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Robert Feeny to be installed Jan. 14 as pastor at Spokane’s Westminster Congregational UCC

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Robert Feeny to be installed Jan. 14 as pastor at Spokane’s Westminster Congregational UCC

This news story was made possible by contributions to FāVS from readers like you. Thank you.

News Story by John McCallum

Sometimes, something was just meant to be.

That appears to be the case with regards to Spokane’s Westminster Congregational United Church of Christ and its new pastor, the Rev. Robert Feeny.

Feeny, who began in July 2022, will be installed as pastor at a ceremony on Saturday (Jan. 14). The celebration, which begins at 2 p.m., will be observed with a service, followed by a reception. An installation is the official acknowledgement of a church’s new pastor.

“It’s a commitment, a covenant to serve our church and we acknowledge and celebrate it,” Westminster Congregational Church Moderator Karen Nielsen said.

Andy CastroLang

Feeny’s hiring as full-time pastor to replace retiring pastor Rev. Andy CastroLang came nearly 10 months after the church began its search. CastroLang announced in fall 2021 that she was stepping down from a pulpit she had served since 2002, and the church set up its search committee in October of that year.

According to the National Association of Congregational Christian Churches, the average time from the organization of church’s pastor search committee to final recommendation of a candidate is 18 – 24 months. Westminster Congregational’s search was much shorter, calling Feeny in spring of 2022 after a search that produced five potential candidates.

“When you feel like you’ve got someone and you make that connection, then you want to move quickly,” Nielsen said. “We were very lucky to find Bob.”

That connection is mutual. Feeny said that on his first Zoom call interview, the mixture of people on the committee and the way they interacted with each other created such a strong impression that he knew his next move would be from his location in Massachusetts to Spokane.

“The minute they came on screen it was like, yeah, these are my people,” Feeny said. “I want to be with these people.”

A native of Pittsfield, New Hampshire — about 20 minutes from the capital of Concord — Feeny said he wanted to be a church pastor beginning around the age of 3.

“This calling has been there for a long time, it’s just taken different shapes,” he said.

Raised in a “very conservative” Pentecostal/Evangelical church tradition, Feeny said he began moving away from this Christian viewpoint in high school and at Plymouth State University in Plymouth, New Hampshire. Needing more social and political “openness” he moved out of the church after receiving his undergraduate degree in English.

While at Plymouth, Feeny entered into the college housing profession, moving to the Hudson Valley area to run several college dorms over the next 10 years. He eventually returned to his alma mater in the same profession, and while there was encouraged to begin attending the local United Church of Christ, which he connected with and liked.

Rev. Bob Feeny/Contributed

Feeny said he went on several mission trips to Honduras and El Salvador and began once again contemplating a life serving a church as a pastor. While in college he learned about the University of Chicago as a “place of really big ideas” and its divinity school as one providing instruction that was open and not set within any specific Christian tradition. That appealed to him and he enrolled, eventually receiving his Master of Divinity degree.

Feeny was serving as pastor at Wellesley Congregational UCC in Wellesley, Massachusetts, for three years when the open position in Spokane came up on a UCC jobs board. He studied the church profile, what they were looking for in a pastor as well as other aspects of the Spokane area.

A self-professed “mountains person” and a long distance runner, Feeny said the whole situation was appealing, especially since his partner, Rebecca, had a friend living in Seattle as well as several friends from seminary who are there.

Nielsen said the committee was impressed with Feeny’s enthusiasm and energy, along with his focus on issues important to Westminster Congregational — social justice, environmental stewardship and inclusion.

“Those are all important for us,” Nielsen said.

After meeting in person with the committee and congregation, the congregation voted to accept him as pastor. Feeny’s start in July led to an overlap with the retiring CastroLang, who left in August, but it was an overlap Nielsen said worked to the church’s benefit, especially with regards to many of its initiatives within the community.

Established in 1879, Westminster Congregational is Spokane’s longest serving church. Under CastroLang’s guidance, the church has become open and affirming and committed to staying in its location at 411 S. Washington St.

In the past 20 years, Westminster Congregational has become involved with community organizations such as Spokane Alliance, the housing organization Family Promise, Tree of Sharing and Volunteers of America’s efforts with Hope House and the teen-crisis organization Crosswalk. The church is welcoming and inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community and has recently begun efforts to become a “Green” environmental congregation.

Nielsen said calling Feeny while CastroLang was still pastor allowed them to continue momentum in these areas. Adhering to the traditional practice of hiring an interim pastor while the permanent search was underway could have “slowed us down.”

“We felt as a congregation we were very connected, very solid with the way we serve and what we were passionate about,” Nielsen said. “We are a healthy and very together church and we wanted our next pastor.”

Feeny agrees, adding they express a vision that very much resonates with him. He said he is looking forward to continuing that vision — particularly with regards to environmental justice and how the church relates to these issues.

Spokane is uniquely positioned to deal with these issues as a city, Feeny said, and can take measures to make sure mistakes made by larger cities with regards to homelessness, housing and the environment aren’t replicated. He added he is still in the process of forming his own theological “questions” surrounding these issues and how those might become part of Westminster Congregational’s vision.

Feeny’s installation begins at 2 p.m., Saturday, at Westminster Congregational, 411 S. Washington St. Representatives of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ will participate in the celebration, with choral music provided by church musicians under the leadership of Verne Windham.

This news story was made possible by contributions to FāVS from readers like you. Thank you.

John McCallum
John McCallum
John McCallum is a freelance writer living in Liberty Lake. A graduate of Eastern Washington University with degrees in Journalism and Radio-Television, John spent 21 years at the Cheney Free Press as an award-winning staff reporter, editor, managing editor and photojournalist covering everything from government to education, sports, religion and current affairs. He is a member of Spokane’s Knox Presbyterian Church and has served as a church leader on session and participated in worship through a variety of roles. He has made six mission trips to Guatemala as a member of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest Guatemala Task Force. John enjoys time with his wife, Sheila, and their Dachshund, Chili, road trips — especially the Oregon Coast — along with running, biking and kayaking.

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