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Unitarians break ground for church

Marjorie Lohrer of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island helps children from the church plant a tree during the groundbreaking for a new church Sunday. - Brian Kelly
Marjorie Lohrer of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island helps children from the church plant a tree during the groundbreaking for a new church Sunday.
— image credit: Brian Kelly

Congregation starts work on long-term home

FREELAND — Building a new church is a little like sending your middle child to college.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island put down roots in Freeland on Sunday with a groundbreaking ceremony at its future home just north of town on Highway 525.

For years, the wandering congregation has met at nearby Trinity Lutheran Church. Pastor Jim Lindus told those gathered for a ceremonial tree planting that the Unitarians’ departure from his church reminded him of his visit to the airport the day before, when he put his middle daughter on a flight to Chicago where she’ll be a freshman at Northwestern University.

“I went down to Sea-Tac...put her on a plane, said, ‘Goodbye, honey.’ In some ways, when you guys leave, it’s going to be some of that same feeling,” Lindus said.

“I only mean that in a warm way. Because she needed to go and you need to go. You need to go not because we’re tired of having you...but because this building is going to be a statement about what you value,” the pastor continued.

The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island got its start 15 years ago. It has since shifted from one temporary home to another.

Lindus said he hopes everyone notices his new neighbors up the hill.

“Every time people go up and down this highway, I want them to see this church and say, there’s people who stand for something, there’s people who care. You’ll make our community a better place.”

Standing amid a cathedral of tall fir trees, Rev. Kit Ketcham said she hoped the Unitarian Universalist Congregation’s new church would be built and ready for services within a year.

“Many hands, and hearts and minds have brought us to this place in time,” she said.

Ketcham recalled the help the church has gotten along its path from others on Whidbey.

“In the past 15 years, the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island has worked to establish itself as a community of love and justice. In countless rented spaces, we have set out

and lit our chalice on Sundays,” Ketcham said.

“We have borrowed kitchens for our coffee hour, hung our own liturgical symbols alongside others symbols, used other congregations pianos to sign our hymns, sat in others chairs, set out their tables with our literature...always looking forward to the day when we would have our own home.”

Unitarian representatives from the Pacific Northwest District said the Whidbey congregation was taking a remarkable step.

“You have worked hard and long and oh, so diligently to get to this point,” said Janine Larsen, district executive for the Pacific Northwest District of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

“You’ve had triumphs and disappointments; you’ve suffered together, and you’ve struggled through with dedication and commitment to one another and the larger community of Whidbey Island.”

“You have achieved much, and this is only the start,” Larsen said.

Sandy Welch, building committee chairwoman for the Unitarians’ new church, she said they knew they wouldn’t become a true presence in the Whidbey community until they had their own home.

“We are not just constructing a building. There are plenty of buildings in the world, and one more won’t make any difference. We are building a home.

“And what is a home? It’s a place where you feel like you have the right to be just who you are, and to be accepted in doing so. It’s a place where you can share the burdens of the world.

“It’s a sanctuary. A safe place where you know you belong, even when everyone else seems to reject you,” Welch said.

She said it was now time for find helpers to paint, to hammer nails, and to make the church a reality.

Every one has a role to play, she added, inviting people to imagine their home when it was finished.

“A home that will stand for welcoming, for tolerance, for diversity. For inclusion, and for the stewardship of this beautiful place,” Welch said.

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