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URBANA — The pews at the historic Unitarian Universalist Church of Urbana-Champaign have been empty for seven months, but the church’s newest clergy member says the congregation remains involved and active in the midst of the pandemic.
The Rev. Sally Fritsche, who began at the church Sept. 1 as associate minister for congregational life, said she is the first supporting minister to be brought on board in the Urbana church’s 160-year-old history.
It’s also a first for Fritsche, a 2018 graduate of Harvard Divinity School who was ordained this past summer. This is her first ministry post, she said.
Fritsche grew up in the Unitarian Universalist Church in Columbia, Mo., and had considered going into academia during her college years, she said. But after serving with AmeriCorps after graduation, she reconsidered and decided the ministry would be the best way for her to make a difference.
“I just really came to realize in those couple of years after college that this was the right way for me,” she said.
Fritsche said the church’s weekly services have been all virtual since March, but the church has needed a second minister to help its lead minister, the Rev. Florence Caplow, serve a congregation that has grown.
Longtime member and church board Chairman Brian McDermott said the process of calling an associate minister was underway before the pandemic.
The congregation has grown since Caplow was called in 2017 and began leading the church in becoming even more active in social-justice issues, he said.
Fritsche said she sees growth being fueled by the “unignorable” political situation and the challenge of taking action alone.
“I think the thing is that people are beginning to realize that they are fundamentally connected,” she said.
Some of her role with this church has been helping church members continue to feel connected even when they can’t gather in person as a congregation.
One recent activity, she said, was a socially distanced get-together to tie-dye masks, which were then hung from a tree in front of the church at 309 W. Green St. for anyone who wanted one to take. They were all gone in under a day.
Another recent activity, she said: The blessing of the animals was done live online.
Participants held up their pets to their cameras so everyone could see them. Prayers were said, poetry was read and each participant blessed his or her own pet.
Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal faith community formed from the union of the Universalists and the Unitarians.
Leaders of the Urbana church say the religion and its members are known for accepting all sexualities and faith backgrounds and a commitment to social justice and justice work.