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Unitarian Universalists dedicate their new church in Freeland
South Whidbey’s newest church building was dedicated Sunday afternoon, a work of togetherness mirroring the philosophy of its denomination.
“It’s perfection,” said Helen Kuschnereit of Clinton, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Whidbey Island.
“To me it reflects everything we want in life — simplicity, beauty and practicality,” she said.
The new church, nearly 4,000 square feet of “green” functionality, was completed recently after years of land acquisition, fundraising and construction. Ground was broken in the fall of 2007.
The dedication service in the light and airy sanctuary was attended by national Unitarian officials, local public and religious personages and several Unitarian members from throughout the Puget Sound region.
There were few empty seats.
“What a day, what a day, what a day,” the Rev. Kit Ketcham, pastor, told the gathering. “We bless it with the hope that we will think clearly here, and will reach out to help others.”
The Whidbey congregation first organized in 1993, sponsored by the Edmonds Unitarian Universal Church. It grew through the years to a current member population of more than 80 adults and 20 youngsters, Ketcham said.
Ketcham became part-time minister in 2003, and increased that role after moving to the island in 2006.
The land on the west side of Highway 525 north of Freeland was purchased in 2001, and a campaign to raise money was begun in 2004. Members of the congregation pledged $165,000, Ketcham said.
Grants from the national and regional Unitarian Universalist organizations sweetened the pot, and local members rolled up their sleeves.
“It is truly a handmade building,” Ketcham said.
The church features a two-story open sanctuary with exposed wood-stained trusses, sustainable bamboo flooring and eight hanging light ixtures. The sanctuary is flanked by four smaller rooms and a large kitchen.
“Green” features include a ground-source heat pump and a garden nourished by captured rainwater.
Most of the trees on the property remain, a few perfectly framed by large round windows at the front and rear of the sanctuary, and even larger traditional windows along the sides.
“We’ve done our best to preserve our little mini-forest,” said Baird Bardarson of Freeland, congregation president.
Bardarson said the total project probably cost about $600,000, with another $100,000 in “sweat equity” by congregation members, which gave them a sense of ownership.
The building was designed by Flat Rock Productions of Langley.
Unitarian Universalists believe in an all-inclusiveness to the point of activism on behalf of causes they consider to be just.
For example, the church recently announced it would conduct free affirmation ceremonies for gay couples in response to recent attacks nationally on the concept of gay marriage.
“Now that you have walls to call your own, we urge you to ignore them,” said the Rev. Deborah Raible, president of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association, Pacific Northwest District. “Too often, walls keep people out.”
There’s no danger of that, Ketcham responded.
“We’re dedicating our church to the benefit of the larger community,” she said. “We welcome all who come through our doors.”