When the Special Appeal became extra special

For many years, the special appeal at the annual auction has allowed the congregation to fund something that – although not funded in the regular budget – would make a real difference in congregational experience.  The special appeal has funded the benches on the patio, the lightweight tables in the social hall, the screens in the foyer and RE building, and the initial set up of the projector and screen in the sanctuary – and much more.  This has all been incredible, but a few years ago we had the idea that we should do something even more “special” with the special appeal.  We should share it.

It was the year we’d started sharing the plate with a community partner, and we knew how powerful it could be to be able to do something big and generous for one of our partners in Fort Collins – so that we wouldn’t just be keeping the money to grow the blessings in our community, but we’d be passing it on – which felt like living our values.  And so we tried it out, and the results were incredible.  Suddenly instead of raising $3,000 or $4,000 in the special appeal, we started raising $7,000, and then $9,000, and then….last year was the most amazing thing when we raised over $18,000.  You can read about all the worship improvements that these funds enabled in this blog post from Chris Reed.

But maybe even more importantly, nearly $9,000 of this money went to our partners at Faith Family Hospitality to support the building of a patio and playground for children at their new transitional housing unit – a house that FFH leases from the city as a temporary home for up to seven families working towards self-sufficiency.  This home is currently under renovation, and over $300,000 must be raised to complete this project.  Which is why for this year’s Special Appeal, we’re going to keep supporting FFH and this important work!

This year we hope to raise $10,000 for FFH to replace dilapidated kitchen cabinets in the transitional home, known as Sherwood House. There are three communal kitchens in this old home, and all need new cabinets.  And in turn, we’re planning to use the money we raise for Foothills to do a complete overhaul of our Foothills’ website – which as you may have noticed, very much needs it!

A few years ago we might have thought that this goal number was far out of our reach – but this congregation has shown us again and again that this is not the case.  The generosity of this community has been incredibly inspiring, and ensures that we are in so many ways living up to our mission of truly unleashing courageous love both within and beyond our congregation.

Thank you for being a part of this important and extra-special effort, and hope to see you at the auction on November 11th! Get your tickets here.

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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

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!

The space for courageous love

Check out the video above for the video version of this blog – or if you prefer, read the text below…or both! 

You may have noticed that we are often at our capacity on Sunday – these past few weeks, even more so.

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Look at how full that sanctuary is! 

Recently, we reviewed our worship attendance data for the last 8 years, and we realized, that we’ve been at capacity pretty much that whole time.  We’ve flirted consistently with 80% of capacity, to be specific – sometimes above, sometimes below – but never really staying above for too long.  This is important, because studies show that once you hit 80% of capacity, your attendance flatlines because people get a subconscious message that there isn’t enough room for them.  And that’s exactly what our data shows.

Even before the election, we were pondering what to do about this.  But with the results of the election and the many big questions before us, it is even more urgent that we ensure that we are making space for all who may be needing a religious community grounded in the practices of courageous love.  The data shows, capacity is the driver – and so our question is: how do we increase capacity?

With all this in mind, the Board has asked the staff team to explore a “3rd Service Experiment” beginning around February and continuing through April – during which we could figure out what it would take to maintain 3 services over the longer run, if it’s possible, and what will work best.

We know that this will require some discomfort on all of our parts – but as I said in a prior blog post – unleashing courageous love does not mean being comfortable, but only the safe place in which we can manage discomfort, together. So our hope is that we can learn together, grow together, stumble together, offer each other grace – all of which will allow us to truly unleash the big huge love that exists within us and among us.  We need this, the world needs it – now more than ever.

I’ll keep you updated as our staff and lay teams for worship and religious exploration start to figure out the details.  For now, I am so grateful for your partnership at this time, grateful to be learning with you, wrestling with these big questions together, and unleashing courageous love, together.

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This photo is from our gathering at the Islamic center last year….A year later, there are even more souls who are hungry to gather in light and love – how will we make space for all who seek to join together on this journey – the space for the greatest impact for courageous love to be unleashed?

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

Highlights from General Assembly from Foothills Delegates

Five Foothills members – in addition to our current and future ministerial team Rev. Gretchen Haley, Diana McLean, and Sean Neil-Barron, attended the UU General Assembly (GA) in Columbus, Ohio, the last week of June.  It was, as always a powerful and somewhat overwhelming experience of learning, encouraging and clarifying all who gathered in our faith, values, and sense of purpose.

One of our delegates, Erin Hottenstein, shared her highlights from GA in her reflection last week.  This week, we invited the other four delegates to share their one big take-away from their GA experience.  Here’s what they had to say:

  1.  The powerful Sunday Morning Worship experience.

Judy Ohs writes, “I looked forward to Sunday morning at GA, remembering the last time I attended it was a very moving service, and I was not disappointed.

Glen Thomas Rideout was in charge of the music and choir, which was awesome.  He also read a poem he had written about the anture of God, saying god is waiting to be unshrunk!

