We created a calendar slotting everyone in, and we discovered that when every group participates we are able to cover the whole year of Sundays without any problem!

The group providing these important hospitality roles will in turn be promoted through an insert in the order of service and with special nametags, which will help our wider community to know more about all of the ways to connect in our congregation.   Serving together also allows the group to strengthen their relationship with one another, their sense of teamwork, as well as their connections to the congregation.  We had in mind building on the model the Brotherhood has kept over the years where they serve coffee together regularly – giving back to the community and strengthening their relationship with one another.

If you want to serve on Sunday but you aren’t a part of a group, don’t worry! We have created a group called the Free Rangers where we will invite you to fill in when groups aren’t able to cover all the slots, and a few Sundays in the year are reserved for the Free Rangers entirely.  To sign up for the Free Rangers, contact Kathryn at kathryn@foothillsuu.org.

If you are a part of a group, ask your group leader when YOUR Sunday is, and get it on your calendar now! We hope everyone will show up for their group’s Sunday, help people know about their group and ways to get involved, provide a wonderful welcome for everyone who comes on Sunday, and have fun along the way.

Thank you to all who do so much for our congregation.  I am constantly amazed and grateful to be a part of this generous, joyful and welcoming community.

– Rev. Gretchen Haley, in partnership with the Membership Team and the staff