Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Veradale UCC to share in pastor’s sabbatical

After more than eight years of serving Veradale UCC in Spokane Valley, Gen Heywood is embarking on a three-month adventure for her sabbatical, filled with questions on how she and her congregation can be more faithful servants in these times.

She expects to deepen her relationship with God and recharge her photographic skills during this time.

Gen Heywood’s three-month sabbatical will take her to Iceland, Germany and New Zealand.          Photo courtesy of Gen Heywood

Her sabbatical is an extension of the networking and community involvement of her ministry and congregation’s ministry.

Through COVID, as Gen moved worship, Bible study, a Tuesday morning prayer, church council meetings online, attendance increase. She created daily online prayer meditations, weekly interviews with people of faith, vigils for grieving losses and work for social justice.

Gen goes with questions designed to bring back ideas for worship, creation care and creative ways to explore history and heal from the region’s Christian dominionism and white supremacy.

Her travels to Iceland, Germany and New Zealand will include 11 days intersecting with people from around the world at the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly.

She left July 31 and plans to return to the church Nov. 14 and give presentations and share images of her experiences and learnings to help 110-year-old, 73-member Veradale UCC, strengthen its stands for social justice and relationships in the community.

Gen’s daughter, Hana, is joining her for the first part of her travels in Iceland from Aug. 1 to 9. They will travel in a Suburu in which they can sleep, so they can photograph Iceland’s night skies. They will also learn about Iceland’s ecological sustainability, wildlife and the brutal and healthy parts of its history.

“Today, Iceland is a good place for women and has women leaders providing a different type of leadership, but that was not always the case,” Gen said she has learned from a book that talks in a matter-of-fact way about the good and the bad of the nation’s history of hurting and stealing from people and emerging as a place with a good economy that cares for the land.

“I’m interested in what Iceland can teach us,” she said.

In Germany, Gen comes with questions about how the country has been taking responsibility for its past.

She knows German from spending 1978-79 as a high school exchange student in Elze. 

Gen begins in Berlin and will travel by train to visit Goslar, Leipzig, Wurtzburg and Munich before attending the World Council of Churches 11th Assembly as accredited media for The Fig Tree and Spokane Faith and Values.

She will take her questions to people she meets in churches and will visit museums.

“In Berlin, I want to learn about resistance and how art is used to take responsibility crimes of the past,” she said. “We need to go beyond individual responsibility to systemic responsibility. We may always have bigots. Changing hearts and minds of individuals is a great goal, but we need to make systemic changes not just for individuals to change.”

To lift people’s common humanity, she wants to learn about the hard work Germans are doing to confront their past and the present rise of extremism. She hopes to gain tools to address extremism in the Inland Northwest.

In Goslar, she will visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site mining museum to learn about silver, copper and lead mines that go back 1,000 years and compare their legacy with Bunker Hill silver mines in Idaho. What are/were mining practices there and what are the toxic legacies of lead, arsenic and heavy metals?

In Leipzig, Gen plans to connect with church history through reformer Martin Luther, theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer and composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

Next in Würzburg, she wants to learn about the witch hunts from 600 to 1600, and how they connect with a history of bigotry against women, Roma, LGBTQ and Jews.

In Nuremberg, her goal is to learn how East and West Germany differed in holding people responsible for war crimes. She will also visit church artist Albrecht Durer’s home, and museums of art and culture, and the Jewish community there.

While in Munich, she will visit Dachau concentration camp, which has been rebuilt, in contrast to efforts by some to cover up negative history of bigotry in the U.S.

Aug. 29 and 30, Gen will join pre-WCC Assembly workshops on indigenous cultures in Karlsruhe, and then participate Aug. 31 to Sept. 7 in the assembly as a photojournalist, submitting reports to The Fig Tree and Spokane Faith and Values.

Sept. 3, she will join a group from the assembly to visit the Hunsruck area for a program led by Renate Fuchs, who is active in the peace movement there and visited Spokane as part of a 1986 exchange of the national UCC global partnership with the Evangelical Church of Germany. She also hosted a PNC youth delegation in 1988.

“Just as German churches told stories of faith through pictures and art, I will convey stories of my observations through photographs,” Gen said.

After the assembly, she will travel to Elze, where she lived as an exchange student, and possibly Hamburg where her daughter studied as an exchange student and where she has ancestorial roots.

Gen plans to fly from Frankfurt to New Zealand Sept. 13 to join a group of professional photographers for a workshop and photography tour Sept 17 to Aoraki/Mt Cook, Fox Glacier, Punakaiki, Karamea and Kahurangi National Park, Nelson, Golden Bay, Abel Tasman National Park and Marlborough Sounds to improve her skills in landscape photography.

Returning in October, Gen will compile information from her observations to prepare presentations in December at the church and in the community.

Gen has received a Lilly grant for this sabbatical and is applying for other grants to help her take her presentation on the road and further explore issues that emerge from what she considers her brief encounters, just “touching the frosting and not getting into the depth of the cake” in the issues. She also hopes for further travel to meet with theologian Susan Neiman in Germany.

Meanwhile, the congregation is committed to reflect prayerfully on how to improve their ministry to each other and the wider community, and to “discern where Jesus is calling us next,” wrote members in the application for the Lilly grant. They will be served by a sabbatical interim pastor, Roger Lynn.

On returning, Gen expects to “receive a congregation that has discerned their gifts for ministry, and the congregation will receive a refreshed pastor who gained new skills and learned valuable lessons, deepened by her own spiritual journey.”

The moderator, Wayne Shull, expects “to build stronger and lasting relationships inside and outside the church. Our small congregation does mighty things, taking a visible stand, and collaborating with other organizations that work for social justice. The congregation fully supports this renewal time for our pastor. We believe by building more relationships beyond our doors, our membership and resources will increase, thus, enabling us to do even greater things.”

Veradale UCC’s community involvements have included N-Sid Sen, Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience (FLLC), Spokane Interfaith Council, Hope House Women’s Shelter, Spokane Valley Partners, Poor People’s Campaign, its Community Garden, the Pride Festival, Vanessa Behan Crisis Nursery, Rosa Parks Birthday Party for the Martin Luther King Jr Community Center, social justice marches, a photography workshop and serving as a community meeting location.

Gen, who earned a master of divinity at Andover Newton Theological School in 1989, and bachelor’s degrees in German and music therapy in 1983 at Emmanuel College in Boston, was ordained in 1989 in Maine and served churches there and in Sunnyvale, Calif, before starting at Veradale UCC in 2014.

In January 2018, she gathered people of faith and non-faith in the community in support of the Washington State Poor People’s Campaign to overcome racism, poverty, the war economy and ecological devastation. Out of those gatherings, the FLLC was born as a ministry of the church. She will bring sabbatical insights back to that program, too.

For information, email or follow her journey in pictures at and follow the church’s journey at or


Pacific NW Conference United Church of Christ News © August 2022


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share