a season of goodbyes

It’s been an incredible season of emptying. Heart-breaking and heart-opening as leave-takings at their best can be.

And this time of saying goodbye, I tried doing some things differently.

Instead of walking away from the grief, I accepted it. Let myself feel it, and be carried forth by it.

Instead of worrying all Fall about what comes next as I step out into a new season in a new year, I’ve focused on being present to saying goodbye and letting go.

Instead of not having time, made time for the conversations that needed to happen.

It has truly transformed me to be more deeply in a heart-open way in the world.

As I prepare to step away from being one of your pastors, we step into a season of separation. The United Church of Christ knows that this two year separation is a necessary time for a congregation and a pastor to make room for new leadership in a congregation and a new beginning for the pastor. This is not to say it’s easy especially when there have been deep connections as we have walked together in trials of the spirit and times of joy.

In the impossibility of saying goodbye to those we love, I draw hope and strength by remembering these things: 

  1. All relationships end. On December 30, I will take off the church’s stole and return my keys. I will no longer be one of your pastors. It’s not true that I “won’t care” about what decisions the church makes in the future – the fact is for your healthy new beginning and my own I can’t. I can’t “care” in the same way I have done as serving as one of your pastors – hoping for and seeking to craft certain outcomes.
  2. And I am reminded that all relationships never end.  Those who have touched our hearts and lives can never be separated from us – and how could they be? The relationships, connections in our lives shape who we are, are entwined with our very being and way in the world. The work of care that we have done changes over time but that which is at the heart of it – our deep connection as part of the body of Christ and expression of God’s love in the world – such love never ends. I do and will keep this congregation in my heart and prayers always.

I can’t not do that – you have helped make me who I am today, and our relationship with each other as pastor and congregation has shaped and changed us.

As we approach the darkest time of year this Advent, we also anticipate the birth of Jesus Christ. In this darkest night, the one we call the Light comes into the world. And what a good season to remember in the times of uncertainty and unknowing it is Christ who beckons us to step forth again in fear and trembling, in faith, hope and love – and Go. To leave what familiar frames we have mistaken for the totality of our lives and to step into and through our fear and be remade as God’s new creation. For some it means leaving a familiar place, for others being there in new ways. For all, a journey.

In June 1994, when this congregation prepared to vote on calling Dave and me as associate pastors, we ended our sermon with a quote from St. John of the Cross:

I said to the man who stood at the gate, “Give me a light that I may see my way into the darkness!”

“Put your hand out into the darkness”, he said, “that is safer and better than a known way.”

On that Sunday, in fear and trembling, in hope and expectation, this congregation put out their hand.

Now, decades later, transformed by the faith and trust we have had witnessed, Christ calls us all to put out our own hand.

lalesh aldarwish pexels.com


A letter from Peter

September 17, 2018

Dear Friends,

Five years ago, I stepped off the wharf onto a sailboat and I learned how to sail. On that adventure I discovered a practice that helped me let go of the life I had, and discover a new life I’d never imagined.

Today, I write that I have been called to step away from University Church into a new adventure.

I write with tears of gratitude for the privilege of serving as one of your pastors for the past 25 years. We will mark my last Sunday on December 30.

This is a decision I have come to after much thought and prayer over these past months. I have loved being your pastor for 25 years – almost half of my life! The hugs, the tears, the adventures, the people I have met, the staff with whom I’ve worked, the places I have gone, the impact we have had on untold individual lives and families, not to mention the Seattle community and beyond, can scarcely be grasped.

At my 20th anniversary, I shared that I have been blessed by your high expectations and deep love. You have witnessed my successes and shortcomings; my resistance to change and my stumbling vulnerability; my perfectionism and my imperfections. This challenging ministry, and our honest conversations, have enabled me to become the man I am today.

As with learning how to sail, I feel called to step out into unknowing – a season of learning and discovery, reflection and writing – an intentional Sabbath as I listen for God’s call. I know I am being called out to some new way to be, some new way to serve that I trust will be revealed.

It’s important for you to know that University Church is as strong as it has ever been, strong in identity, and most of all, strong in its people and leadership. And I will do all I can to give our ministry my full energy and best talents for a smooth transition. In October and November I have cleared my calendar on Thursdays and Fridays for those of you who would like a time for conversation.

We have been blessed these past years by William Sloane Coffin, Jr.’s benediction. I offer it again in deep gratitude for this community of faith, and each of you.

