Going Slow to Go Fast, Going Together to Go Far

Those of us who hang around churches a lot talk about the idea of “church-time,” by which we usually mean SLOW time.  It’s often talked about with a chuckle, and sometimes a sigh of frustration, especially for leaders inclined towards moving the church forward in a way that makes “perfect sense,” at least to them.

This was the story about Foothills’ when it came to governance change – at least whenever I’d heard it up until this past week.  We’d been trying for over 15 years to make an effective change in governance structure that would bring our underlying system into alignment with our church size and today’s best practices.  This sense that it had been going on for a long, long time inspired the Board in the first year of the interim after Rev. Marc Salkin retired (2014-15) to move quickly on a new direction.  What that Board – and all of us – quickly realized, however, is that even though it felt slow to some, not everyone was caught up, and after the retirement of a long-tenured minister, it felt like too much change, too fast.

The Board learned from that experience, re-grouped, and began a slower and more cooperative and consulting process beginning in the church year 2015-16.  As a result of many, many conversations with all sorts of people in all sorts of ways, this past Sunday we saw the flip side of “church-time,” what I call the “all-of-a-sudden-it’s-done” phenomenon: The congregation enthusiastically endorsed the Governance Task Force’s work and authorized the Board to move forward with its trial year.

It was a huge and wonderful accomplishment for this congregation, and it was a beautiful thing to witness – because it was both about a single moment, and about all the faithful, sometimes-frustrating, usually-thoughtful moments that the meeting constituted.  Thousands of hours and years of committees and teams all came together into one meeting where the the foundation had been properly set, the congregation was ready, and the time was right.

Even though people talk about church-time as slow time, that’s not at all how I see it. I see church as the embodiment of the principle that’s true in every case where you’re trying to do something big, and important and long-lasting – which is that if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, you must go together.  And going together takes patient, careful time…conversations and care, humility and a great sense of humor. But then suddenly, in one hot June afternoon, you look around and realize, all-of-a-sudden, it’s done.  And then you just feel proud, and grateful, to be there at a time such as this.

Our 3rd Service Experiment: The results are in…

In February, we began our “3rd Service Experiment,” with an intent of trying out three Sunday morning services for 13 Sundays – through April.  The Board charged the staff team with moving forward with this experiment in December because they realized that 2 services could not accommodate the numbers of people who wanted to worship with us on Sunday morning.
Our goal for the three services was to learn as much as we could about what it would take to sustain 3 Sunday services (how hard would it be?!), how people would react to an earlier (or later) service, and whether or not it would indeed accomplish the goal of serving more people.
In the past few weeks, our Committee on Shared Ministry (Glenn Pearson, Margie Wagner, Sally Harris, Anne Hall, Sue Sullivan and Ward Sutton) have held a few feedback circles with various groups to help gather up some of this information we hoped to learn. These have provided us critical information as we begin to look ahead to the next steps for our worship services this summer and beyond.
If you weren’t able to attend one of these circles, I hope you will fill out this short survey about YOUR experience and lessons from the 3rd Service Experiment (By the end of April, please!).
We have two big pieces of news resulting from our lessons learned and our feedback so far.
First – much to our surprise – is that, instead of asking us to hurry up and be done with the three services – there is a shared desire to extend the three services through May 21st when our regular religious education classes will conclude. Anything sooner would disrupt our classes and our teachers too much.  Also, as a staff team, we have realized that a third service isn’t that hard – we actually like it! We like that it means more space for all who come, and that we can indeed serve more people.
Which brings us to the second insight – which is that for the period of February through this past Sunday, we are consistently serving nearly 40% more people than we did this time in any prior year.  Instead of seeing attendance plateau at our seating capacity, and then drop back down, it’s remaining steady, and growing.  Whereas previously we would see 200-300 adults on a Sunday, we are now routinely seeing between 350 and 450.  There are probably multiple reasons for this, but we can say with confidence that we are accommodating more people on Sunday morning, which was the goal.
Also, for the summer time, based on last year’s numbers we know that we need to have 2 services instead of 1. The summer time seems like an ideal time to offer our 8:00 service.
All of this means that, starting on Memorial Weekend and running through Labor Day, we’ll hold services at 8:00 and 9:30, with an extended fabulous social hour/community fun time at 10:30.
After Labor Day we will return to three services – and the times for these will be sorted out based on your feedback in the survey as well as through other efforts to collect feedback.
Thank you so much for your willingness to try out this experiment, and for making space for all who want to gather with us on Sundays. I know it has sometimes meant stepping out of your comfort zone, missing out on seeing some of your usual friends on Sundays, and changing around your routines.  Thank you for keeping your senses of humor in tact and for learning along with us so that we can keep serving our mission in these times when our church and our values are so needed, by so many.  33682878575_f8987089f2_k.jpg

