Marsha Williams is a self-described “big-city girl.” So even she seems a little surprised that she has landed in Blaine.
The Indianapolis native preached her first official sermon as the new pastor at Blaine United Church of Christ on October 2 after a selection process that began in May. She and her partner, Michelle, live just on the edge of Birch Bay.
There have been some obvious divides, she says, but she’s adjusting to small-town living and a worship environment very different from the African-American church tradition she was raised in.
“[Blaine UCC] is an old, historic congregation and an old, historic church,” she says. “It’s been good.”
The Blaine area is not known for its diversity, and Williams says she’s often asked why she decided to move to an area with so little diversity. Her answer is simple: Why not?
“Somebody’s gotta be the trailblazer,” she says. “Why not me?”
Working in inner-city ministry and with incarcerated individuals, Willaims focused on empowering people to be better tomorrow than they are today. In Blaine, she says the challenge is empowering people to stretch and expand their way of thinking.
Blaine United Church of Christ is officially recognized as an open and affirming congregation, which Williams described as a “seal” from the denomination letting the world know that everyone is truly welcome to worship. One of the most recognized aspects of the designation is welcoming gay and lesbian worshippers and ministers, but to Williams, it goes beyond that.
“It’s gender and race and ethnicity and economics,” Williams says. It’s even theology: “Bring your questions,” she says. “We’ll toss ‘em around. We might not have an answer, but we’ll enter a dialog.”
One of Williams’ biggest goals is to get the church more involved in the community.
“I want to get people to understand that everyone really is welcome here,” she says. “My very presence is evidence of the church being open and affirming.”
The community outreach efforts include a giving tree for local families, daily Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, an interfaith-organized coat drive that just wrapped up and monthly collections for the Blaine Food Bank. And more are in the works.
The church has also started offering children’s church every Sunday, though the children in the congregation are as yet few and far between.
“We don’t have a lot of kids, but we’re ready when they come!” Williams says of the children’s ministry.
The Christmas season is the busiest time of year for many churches, and the United Church of Christ is no exception. Along with the Christmas Cantata performance on December 18 and the Christmas Eve caroling service, Williams has helped arrange something special for Christmas Day.
For the first time, the United Church of Christ and Christ Episcopal Church – located just a few doors down – will be worshipping together on Christmas Day.
“It doesn’t make sense to be so close and not work together,” Williams says.
The December 25 service will be held at 10:30 a.m. at Christ Episcopal Church, 382 Boblett Street.
As for the location, Williams says, “We flipped a coin.”