Time to meet with Peter

Peter Ilgenfritz has set aside Thursdays and Fridays in October and November for conversations with anyone who would like to talk.

Set a time with him by email at pilgenfritz@universityucc.org, or 206-524-2322 x3307.


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

We can’t do this again!

“We can’t do this again! We can’t!” And yet, here we were, doing it again.

It was the same old pattern. The meeting began with great connection, vision, dreaming and energy. But after the lunch break, as the conversation turned to plans on what to do next, all that energy we’d experienced fled the room.

We turned to making long to-do lists, agonizing over all we had to do, remembering everything that we’d once tried that hadn’t worked. Hopelessness and despair descended like thick fog over our morning mountain top of clarity and excitement.

It had happened to us before – one, three, five – too many times. And this time, we were headed that same way again until someone interrupted our pattern and said, “Stop. We have to stop. We can’t do this one more time.”

For almost the past two years I have had the privilege of serving as Moderator of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ. My term ends on April 28 at our Annual Meeting. And yes, we have a great new moderator waiting in the wings – Wendy Blight! It has been a gift to team with Wendy, our Conference Minister Mike Denton, and Minister of Church Vitality Courtney Stange-Tregear, as we have helped lead our board of directors into leading into the new. After a year of coming up against some familiar barriers, something began to happen. And then, we returned to our familiar patterns.

But on that day, last month, we did something different. We stopped. We put down our to-do lists, raised our heads from our hands, unclenched our fists, and got curious about what we were doing. We talked about our fears. We acknowledged that as a board we had a lot invested in our time, energy, histories in holding this work together and keeping it going. We remembered however that our call wasn’t to keep things going as they’d always been, but to do things differently, to lead into change. We wondered if we kept falling back into our familiar pattern of stuck and despair, so that nothing needed to change.

My experience at the meeting made me wonder what patterns I might be invited to interrupt today. I mean, when we find ourselves falling back into the “same old same old”, what if we stopped and acknowledged that we were stuck again in a life-draining way. What if instead of pushing through it, we got curious about what was happening? What if we tried doing something differently?

The meeting that day, ended not with us fleeing the room exhausted and weary, as we had done so many times before — but looking around at each other with delight and giving ourselves a round of applause. Instead of a long list of things to do, and not sure who was going to do it, we came out with just a couple of items that a few folks gladly took on.

If the season of Lent might be an opportunity to practice some new ways of being, what pattern might you be invited to interrupt today?

How might you pause and reflect on the way things always are — to make room for the new that might possibly be?

What would it take for your day to end with applause?


Our Migration Stories

I have walked through many lives,

some of them my own,

and I am not who I was,

though some principle of being

abides, from which I struggle

not to stray.

Stanely Kunitz, from his poem, “The Layers”

This Fall, we begin a year-long worship series on migration. We begin with exploring all it takes to even contemplate leaving home, and the choices we need to make, not so much about what to take – but what we need to leave behind. Sometimes our moves from home are by choice – a new job, new school, new relationship, a desire for a change – but for many people in the world the exit from home is forced upon them by others through enslavement, war and violence at home, flooding and other natural or man-made disasters, or the need to find food.

The exodus story, of the migration of the people of Israel from Egypt, is a story of such a forced migration – a people needing to leave enslavement in the hope of finding a place of safety to call home. We’ll be following their journey through the desert each Sunday this Fall, and each Sunday asking the same question – what are we called to leave behind?

We are delighted that Debra Jarvis, one of our covenant partners, and writer-in-residence, will be helping us on this journey through preaching and Sunday morning worship leadership.

Thank you, once again, to Kris Garratt for her extraordinary gifts in liturgical art that carry us through this Fall and coming seasons. You can help support our Arts Ministry through the Worship and Music Liturgical Arts Fund. Consider sending in a gift to show your support!

During the rest of the year, our journey of migration continues. Through Advent and Epiphany, we will be exploring Leaving Home; in Lent, the experience of Wilderness once we have left home, and concluding in Eastertide with Journeys Ending.

Today, the reality of forced migration is so present throughout our world. This is a time when many feel a dis-location and not-at-home-ness in a variety of ways. This is a time when it is imperative, as church, to explore all that migration can mean physically, emotionally, and spiritually, so that we can be companions of hope, compassion and justice along the way.

  • Where would you like to be headed during this coming season?
  • How would you hope to be, during this time, as you walk through your own season of migration.

We have envelopes and note cards in the church office, and we invite you to write a note to yourself about these two questions. We’ll mail your reminder to you next May as we conclude our series.

In all the journeys we will travel as people, church, nation, and world during the coming year, may we remember God’s promise of being present with us always. May you know such hope, encouragement, strength and love with you today.

Leave of Absence Announcement

~ Peter Ilgenfritz
The Personnel Board has granted me a one-month leave of absence, November 6 – December 6, so I can complete a writing project. I have been working on a book on learning how to sail, and my journey through fear into the unknown. I am so grateful for this focused time that will enable me to immerse myself in this project, and have my next draft done on the other side!

I am grateful that Debra Jarvis will continue be help carry some worship leadership responsibilities during this time.


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.