It’s time to Answer the Call of Love – from Kay Williams

Foothills HeartFlame logo 2.1.17 ANSWERING THE CALL O LOVE (1).jpgIt’s time. Time to help support all of the important work that Foothills is doing to unleash courageous love in Northern Colorado and beyond. It’s time to affirm what Foothills means to you and your family personally.  And, it’s time to thoughtfully consider your financial commitment and the ways that love calls each of us, and all of us together to respond to the challenges and hopes of our world today.

It’s time to answer the call of love.

We ask all friends and members to keep an eye on your snail mailbox during the next few days – you’ll find information on the ways we’ve been growing, and the ways we are all needed to respond to the needs of today – to meet the rising fear and hatred with a bolder, more courageous love.

To dive in now, be sure to check out our website to see where we have been and where we are going as we discover what it will mean to Answer the Call of Love.

Thank you for your generous support of Foothills and for making all that we do together possible – Kay Williams, Stewardship Team Chair

P.S. If you’ve been preparing your taxes, and thinking you would like to save money on them next time, click here to learn how your pledge of financial commitment to Foothills can provide you with tax advantages for next year.

An Update on Our Governance Change Process from Jody Anderson

Hello Foothills Family –

As I sat down to write this blog in mid-November, I wondered if an update on our governance progress was the right thing to post right now, when hearts and minds are brimming with holidays and an uncertain future.  Our community continues to come together with hands held and tears shared in Sunday services.  In November we stood and clapped to display our solidarity in being right here, in the United States, at this time, as a community that is already practicing with each other the accepting message we could share with the country.  And I think – we have big work to do.  Let’s get this organizing stuff done to smooth the path for what’s ahead.  To that end, the Governance Task Force is striving to support our mission and channel our energy in our governance work.

Recent Progress

  • Last April, the Board confirmed our Vision of Governance, a statement that is guiding the detailed tasks of writing our future policies.  Participants in the summer book group thought it was a great statement, and encouraged us to share it more widely.  Here is a link.
  • Over the summer, we conducted a book discussion group on Ministry and Governance by Dan Hotchkiss.  We continue to follow the guidance of the book, other congregations of our size, and the advice of leaders in our church and beyond.
  • In September, we affirmed that we are indeed pursuing a policy based governance approach, though not the Carver model.  
  • In September and October, the Governance Task Force has been working with the Board.  We have presented several open questions for discussion around the topics of board role, size, officers, and member election.  While we discuss, we are keeping in mind the potential that bylaw changes may be required.
  • In October, Gretchen joined our team, adding her knowledge of the workings of our church, and experience in administration, to our deliberation.
  • November continued iterative discussions with the Board on topics of committees, delegation, and work products.

Coming Up

  • During December, we will continue to ask the Board questions that guide our writing process. Topics coming up include Oversight and Guidance.
  • Also during December, we will be connecting with the leaders of several of our current teams and committees, to understand where they are in reviewing their charter and procedures, and to ensure we are blending our expectations. Teams we plan to get in touch with include Nominating Committee, Personnel Committee and Staff, and Finance.
  • In January, we plan to hold a Congregational Discussion session on the items that have been affirmed by the Board.  This will be an ideal place for those interested in the details of governance to see policies so far and ask questions.
  • Also in January, we plan to drop in on small groups in the church with quick info to keep everyone updated.
  • All of our work through the spring will target having major decisions made and ready for a trial period during our 2017-2018 church year.  We will present that plan at our congregational meeting in May.

A reward from this work so far is to see the convergence of ideas.  Careful study and thoughtful decisions are aligning with current good practices.  Thankfully, some things can be easy and make sense.  🙂

May you all enjoy having some things fall into place as well, and enjoy a safe and blessed holiday season.

In Community,

Jody Anderson

Chair, Governance Task Force

Third Service Experiment, from Board of Trustees Member, Gale Whitman

“Welcome to Foothills; sorry we don’t have any seats left!”