Nancy McDonald Ladd gave a sermon, ‘In All Thy Getting, Get Understanding,’ with as much energy, humor and meaningful challenge as any I have ever heard.  She admonished us to ‘STOP having FALSE FIGHTS’ in our congregations – those fights about insignificant things like ‘the color of the paint for the bathroom,’ and instead get out in the mainstream of our lives, resisting things harmful to ourselves and others, and promoting the things needed for just living for all.  She said when we don’t get our way, we are ‘lovers of leaving’ (referencing the hymn, Come, Come, who ever you are), and that we need to put our personal preferences aside, and instead have the real and hard conversations with each other.  Only this will allow us to create real change, rather than becoming thoroughly agitated, but fundamentally unchanged.  She ended by saying that we need to ‘step more fully into encounters with the holy and the world,’ and in doing so we can love more and speak more.  We can reach out to someone whose hand is near to find support and keep it real.  The service ended with us all singing ‘Reach out and Touch Somebody’s Hand.’

It is my sincere hope that each of you will take the time to watch this service (video posted above).  It will lift your spirit and challenge your soul, and perhaps help you move out into the world to help create the change we need.”

Lindsay Smith added: “I have one request of our Foothills family: please watch the Sunday service. I found it deeply moving and hope we can use it as a common point of reference going forward.”

        2.  The welcome for young adults.

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Lindsay Smith writes: “As a first-time delegate to General Assembly, I appreciated the Planning Committee’s dedication to creating a welcoming space for young adults. Not only did the UUA set aside resources to help young adults get to GA, but supported us the whole week. We had dedicated staff and seating blocked off in the large general sessions. We even had ‘General Session Bingo’ to keep things interesting.

Many times I went back to the helpful guide on young adult programming in our (jam-packed!) schedule. I attended workshops on topics from interfaith work to the role of spirituality in mental health. I was happy to see many folks of other generations participating with us, too.

I was overjoyed to represent our congregation in the banner parade alongside my partner Nick. I felt proud to represent our Foothills community and loved seeing Rev. Gretchen, our president Erin, our new minister Sean, and many others cheering for us as we sang through the aisles.

Then, it was time to get down to business. The overarching theme of this year’s GA was racial justice. Youth and young adult UUs of color inspired me by sharing their deeply personal stories. They called us to immediate action with strength, courage, and love. Workshops on anti-racism helped start some of the uncomfortable but necessary conversations that need to take place among UUs and in the wider community.

GA left me inspired to connect with UUs both inside our home church and beyond. It was great to compare notes with delegates from churches across the country.

         3. The Choir 

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Nick Marconi writes, ‘Choir is a decision.’ These are the words with which Dr. Glen Rideout opened each rehearsal at GA, offering various reflections on the notion. Choir is a setting aside of time to come together and join in fellowship and purpose. Choir is the realization of the idea that we are stronger and more capable working in harmony—the embodiment of the mantra, “I put my hand in yours so that we may do together what we cannot do alone.” Choir is no mere blending of voices; it is a congregation, and it is deliberate.

In a week where very little else seemed deliberate, 180 of us dedicated ourselves to bringing the Sunday worship services to life. For me, it wasn’t the size of the choir or the audience that brought great meaning; 180 celebrants performing for a crowd of 3,000 is neither the largest ensemble nor audience I’ve experienced—even in Columbus itself, a city I had called home for many years. The real meaning came from the unity of purpose in a room that had lacked it over the course of several painful general sessions. The morning service brought renewed focus to disparate hearts. The afternoon service with Rev. Sekou and The Holy Ghost granted catharsis for those of us who have become all-too- frustrated not only with the prevailing tragedies of the world, but also with the perennial failures of conscience emerging from GA.

I cannot understand how we as a movement fail time and again to make meaningful solidarity with oppressed peoples. I cannot fathom the denominational cognitive dissonance it takes to be so moved by the reminder of our continual need to improve our relationships with minority communities and speak hard truths to those we call allies yet shirk away when called to take action. I pity what Rev. Dr. Susan Ritchie calls our institutional addiction to dysfunctional process that truly impairs our ability to live up to our best vision of ourselves.

I have little, if any, control over the course of global events or the UUA. But just as I had in GA, I can still choose to share music in my small part of the world. Choir is a decision, and I will always make that decision.”

4.  Commitments for Social Witness

Shirley White writes, “CSWAIWCS/AI  Huh?  I put my volunteer efforts at GA here, hoping it would give me knowledge I could share back home. Indeed, it did! Wanting to support this important work of our denomination, still I had to keep refreshing myself on what all those letters mean. They mean a lot! They imply work too important to be buried in acronyms and jargon.So let me translate….

Commission on Social Witness (CSW) supports our efforts to do our social justice work focused each year by choices made at GA, to concentrate our efforts on work that we are best, perhaps uniquely, poised to do in our troubled world.

