Marcia Stanard will be officially welcomed into Blaineâs Free Unitarian congregation through a covenanting ceremony on October 21. The ceremony is a time when the congregation and Stanard âwill make promises to each other.â (Photo by Brandy Kiger)
Six hours one way by train. A long weekend away from home and family. A life split between two spiritual communities. For most, such an existence would be out of the question, but for the Reverend Marcia Stanard it’s a sacrifice she happily makes each month in order to minister to the residents of Blaine.
At 6 p.m. on October 21, the Free Unitarian Church of Blaine will hold a covenanting service at their church on the corner of Harrison and Cedar streets to honor Stanard’s commitment and officially welcome her into their congregation as their new part-time minister. Stanard was hired to fill a gap left by the church’s recently-retired Reverend Nan Geer, who led the community for the past 20 years. Geer retired in June 2011.
The service is similar to an installation, Stanard explained, “but because I’m not full-time, we’re calling it something different. It’s a time where we’re going to make promises to each other.” The public ceremony will celebrate Stanard’s seven months of ministry at the church and the church’s success as a congregation.
The church was established in 1928 by members of the Icelandic Lutheran church, after founding minister the Rev. Halldor Johnson became “too liberal for the Lutheran Church,” lifetime member Theo Hull said. And, though it is a small congregation that has had “very, very slim times over the years,” Hull said, the church has “managed to keep going.” The Free Unitarian Church currently has around 35 regular members, and relies on its part-time minister as well as lay leaders and guest speakers to lead the church.
Stanard comes to Blaine once or twice a month to preach.
“The Blaine community has a fairly strong tradition of people who attend church,” Stanard said. “Our church is a liberal alternative for people looking for a spiritual home, a place to explore those deep questions. It’s a place for people who may not resonate with the traditional Christianity they grew up with.”
Universalist Unitarianism is a non-creedal faith, which means it does not have a creed or set of beliefs that everyone must adhere to or believe in to be part of the church body.
“We believe that there are many paths up the mountain,” Stanard said. “People support one another in finding their own way to the divine. It’s a place where interfaith relationships thrive.”
Stanard first felt the “call to ministry” when teaching an “Our Whole Lives” sexuality education program to eighth and ninth graders in Portland. She followed the call, attending the Meadville-Lombard Theological Seminary in Chicago. She was ordained in November 2011 in Portland, Oregon. Stanard serves the Wy’est Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland as well.
“I’ve been a spiritual seeker my whole life, and the only one in my family who liked church,” Stanard said. “When I found Unitarian Universalism it became very important to me. To come and be with people during some the greatest joys and sorrows of their lives is incredibly sacred to me.”
A desire to work more led her to consider the position in Blaine, and after meeting with her, the hiring committee agreed that she would be a wonderful fit. Despite having to leave her partner Katie and their four children in Portland for a long weekend, Stanard finds the arrangement works really well.
“It’s really nice to come up here and focus on the congregation,” she said. “It’s a long commute to a beautiful place,” she added, and the train ride gives her time to read and prepare for her sermons.
Stanard tries to make the most of her time in Blaine by taking walks and having coffee with members and getting to know them as people. “I’m thrilled to be here,” she said. “It’s a warm and lovely group of people.”
One of the things that Stanard is most excited about is that the Free Unitarian Church has recently become a “Welcoming Congregation.” That means the congregation pledges to welcome gay, lesbian and transgendered individuals into the life of the community, Stanard said. It was a decision the church made two years ago that has finally come to fruition.
“Gays and lesbians have often been excluded from other religious communities, and we want to receive them as whole, integrated people. You don’t have to hide who you are to be here,” she said. Stanard added that all seekers are welcome to be a part of the spiritual community, whether they are “believers” or not. Hull could not be more elated to have Stanard at the helm of her congregation. “It’s just such a gift to have Marcia in this sacred place I call my second home,” she said. “She’s younger, fresher and has new ideas – but is not going to change everything. It’s a real joy to have her.”