A Piece of Mike’s Mind…
This report comes in the middle of an international pandemic, and for the first time that I am aware of, no services or gatherings have been held at First Unitarian Denver for two consecutive months. Like so many organizations and communities, we are in a time of adaptation and even reinvention as the world changes the details of our lives and the mediums through which we communicate.
In addition to online Sunday Services, every single one of our meetings, (staff, board, finance, committees, CORE Circles, etc.) have gone online. At the end of this month, for the first time ever, we will attempt the entire annual business meeting, agenda, presentations, and congregational voting, online. Our learning curve has been steep!
This Annual Report will outline a few of the most important happenings, initiatives, and adaptations at First Unitarian Denver in the past twelve months.
Sadly, we note the passing this past year of five precious souls whose lives were a gift to this world and especially our community. Of blessed memory are Carolyn John, Betty Jo Armstead, Erin Colcannon, Wayne Knox and Dr. Gwendolyn Thomas. May they rest in peace and power.
We began the year with five main initiatives in addition to all our usual programming and activities.
- We intended to switch from the all-year-round fund-raising model (essentially 12 mini-campaigns) which we have been using for the past eight years, to a single, focused campaign for the whole congregation. Karen Derrick-Davis and the new Stewardship Council (formerly Abundance) were largely responsible for making this happen. It was a LOT of work!
- We formed a Covenant Task Force to gather information from the congregation about current values and relational priorities, and from that information draft a new Congregational Covenant to be voted upon and hopefully adopted. This team did a splendid job(!), modelling some of the finest, most civil, loving, and competent work I’ve seen. The final draft has been sent to the board to decide how and when it will be brought to the congregation for a final vote.
- We formed a FUSE (First Unitarians Seeking Engagement) Task Force to explore how we might better engage and include people during their first couple years of membership. This enthusiastic group has reached out to and met with (I believe) all of our most recent members for some memorable conversations and connections. The FUSE Task Force was considering next steps when interrupted by the pandemic, and hopefully will pick up their work in the near future.
- We hosted a ministerial internship for Jen Simon, soon to be a graduate of the Iliff School of Theology. This has been a hugely positive experience for the congregation and for Jen. She has led worship six times, participated in almost every Sunday service, taught classes, led groups, attended innumerable meetings, provided pastoral care, learned how to read and understand church budgets (among other things), taught us some new ways to think about white supremacy and anti-racism, and generally made herself a very welcome addition to the community. (Rumor has it she has become rather fond of us as well!) We wish her the best as she continues her journey toward professional ministry in Unitarian Universalism. Huge thanks to the Intern Committee for all their work this year.
- We funded a much-needed overhaul of our website. Glenn Barrows deserves thanks and credit for seeing this project through.
Other initiatives were the SoUUl Stage production of Rear View Mirror, a huge success and great fun, the Capitol Hill Concert Series, and this year’s annual auction. Covid has temporarily delayed completing the concert series and the auction.
In social justice news, the Women’s Homelessness Initiative has been suspended in this time of social distancing. The need hasn’t gone away, but the decision to suspend operations was made in the interests of health and safety for the women and for the volunteers. Family Promise on the other hand continues, though the agency is using hotel rooms for housing instead of church buildings. Our team has transitioned from providing direct services to providing funding to keep those families fed and housed.
Our Racial Justice Group (until Covid 19) remained busy holding forums, speakers, pot-lucks, trainings, book discussions, Sunday Services, consulting with the Covenant Task Force, and more. Julie Meyers and Peggy Ulrich-Nims have been leading this effort at FUSD for four years now! Patrick Whorton and Steve Brainerd will be taking over as co-chairs of our ongoing efforts and education in July.
As noted in a recent newsletter column, although we continue to offer sanctuary to Jeanette Vizguerra, the entire landscape of Immigration Justice work as changed in the past few years. To make a long and complex story very short, this is largely due to the current administration in Washington, but the result locally has been that virtually all of our former partners and allies have pulled back from supporting Sanctuary as a strategy. We are largely on our own now. In addition, changes, moves, and other priorities has left our own Sanctuary team small and struggling. This in turn has left Jeanette feeling unsupported by the church.
To be very blunt, if we are going to continue offering Sanctuary, we are going to have to rebuild a flexible First Unitarian team of people to make it work. It is the right thing to do. Please contact me if you have questions, concerns, or ideas.
Financially, while you will receive a complete reporting at the congregational meeting, there are a few, high-level things I feel should be shared here as well. You might remember that we began the current fiscal year with a projected deficit of over forty thousand dollars. The good news is that through frugal spending, careful management and the generosity of our members and friends, we are on target to finish this fiscal year in the black instead of in a deficit! In addition, due to the follow-through of our donors and a recent stock donation, we have paid off the mortgage from the renovation! First Unitarian is once again debt-free! The entire 2.6 million dollar project is now paid for! Woooohooo and congratulations!
Sometime when we are gathering in person again, we’ll have a burn-the-mortgage party.
In terms of next year’s budget, all plans and projections are complicated by the uncertainties of the global pandemic. The good news is that for the time being we are solvent and anticipate being able to continue being the best church we can be, even as we learn new ways to live our mission and vision. This puts us WAY ahead of many congregations who are cutting staff, closing programs, and even permanently shuttering their doors right now. The bad news is that we are not able to provide the raises some of our amazing staff richly deserve. At least not right now. Huge thanks go to Laurie Duncan and Karl Jonietz for all their work as our Assistant Treasurer and Treasurer. Huge thanks to our extraordinary Finance Council, David Keller, Helen Berkman, Sally Madsen, and Mary Sullivan. Church finances are in excellent hands!
This report could not be complete without high praise and hallelujahs for Mary Sullivan as our board president. Mary’s leadership, care, thoughtfulness, and thoroughness has been truly exceptional in a long line of exceptional volunteer leaders at First Unitarian. She’s even willing to serve for another year! Please take any opportunity available to thank her for all her love and work.
On that note, special thanks to your wonderful board of trustees: Mary Sullivan, Angeles Ortega, Jillian Gleason, Barry Osborne, Tim Robertson, Lynn Palma, and Melany Deem. Peggy Ulrich-Nims serves as Board Secretary. These people work beautifully together, asking hard questions, practicing great respect, caring for each other, taking very seriously their responsibilities and the congregation they have chosen to serve. We are blessed by their love.
Lastly, as always, I am profoundly indebted to our magnificent staff: Glenn Barrows, Erin Kenworthy, Lia Davis, Brian Stone, Karen Derrick-Davis, Brenda Bruno, Patrick Phillips, Matt Davis, Erica Trisler, and Lena McCain. Even though Patrick Phillips and Erica Trisler decided to end their employment with us in the past few months, I am grateful for their time and their service with us.
Given all the current uncertainties, it is a little premature to venture about priorities and initiatives for next year. The board will be discussing this in detail over the summer. One thing I feel fairly confident in predicting is reinventing and rejuvenating CORE Circles, taking our online presence and offerings much more seriously, and celebrating the 150th anniversary of First Unitarian Denver. Beyond that, I think our next chapter is still unwritten, but am confident we will compose it together.
In Love and Faith,