An Annual Piece of Mike's Mind...

We’ve made history this past year.  For the first time since First Unitarian Denver has had a building, over a year has passed without a single public gathering in our space.  I suppose this is also true for many other organizations, but I’m fond of this one.           

That doesn’t mean we haven’t been busy, we’ve just done everything from our homes and over various screens. This year, it’s important to acknowledge just how hard the pandemic has been on so many of our members and friends.  People who live alone have had a particularly hard time with the social isolation of the past year.  School-age children and their parents have struggled with online learning.  Young people have missed out on formative friendships and events.  Families have been unable to see and hug each other.  Some of us have been hit hard by disappearing jobs and rising costs.  Travel has been restricted and, in some cases, impossible.  The election of 2020 and the subsequent behavior of the former president and his followers continues to be stressful and bewildering.  Refugees, wildfires, floods, cities burning as people protested police brutality, more Black and brown citizens shot by police, homeless encampments all over central Denver, of course the virus itself with the accompanying worry for ourselves and those we love, on and on...  

And all of us having to cope and process these events (and more) in isolation.  There is much to grieve as a community.  It’s no wonder we continue to have 150ish households continue to zoom into Sunday services every week.  I know it’s been a life-saving anchor for me personally.            

At least five people associated with First Unitarian have endured positive Covid-19 diagnosis, and thankfully they have all recovered.  Not so fortunate were Betty Shuttleworth-Allen and Eric Porter, both of whom passed away this year.  May their memories be a blessing.            

No report or observance of the past year could fail to mention the outstanding effort, professionalism, and gifts of our staff.  Lia Davis, Erin Kenworthy, Matt Davis, Glenn Barrows, and Brian Stone, have been the energizers, problem solvers, content creators, technology wizards, steady hands, and good-natured team behind our Sunday video productions.  Lia in particular has spent countless hours working with singers, musicians, and technology, learning new tools and software to create the audio-visual wonders we see every week.  We are blessed by their love for this church and the talents the staff bring to us.            

Speaking of staff, we’ve had some changes in the past year.  Patrick Phillips, our building superintendent resigned last fall.  Erica Trisler as our Events Coordinator had no events to coordinate during the pandemic.  Karen Derrick-Davis took a full-time position elsewhere.  And Brenda Bruno, our former Data Clerk, moved into full retirement. We wish them well!            

And, we welcomed Rhonda Williamson as our new Stewardship Coordinator.  Rhonda has been a welcome addition to the team, and was the primary architect/worker-bee behind the recently completed 2021 Stewardship Campaign.            

There have also been some changes on the Board of Trustees.  Angeles Ortega and Barry Osborne both had to resign from the board for personal reasons.  Christopher Belanger and Robin Rissman have graciously taken their place.            

Speaking of the Board, an incalculable debt of thanks is owed to Mary Sullivan, Board President for the past two years.  Over the past three years, Mary has transformed from nervous and excited to seasoned leader.  She is thorough, inclusive, loving, and dedicated to the church far, far beyond any reasonable expectation of a volunteer. Always prepared, thinking ahead, asking questions, keeping people informed, and appreciative of others, their opinions and their efforts.  I really just can’t say enough about what a pleasure it has been to work with Mary. Mary Sullivan gets stuff done!            

The rest of our excellent Board of Trustees this year has been Joe Verrengia, Tim Robertson, Melany Deem, Jillian Gleason (and Christopher Belanger, and Robin Rissman).            

Huge thanks are due to Peggy Ulrich-Nims for being Board Secretary for the past seven years(!!!)  Peggy has shown up for every board meeting to take notes, file motions, record decisions, ask questions when something isn’t clear, and generally be her beautiful, loving, helpful self.  Thank you, Peggy!            

Special thanks is due to Karl Jonietz and Laurie Duncan for their dedicated service to First Unitarian as Treasurer and Assistant Treasurer.  There have been many changes to the way we do our accounting, pay our bills, process income, track information, and keep things transparent.  Karl and Laurie have initiated, rolled with, corrected, nudged, or otherwise kept us on track for the past two years.  The finances at First Unitarian Denver have never, and I mean never, been as clear, as accountable, as flexible, or as detailed as they are right now.            

The Finance Council, chaired by Helen Berkman has also had a hand in this, providing oversight, advice, resources, and guidance to financial decision making.  Other members of Finance Council this year have been Sally Madsen and Carl Mount.  The Board President, Vice President, Treasurer, and Assistant Treasurer are also voting members of Finance Council.            

