Pausing the Holiday Rush

This week marks the beginning of advent, which in the Christian tradition is a season of anticipation, paying attention, and waiting.   It is a time that invites our intentional pause, and slowing down so that we might more fully notice all that is about to be born.

In other words, advent embodies precisely the opposite of what many of us are feeling this holiday time of year.  So often we spend our Decembers in a rush, filled up not with anticipation but with anxiety, overwhelm, and sometimes even dread.

This year, we could all use the practice of advent.  To listen more intentionally, that we might hear beyond the restlessness, to pause more fully that we might see beyond the rush, to breathe more deeply that we might know ourselves still becoming, to see all that is growing and beginning in joy.

During this holiday season, we invite you to join us for a time of greater intention, attention, awareness, anticipation, and joy.

  • Join us on Sundays for explorations of memory (12/3) and hope (12/10), as well as our special all-music Sunday on the 17th with a theme of JOY.
  • Also on the 17th, join our Earth Based Path group for a traditional casting of the circle in honor of Yule – set up at 5, ritual at 6.
  • On the 21st we’ll gather to welcome the return of the light for our special holiday vespers at 6:15.
  • On Christmas Eve (a Sunday this year!) we’ll have 4 services – 10 am (a “Kitschy Christmas” celebration), 5 & 7 pm (family Christmas services) and 9 pm (Lessons & Carols).
  • And on New Year’s Eve Sunday, we’ll celebrate Fire Communion at 8:30 & 10, and at 11:30 we’ll share in waffle church with an abridged Fire Communion service.

Beyond worship, join us on the 17th for our annual Holiday Craft Fair – a sure bet for any gifts you haven’t yet been able to find.  Also, look for news from Chris Reed on our new-this-year family holiday pick-up choir.

Over the Christmas week, we’ll also be hosting families experiencing homelessness with Faith Family Hospitality, and we invite you to sign up to bring and share in a meal, or stay over night.

Whether in worship, in community, in service together, or simply in the breaths that fill all the space in between all of these, and that flow through and connect us all – in these days, my hope is that we can all find that pause of advent in our holiday rush, and remember there what it feels like to anticipate with joy, to notice with wonder, to let laughter overcome us, to be filled with hope.  This is my hope, and it is also an invitation, to keep coming back to this pause – we can practice, and become, together.

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Sharing Joy – reflections on Sunday’s service from Foothills’ member Lindsay Tearman

When I pulled up to the church at 8:15 Sunday morning, I knew that something special was in the air. The streets were already lined with cars which is a rare sight for first service. When I entered the building, the energy was already moving around, and my morning coffee became less critical, as I was quickly energized by simply breathing it all in. There were a few of us that knew what was in store for the morning service, and the anticipation of how the it would be received was thrilling.

As Gretchen opened up with sharing stories of joy regarding Thanksgiving, I smiled as I had also found myself on the “Turkey Train” for the last week. Tables got a big shout out this morning, and rightfully so. We gather around them constantly at our homes or offices, as a central meeting place to share food, stories, or ideas. A table is a rarely thought-about symbol of unity, the unsung hero of holidays. There were a few questions presented to us, calling attention to various things that make us happy. Songs, places, foods, and we shared those answers with the community at large, as well as with our neighbors. It was a well-needed moment to have.

I don’t know about you, but I can find myself struggling to hold on to happiness sometimes. As we carry justice to our local and global families, it can feel like an uphill battle against the injustice that is presented to be prevalent. Sunday morning was a beautiful reminder of what we know is true- that there is wonder and love and light that is everywhere. That the source of our strength comes from ourselves and from each other, and the hope that we hold so dearly in our hearts. Sunday was a chance to tap into our happiness, and to revel in it with each other.

We also did something that we haven’t done in a few years by holding a “reverse offering” in which a two dollar bill was handed out to every single member of the church (adults and children alike). The mission we were tasked with was to take that $2 and find some way of expressing courageous love to our community. We could work together, work as a family or with neighbors, or by ourselves to come up with a way to share joy. I can’t wait to hear the stories that come back for this, and knowing that Northern Colorado is going to get a little boost of love in the next few weeks is endearing.

This was followed up by Gretchen’s announcement that a donor, who sits amongst us each Sunday and yet wishes to remain unnamed, received an unexpected large sum of money and in the wake of Charlottesville, decided to give that money to the church. This is incredible and inspiring, a huge momentum given to promoting all of the good that exists here.

I expected a shock wave of such an announcement to flood through the church. I wasn’t sure if people would faint or jump out of their seats (being from the South I have a perpetual expectation of a “big tent revival level of expression” at any church I ever attend), or perhaps confetti and balloons would shower from the ceiling. Instead, I noticed the community smiled at each other and nodded, with immediate acceptance of this most wondrous gift. I found it intriguing, as if there was a collective “Yeah, that totally sounds like something one of us would do”. Which to me completely reinforces who we actually are. We are the people that go about our lives, day-to-day, in a fashion that may seem outrageous and bold to others. The spirit of giving and loving and taking care of others is ingrained in us, all year round. This donation was given whole-heartedly, in the spirit of love. We are approaching the holidays as heightened expressions of love and gratitude, not viewing them as a single day to celebrate.

As I sat there, still thinking about exactly what I could possibly do with my $2, the choir took the stage. Their performance sung beautifully as always, and there was a power to their voices that flowed through each one of us. I found it interesting to think about what we are able to give to the world. The impact that a single voice makes, that is amplified by the others that join them- it fills the entire room. And it’s genuinely moving.

There is so much work to be done, but we are never alone on our journey. Side by side, we continue to share our gifts with our community, only to have that create a continuous energy that cannot be contained.

So it is up to us to continue to sing that song of joy, to hold that space of Hope even in the most difficult of times. It is the only way that we can be true to ourselves, and to fulfill our purpose here. One of my favorite proverbs is “Shared joy is a double joy; shared sorrow is half sorrow”.  (Disclaimer: this was on a desk calendar I had many years ago, but it has stuck with me throughout time.) When we keep anything to ourselves, we deny others the ability to be a part of something that is bigger than us. I am so thankful to be a part of this community and I wish you all the most magical of holidays. May your hearts be filled with everything that is wonderful in this world.

Lindsay Tearman, Stewardship Team Member

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.

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