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A very cozy congregation

Have you noticed how full the church is on Sunday mornings? While it’s wonderful that so many people are coming to church, the members of the Board of Trustees are wondering how many folks we are unwittingly turning away, with the message that there’s no room for anyone new here.

Our parking lots are full; the sanctuary – even if there are a few seats available here and there – looks full; there is often a scramble to put out enough chairs in the Social Hall at the start of services for the overflow from the sanctuary. It’s easy to see how a newcomer may feel discouraged from coming back and finding their spiritual home with us.

Aligning with our congregation’s new mission statement to “unleash courageous love in Northern Colorado and beyond,” The Board of Trustees has enthusiastically asked the ministers and staff to explore adding a third service to Sunday mornings at Foothills Unitarian Church. For now we mainly want to make more space to serve the people already coming and to keep them coming.

Beginning in February 2017, and continuing for 12 Sundays through April, the “Third Service Experiment” will be conducted. The times of the three services will be 8:00am, 9:30am and 11:30am. There will be a short social hour from 9:00-9:30 and a longer one from 10:30-11:30. The nursery will be open and pre-K through 2nd grade religious education (single classroom) will be offered at 8:00; the other two services will continue with the current arrangements for the 9 and 11 services.

More details will be coming from the staff team, and the Board will be hosting an informational forum on January 18. Throughout the experiment, we want to hear from YOU about how it is working… there will be regular opportunities to give us your input and dialogue with church leaders.

We look forward to learning from this experiment and using your feedback to prepare for a longer term third service effort. Together we are Unleashing Courageous Love!

We still don’t do shame, and there’s still no them

This past Sunday, we had 180% more of you than usual, and it was what writer Glennon Doyle Melton calls “brutiful,” a combination of beautiful, and brutal. Beautiful to gather, beautiful to sing, to breathe, to laugh and cry and simply come together after a week where, as I said on Sunday, we experienced a “global plot twist.”  I could feel the force of love among us.  But also brutal, because what inspired so many to show up on Sunday was pain, grief, anger, fear, even despair.  It was one of the most powerful Sundays I’ve ever experienced, and I’d give nearly anything for it not to have been necessary.

As we move forward, I want to clarify and underscore two commitments of our faith and our congregation that I hope you’ll help me uphold.

First, we still don’t do shame in our church.  We don’t shame each other for who we voted for – no matter who that is, or for coming to different conclusions than we have about big and complex topics, or about how we will move through these complicated times (aka, life).

The emerging future is going to require a lot of learning.  And learning requires imperfection, humility, laughter, and grace.  We’re going to screw up a lot, and we’re going to state strong opinions that later we realize we were wrong about.  A few months ago I preached on what it feels like to be wrong, exploring some of the ideas in the TED Talk by Kathryn Schulz  What she says is that being wrong feels exactly the same as being right – only once we realize we are wrong does it feel differently.

We have to give each other and ourselves the space to be wrong, without shame.  In place of shame, let us ask more generous questions (the topic of our Wednesday night Civil Conversations gathering by the way!).  Instead of shame, try to listen for what’s hurting, what’s being wrestled with, what value is being expressed.

Growth and change require a level of safety – which is not the same as comfort.  We need to create safe spaces where we can be uncomfortable together.  This is the sweet spot of deep learning – real transformation, and courageous love.

Which brings me to the second commitment: there’s still no “them;”only us. Our world seeks to divide us, to harden the categories of who is worthy, who is good, who suffers the most, who is to blame, who is the enemy, and who is our kin.  Our religious lens asks us to not let the categories, or our hearts be hardened to any other, but to keep up the practices that grow more supple hearts, hearts of compassion that can hold ever more complexity and willingness to see ourselves in the other.  (This is the work of our upcoming Healing the Heart of Democracy series.)

This second commitment does not mean that we don’t have strong convictions. We are called to a practice of compassion with boundaries, covenant by way of self-differentiation.   As my message on Sunday proclaimed, our faith compels us in this moment to a greater justice, a braver and bolder living out of our principles, our living Unitarian Universalist tradition, and our mission.  Wherever hatred has been unleashed, we are called to unleash courageous love.  The great discipline before us is to discern what that love looks like, and what it asks of us.  And for that, we need each other and our religious community, more than ever.

Thank you for being present in the struggle, learning together, and unleashing courageous love for one another, and for our greater world.  I have never been more grateful for this community, and our promise and commitment that we are all in this together.

 

 

 

On a Mission: Finding Focus for 2016-17

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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,
Gretchen