In 1994, when I was president of the Board of Trustees; a joke was circulating: What is the only group of people who truly love change? Ponder that for a moment and I’ll get back to it. But first, in 1994, Marc was already presiding over two services each Sunday, his ministry was in full swing, attracting new members, and it was clear to most that we had outgrown our church facility. We needed to create a new vision for our community and decide to expand or move. But there was resistance. “We’re already too big.” Small is good!” “If we get bigger, we won’t be a community anymore. I already miss seeing people because of the two services.”
Even still the community voted to expand. It was a process – a very unscripted process – that proved not always fun, but in the end, we had more room, our staff had better offices (with heat even) and the community grew to fill the new space. Now we are there again. We have three services and still the 10 o’clock is full to overflowing. Change is needed again, and the same comments are resurfacing plus “This is not the same church I joined.” And still we have no roadmap or blueprint – and isn’t that just the way we UUs like to operate? Give us a challenge and we will find a path through.
These rankled folks are dead-right. This is certainly not the church I joined back in 1985. Back then, we were fewer in numbers and the single, 9 am, worship service was simple and intimate, even allowing for some discussion at the end of the sermon. Roy’s gentle command and thought-provoking words hooked me on my very first exploratory visit.
Years later when he announced his retirement, I “knew” the church was doomed. No one could replace Roy. Then, I distinctly remember Marc’s dulcet tenor singing Danny Boy to us and his words of introduction to his prospective congregation. I was filled with relief; we would be in good hands. Marc’s marvelous ministry soon caused the church to grow and outgrow our space just as Gretchen and Sean’s ministry is now welcoming a burgeoning congregation that has once again outgrown its space.
Growth is essential to sharing our UU faith. That is my heart-felt mission – to share our voice and our vision with our community. This world needs our message. What I have found here is so elemental, so integral to my well-being, who would I be to deny this to others? And if the church remains too crowded, the message becomes that there is no room for new people. If we continue to grow, will we become a mega-church? Maybe but not likely in my still substantial life-time. Mega churches count in the thousands and we are coping with the hundreds. And yet, a large church community does lose the closeness and familiarity of a smaller congregation. Which is why I believe it behooves each of us to do our part in ministry by finding our niche, connecting through small groups, volunteering, contributing, and showing up for all-church activities.
Truth be told, I didn’t love everything each of my ministers preached over the years. But when I felt a disconnect, I would look around at how connected, satisfied, and happy others were in this growing community. I had to remind myself on these occasions that Foothills and its various ministers were not here for me – they existed for us. It fell to me to create my connection to this UU community, find my own satisfaction and always, always stay committed to my UU faith. Today, Gretchen, Sean and Kristen call us to service every Sunday, but it remains our privilege and responsibility to write our own role into this community.
This is certainly not the endearingly nicknamed “Footloose Vegetarian Church” that I joined in the mid-80s. But I am also not the same new congregant I was back then. The ministries of Roy, Fred (interim), Marc, Howell (interim), Gretchen, Sean, and now Kristen have seen to that. Early on in his ministry I asked Marc if he would help members further their own personal growth paths. He explained why he didn’t think that was his job. He was right. But he undersold himself. A minister impacts their congregants in too many ways not to earn credit for the growth of both the congregation and the individual members.
Every day I am grateful for this growing congregation, our ever rising UU voice in the Fort Collins community and our activism for our faith. I’m blessed by the leadership roles I am encouraged to play in this process by our bold ministerial team and our dynamic staff. Foothills is not the same church I joined in the 80s, and I am not that same congregant either. I am thankful for both.
P.S. Oh, and who is the only group of folks who love change? (scroll down…)
Featured Image: Old Town Street Fair on Walnut Street circa 1983 (Fort Collins Historical Collection)