When the Rev. Katrina Wuensch became senior pastor at the West Parish Church of Andover in March, she made history.
She’s the first woman to lead the United Church of Christ parish in its 190 years.
“I haven’t thought of it as pressure,” said Wuensch, 44, of Harvard. “West Parish is at this exciting moment where it’s ready for new things.”
Wuensch is set to deliver.
“When I was ordained 15 years ago, nothing was done on e-mail,” she said. “Now people can watch church online. Families are a lot busier and have more options. Churches have not kept up with that change. All congregations need to become relevant for the 21st century. It’s an interesting time to be a minister.”
Wuensch grew up in Concord and attended Trinity Episcopal Church in Boston’s Copley Square with her family. She studied religion at Oberlin College, then ran an inmate assistance program in California. Moving back east, she attended Harvard Divinity School, where she discovered the United Church of Christ.
“To my great surprise and shock, I loved it,” she said. “And I have worked in the church since.”
For more than 12 years, Wuensch was senior pastor at South Acton Congregational Church, where she initiated a youth mission trip, oversaw a capital campaign, and offered new worship experiences.
She realizes her job is a balancing act of merging a “stable, solid, and comforting foundation with continual innovation and staying relevant.” That includes “welcoming and including people who are gay, lesbian, or transgender; from diverse racial or ethnic backgrounds; or struggling with addiction.
“Here, you are welcomed and embraced. It’s all about justice, peace, and equality.”
She also plans to make use of the West Parish garden cemetery and chapel “for some who don’t want to go into a church.” [There’s a lantern festival at the cemetery the evening of June 17.]
The mother of a daughter and stepson, she describes herself as “a collaborative leader.”
“My responsibility as a minister is to have a vision and put it out there. And we [the congregation] will figure it out together.”
“At Katrina’s first interview, she led us through a guided meditation as we listened to a song by the rock group The Fray,” remembered Jill Sergeant, chairwoman of the search committee. “The exercise was current and fun, while also spiritual. She made us laugh and also made us think.”Wendy Killeen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.