Congregational Study/Action Issues (CS/AI) are selected by UU member congregations for four years of study, reflection and action. This year, delegates picked our next four-year Congregational Study/Action Issue to beCorruption of Our Democracy.”

Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs) are issues deemed too immediate and important to go through a four year process. The Commissioners narrowed 8 completed proposals to 3, which the GA delegates passed overwhelmingly.

  1. expressing solidarity with Muslims,
  2. advocating gun reform following the Pulse nightclub massacre,
  3. affirming support for transgender people.

All will be further developed and highlighted in UU World.

We, at Foothills, do a lot of very important work. We might even be a standard bearer in the denomination. We could be more fully bringing our light to UUA/GA, by defining and proclaiming our commitment, particularly by sharing our successful collaboration with other communities and organizations in Fort Collins. Among others, we excel in programs of community collaboration in Faith Family Hospitality, One Village One Family, and  our ministerial leadership in vigils and actions of solidarity with our minority communities in times of stress and trauma visited upon them in our troubled times.

We have light to offer, as well as the opportunity to bask in the healing light that our denomination shines on the world’s pain. By engaging with the UUA, we can do more, especially by learning and engaging with social witness statement process we may accomplish more, and even be prepared to bring more of Foothills light to GA in New Orleans, 2017.

Shining our light

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As we were preparing for the vigil on Sunday evening, the Rev. Hal Chorpenning, Senior Minister at Plymouth UCC quipped, “I wish the news would stop giving us so many things to preach about.”

It was the 8th Night of Hanukkah, the third Sunday of Advent, a week before the Winter Solstice – all of these seasons of darkness longing for light.  We all agreed, there has been too much heartbreak, fear, violence and division – all requiring the response of the best of our religious traditions.   When the call to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. started to circulate early last week – from a popular presidential candidate, no less – we knew we needed to step up and speak out as people of faith – do something, bear witness to another truth, another story of America, of humanity, of life.

As we gathered on Sunday, we remembered that the next day would be the anniversary of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary.  The children lost there are never far from my thoughts, and maybe even more, the children who survived, and the families left behind.  What story do they have of the world? How do they make sense of humanity, of life? How do they reclaim joy or goodness in a world where such a thing can happen? 

I can get lost in these questions and become overwhelmed by the grief, but then, something like the Vigil on Sunday night happens, and I remember hope.  I remember, like the song we ended the final Sunday of Candidating Week singing encourages – tenderness, kindness, friends – and that it’s only love that never ends.  I remember those words from Mr. Rogers to “look for the helpers,” and I remember the words attributed to Universalist John Murray, “You may possess a small light, but uncover it, let it shine, use it to bring more light and understanding to the hearts and minds of women and men.  Give them not hell, but hope and courage; preach the kindness and everlasting love of God.”

The paper reported over 200 were gathered, but I would guess more like 300-400 – and I would guess about 80 of those were from our congregation.  It was a cold night, and our plans weren’t totally clear, even to those of us doing the organizing (my summary of the first few moments of the event: the Muslims were inviting everyone inside, the Christians said we were gathering outside, the UUs were saying both ways were good, and the Jews just launched into “This Little Light of Mine.” Welcome to the real work of interfaith dialogue!), the parking was non-existent, and there weren’t enough candles for our candlelight vigil.

And yet still, the people gathered.  The people gathered to remind us all of another story of life, the story of human goodness and compassion and connection – a story of love over fear.  In turn the Islamic Center opened their space with warmth and hospitality to all who wanted to pray, offered hot drinks and treats, and took up an offering for the victims of the Shooting at San Bernardino.

Our own Christopher Watkins Lamb and Amber Lamb led the crowd in singing the Meditation on Breathing – the song UU Sarah Dan Jones wrote in response to 9/11.  Rabbis Shoshana Leis, Ben Newman and Hillel Katzir, Rev. Chorpenning, and Howell and I each offered prayers, and we closed the service by singing the song from Emma’s Revolution, “Peace Salaam Shalom.”  Later, I learned that the kids and youth were watching it all from the second floor, inside the Islamic Center – can you imagine their view as they looked out on all their neighbors coming to witness their love in the face of bigotry?  It was powerful, and holy.

Times like these ask us to get really clear about what story we are going to live out of, what story we will bear witness to, and what claims we are willing to stand out in the cold for – and then to actually step out and live out of this story and these claims – this faith.

I am so honored, and proud, and grateful, to serve with and among you, this congregation, and to live out our Unitarian Universalist bold claims of liberty and justice for all in this community – to shine our lights in the darkness together.  (When we talk about our “mission” as a congregation, this is exactly the sort of thing that we mean to be talking about – why do we exist, what does our community need from us, what does our faith ask of us?)  Sometimes I know it feels like it could never be enough, but as we each do our part, keep showing up – we make sure that the darkness will not overcome this light, this resilient story of love.

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