May God grant you the grace never to sell yourself short.

Grace to risk something big for the sake of something good.

Grace to remember that the world is now too dangerous for anything but truth

And too small for anything but love.

In faith, hope, and love,

Peter Ilgenfritz

Editor’s Note: find out about our next steps for our church >> here

Reformation and Migration

It’s mid June — the season of graduation and celebrations, a time of anticipating perhaps some time away or a summer vacation. I leave on Friday for a few weeks of vacation to rest and prepare for some added responsibilities during Catherine’s sabbatical from the end of July to the end of October, and also to attend the week-long General Synod of the United Church of Christ in Baltimore. Every two years representatives from regions throughout the country come together to make decisions in that national church setting of our denomination – affirm leadership, hear reports, and vote on a number of resolutions. I am attending as a representative this year due to my role as Moderator of the Pacific Northwest Conference.

I have also been working with my colleagues in planning our worship series for the coming year. As part of our marking of the 500 year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation (remember that bit about Martin Luther’s 95 theses nailed to the church door?), we’ll be exploring the theme of Spiritual Migration and hosting a lecture series on November 3-5 with the Jesus Seminar on the Road focused on the Reformation. Because challenges and barriers for refugees and immigrants have been at the forefront of the news the past months, we’ve invited David Vasquez-Levy, President of the Pacific School of Religion, to lecture and preach about migration on November 11 and 12.

Using the stories of the Exodus, we’ll explore what we need to leave so that we can be prepared to leave home, and go where we are being called or compelled to go. We begin the Fall with Homecoming Sunday on September 17, and the discomforting reality that for many this is a time of not feeling at home in our country, with realities and challenges in our own lives, families and communities. During Advent and Epiphany we’ll use the stories of Jesus life and ministry to explore leaving home. In Lent we’ll explore the reality of being in the wilderness or a time of transformation after leaving home. In Eastertide, coming home again but to a home different than the one we left. I am looking forward to exploring this journey of transition, change and challenge together. You will see an invitation to make a “family bird” to tell your own and/or your family’s history of migration. If you would like to get involved or learn more in this year’s series, please contact me at pilgenfritz@ucucc.org.

Wherever you summer journey takes you – far from home or deeper into your own life here, may you know your church carries you in our hearts, hopefulness and prayers. We look forward to connecting with you along the way.

Along the Way – Ash Wednesday

It’s not a very popular service.

And why would it be?  I mean, who would really want to come at an inconvenient hour in the middle of a busy week to have the pastor make the sign of the cross on your forehead in black soot and bless you with the words, “Remember you are dust and to dust you will return.”

Maybe?  Maybe not.

There are things in all of our hearts we don’t want to face.  There certainly have been in mine.  Our own Jerusalem’s.  Our own coming to terms with what we need to pay attention to. The things we might want to cling to desperately, but in fact need to release, to “die” to, in order to risk the possibility of something more.  Call it “resurrection”. Call it something on the other side of “this”. Some new life that we can’t, right here today, imagine finding our way to.

What if Ash Wednesday and the journey of Lent were an invitation to see what we don’t want to see?”

Simon, rector at All Saints Parish, in K.D. Miller’s novel, All Saints, officiates at his tiny Anglican parish’s Ash Wednesday service.  He reminds his congregation that we can begin Lent by receiving ashes and those stark words, “Remember you are dust…” as a reminder that our lifespan is limited.   And he goes on,

“But we shouldn’t stop there.  We need to go on and acknowledge the thing that most frightens us, most pains us.  The thing we are must reluctant to face. It doesn’t have to be death, though it can be.  It can be the need to confront someone and say, “You hurt me”.  Which is the first step on the road to forgiveness.  Or it can be the need to tell someone we love them.  Whatever it is, I suggest you enter this season of Lent with the intention of saying, in effect, Ecce cor meum.  Behold my heart.”

This Lent we will explore what it means to be in the Dark Woods moments of our lives.  We are not going to talk about just how to get out of it, as if life is good only when we are not there.  We are going to explore what it might mean for our lives to recognize the gifts of the Dark Wood.  What if times of uncertainty, failure or emptiness are opportunities for spiritual awakening? What if we saw how these uncomfortable times can actually  help us to let go of all we cannot know so that we can live more wholeheartedly?  Our Lenten Worship Series, “Gifts of the Dark Wood” is about “seeing life with new eyes.”  I hope you will join us beginning on Ash Wednesday as we take this journey together.