Speaking of finances, another of our groups that has met consistently during the pandemic is Stewardship Council, which oversees our pledge income including the Stewardship Campaign and the Auction.  Nancy Crow and Mike Cranmer have been co-chair, with Richard Erickson, Diane Hainsworth, Noelle Botti, and Steve Smithers.  Diane Hainsworth, again(!) deserves great thanks for again(!) organizing the annual auction.  Thank you, Diane.            

The building has been largely empty, but not absent of attention.  The Property Management Team has organized repair of the Rose Window, several leaks from the roof, needed maintenance, including painting some of our first floor windows, and now a whole new roof, - partly funded by another grant from the State Historical Fund.  Kathy Cranmer is chair of Property Management with help from Tim Robertson, Carl Mount, Helen Berkman, Cory Devor, and Mark Skrotzki.            

Leadership Development this year was Stu Ferguson and Tammy Carpenter. Thanks to them we have a full set of candidates for next year’s elected positions.  The Committee on Ministry this year was Janet Kennedy, John Rymers, Mary Hilken, Trina Seefeldt, and Hilarie Portell.  They worked hard this year to complete the Appreciative Inquiry process for my annual evaluation, and even in pandemic times, received more feedback than ever.

Faith In Action Council this year has been David Alley, Ellen Cahill, Elizabeth Marchetti, Rev. Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, and Peggy Ulrich-Nims.  Much thanks to them for carrying the torch of our social justice projects. Connections Ministry, lovingly coordinated by Noelle Botti has been working quietly in the background this year. Even with only online offerings, Connections Ministry has facilitated eight new members of First Unitarian Denver.           
The Racial Justice Project, with Steve Brainerd and Patrick Whorton and co-chairs has been holding monthly meetings, coordinating with community groups, and preparing a Reparations Project for the church to consider. You’ll be hearing more about this in the months to come.  Thanks to all to participate in this vital project!           

Thanks to all the musicians and choir members who have making music for Sunday services, especially Rachel Hill, Erica Trisler, Alisha Bashaw, Lacey Hochman, Eric Moon, Yoni Fine, Steve Sinclair, Charlotte Braud-Kern, Tim Murphy, Patrick Keating, and Kimberly Urish.  Thanks to Greg Wimpey for his assistance and consulting with sound and technical issues.            

Once again, I want to celebrate the people who were part of the Covenant Task Force and all the work they did to compile and present the new Congregational Covenant, which you all voted for overwhelmingly last October.  Hilarie Portell and Nellie Stagg co-chaired the effort, with Doug Pryce, Yoni Fine, John Rymers, Pat Jonietz, and Joe Verrengia.  Both the process and the result were/are exemplary!            

Last but not least for the past year, an anonymous donor has made substantial contributions to the long-term endowments of the church.  There is now well over a million dollars invested for long-term savings and income, future emergencies, or other as-yet unknowable needs.  Thank you to our donor, and to all the people who helped facilitate the transfer of these funds.            

As of this moment, with signs of pandemic restrictions lifting and the world in a different place, no one knows what the future will bring, but there are ideas and initiatives cooking at First Unitarian Denver.  This year, 2021, is the 150th anniversary of our founding on August 15th, 1871.  We will be finding ways to celebrate this amazing milestone in the life of the congregation.            

We are currently looking (again) at state and federal Covid guidelines with an eye toward having in-person programming and Sunday services again in the not-too-distant future.  We are cautiously hoping for a return to in-person worship around September or October, though that could change at any time.            

Even when we do begin in-person Sunday services, we are planning to continue broadcasting what we do online.  We have found that we are reaching people we have never reached before, and this is a valuable ministry to the larger world.  We are preparing to invest in cameras and technology that will allow this to happen.  Along with Sunday services, eventually all our programming, classes, etc. will be offered on multiple platforms.  This is the apparent future of churches everywhere.            

We have hired a consultant to assess, advise, and implement a more welcoming, more robust online presence with more intentional, tailored messaging.  Soon FUSD will be on Instagram and possibly other platforms in addition to our website and FaceBook.            

Next year, 2022, will be the twentieth anniversary of our covenant as minister and congregation.  It’s been a lively, growing, and transformative time, and I hope we will write the next chapter together.

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