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Catherine Foote retires after 20 years at UCUCC

As Catherine Foote, one of the team ministers at University Congregational United Church of Christ in Seattle has retired after 20 years, she shared how she valued working in that team ministry.

University Congregational UCC says goodbye to Catherine Foote. Photo courtesy of UCUCC

“In 2001, I joined a team ministry that began four years before I came,” said Catherine who has appreciated working in a team that balances leadership and responsibility.

“We were in community so we could lead a community of faith,” she said. “Each of us led one area of ministry and supported the others leading in their areas of ministry.”

Each is responsible for spiritual development and worship. In the model of I Cor. 12 each brings their gifts, leads in one area of ministry and supports others with Christ as the head.

“I liked that we did not need to do ministry alone, but we could use our gifts. We did not have one voice, but shared different perspectives in our preaching, so we each continued to learn,” she said.

Catherine worked over the years with ordained ministers—Amy Roon, Peter Ilgenfritz, David Shull and Don McKenzie—and non-ordained ministers—Kyna Shilling and David Anderson as church administrators—as a team with everyone in the congregation.

“Our job as ministers was to help the congregation discover their ministries,” she said. “Team ministry embodies mutuality in ministry.”

Don began at UCUCC as head of the staff and retired as part of the team ministry. He embraced the mutual ministry that he helped mold.

Catherine said Letty Rossell’s book Church in the Round helped shape her to seeing a ministry around a round table with no head or foot.

“In team ministry there is inherently no dominant voice, but we listened to each other,” she said. “Typically in ministry we expect a dominate white male voice. Instead, we listened to each other, so those traditionally marginalized were able to be heard. The team ministry has taken every voice seriously, gay, women and black.

“It’s still rare,” she said, “but UCUCC figured hot how to work against the dominant story. There are always challenges.”

Even as she retired, she said that UCUCC is still learning how to do team ministry in an institution and world in which a CEO has greater salary and authority.

“We have been a model of how the church can operate in an alternative way. Our salaries were based on other factors, given that we all assumed the same authority,” she said.

Catherine grew up in Southern California and migrated to Kentucky for seminary, worked in Northern California 20 years after she was ordained in the UCC, then in Oregon enroute to Washington.

She studied theology and Bible at Pacific Christian College in Long Beach, a conservative college where everyone majored in religion. She once thought she would teach math, but in college fell in love with the Bible and religious philosophy, beginning a spiritual journey that led her to help people on their spiritual journeys.

The college related to the Independent Christian Church, in which women did not preach.

After graduating in 1973, she went to seminary at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky, where she earned a master’s in religious education in 1975 and then a doctoral degree in 1982,

While doing doctoral study, she taught at San Jose Christian College from 1979 to 1989.

“I was left of folks in my church when I discovered the United Church of Christ,” she said. “My church taught me to take the Bible seriously and literally. That led me to the UCC, which takes the Bible seriously.”

Catherine’s conservative roots with rote memorization gave her knowledge of the Bible she is thankful for.

In San Jose, she found a church that was more open to women: First Congregational UCC, where the woman associate preached once a month.

“Having a women lead worship and preach opened my interest in the UCC,” she said. “I left teaching at a college in a conservative theological world I could not live with any more.”

When she resigned from the college, First Congregational UCC was looking for a youth director. She was hired. Over 10 years became youth minister and in 1992 was ordained in the UCC as associate minister, after doing independent study of UCC history and polity.

Catherine stayed with her sister in Cottage Grove, Ore., for a year and a half, attending First Congregational in Eugene and worked in a day treatment center for children, using her counseling and psychology skills, but she missed ministry.

“I did therapy an hour a day with children, rather than doing ministry with children from birth to baptism, at home and in school, and for graduation and weddings,” Catherine said.

She was called to UCUCC in December, 2001.

When she left California, she had wanted a rural life, like what she experienced in Cottage Grove, where her sister raised sheep. 

After moving to Seattle, she found a farm with acreage on Whidbey Island, where she raises two flocks with 18 to 40 Romney sheep, which she raises to sell wool to spin, weave and knit.

Catherine found Whidbey Island convenient, one hour by ferry and through traffic to the church. She spent time on the ferry taking phone calls, and often went by motorcycle, arriving in full morotcycle gear and shifting to pastoral attire.

During her ministry at UCUCC, she helped with social justice work in the wider Seattle community, including hosting the Nickelsville Tent City in the church parking lot, working with the Church Council of Greater Seattle and the Muslim Association of Puget Sound and showing up at interfaith and community events.

She led a Bible study for 15 years, worked with youth and children, watching them grow and writing curriculum. She went on retreats, including service trips to Yakima, Alaska, Campbell Farms, San Juans, and Western Regional Youth Events in Seattle.

“We have had a phenomenal youth ministry with Margaret Swanson,” she said. “All the pastors are responsible for pastoral care, worship leadership, formation and financial strength. Team ministry is a luxury. Net every church can afford a team.

“After being shut down most of the pandemic, we began some in-person worship and activities the middle of October, but continued to do both in person and online. About 40 percent are in person and 60 percent online,” said Catherine.

Her Bible study in person previously drew 20 and in COVID drew 30. Many older people have figured technology.

“People who were not able to come before because they did not have access were able to come,” she said. “Overall there was more access to ministries.

When Catherine started in ministry, dial phones and pay phones were in use. She remembers computers with a black screens and green letters.

“Computers have made it possible for people to be more deeply connected. We need to find deeper ways to hear each other’s stories,” she said.

In technology, she noted that in every grief there is a gift.

“Before COVID, we closed if there was a big snow storm, but with Facebook live, we were able to worship,” she said.

In retirement, Catherine, 70, will worship in other PNC communities—probably not traveling farther than her living room or home office.

John 21, “Feed my sheep” has been an important verse for Catherine. When COVID began, she opened worship with a video of opening her barn door to release her sheep. She wrote a book on sheep for Pilgrim Press, Shepherding the Season.

The sheep are no metaphor to Catherine. She feeds and takes care of them every day. 

“Ministry is also about real here and now, everyday needs of people,” she said. “My ministry included helping people express their stories and understand what life is about. I did it both by metaphor and being beside people in the moment.

“It was a joy to serve in the PNC and this congregation. I feel a full heart as I retire and will take more time on the farm to do chores. The farm keeps me busy, as the church has,” she said.

 In her last blog post, she said when her sister’s grandchildren say “goodbye” they add, “I love you.” For them, “goodbye I love you“ is one long, quickly said word.

“Always there is the reminder that we are connected...and when we say goodbye, that between us there is love.” As she said goodbye to the congregation, she said there is still a connection from 20 years of ministry. 

Catherine will travel to visit family, but mostly be home with the sheep.

For information, call 206-321-7604 or email


Pacific Northwest Conference United Church News © Winter 2021-22


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