Thursday, July 12, 2001

Unitarian minister touched many

Congregation celebrates her career

By Susan Vela
credit The Cincinnati Enquirer

        As a Unitarian-Universalist minister, the Rev. L. Annie Foerster has filled churches in four states with tears, laughter and honest emotion.

        One of those is St. John's Unitarian Church in Clifton, where, for the past five years, the Rev. Ms. Foerster has blessed animals, shared stories about her life, invited children to the pulpit, welcomed them to share songs, and conducted holy union services for gays and lesbians.

        Away from the church, the 66-year-old minister has been a staunch supporter of Planned Parenthood and conducted services for those affected by abortions.

        Now she's retiring.

        At Sunday's annual “Blessing of the Animals” service, the Rev. Ms. Foerster was reminded why she'll hate to leave 16 years as a church minister.

        “I'm realizing that it's going to be very hard to say goodbye,” she said. “I have lived very closely with this congregation. People ask you into their lives — to bless their children and their animals. I know I'm going to miss all that.”

[photo] Doing a “duck walk” with children from the congregation, Rev. L. Annie Foerster held an animal-themed service last Sunday.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        She will say her last sermon Sunday. Then, she hopes to spend more time with her partner, Mary. She also wants to do more gardening, quilting and writing.

        She has vowed to stay away from St. John's for a year. She wants interim minister Barbara Child of Tampa, Fla., to have a fresh start. But not before the congregation, which has almost 300 members, bids her a fond farewell.

        They recently threw an “Annie Look Alike” party. About 10 appeared wearing the loose, colorful clothing that the Rev. Ms. Foerster designs for herself.

        “Annie's been with us five years. She's done a lot for the congregation. She's a wonderful story-teller, pulling lessons out of seemingly everyday, ordinary occurrences,” said Madeline Izzo, 41, of Loveland. “She's always kind of surprising me. She's a big part of the reason why I joined.”

   • Retirement party: St. John's Unitarian Church in Clifton Sunday hosts a special “Release from Covenant Service” for the Rev. L. Annie Foerster. It will begin at 10:30 a.m.
   • About the pastor: The Rev. Foerster, 66, has been spiritual leader of the church, 320 Resor Ave., for five years. She has been a Unitarian-Universalist minister since 1985.
   • And a key to the city? Mayor Charlie Luken has proclaimed Sunday “L. Annie Foerster Day'' in Cincinnati.
        Mrs. Izzo was raised a Roman Catholic but wanted her family to attend a more liberal church. She decided to try St. John's once she knew that a woman was leading the congregation.

        The Rev. Ms. Foerster was a business writer in Virginia when she decided to take a three-year sabbatical and write a novel. She was still working on the book when she entered the Meadville-Lombard Theological School in Chicago. She had been attending a Unitarian-Universalist church for years.

        Since then, she has led Unitarian-Universalist congregations in Seattle; Austin, Texas; and Lancaster, Pa. She became St. John's minister in 1996.

        She plans to take tissues to next week's service, when congregation members will express their feelings for her. The demonstration, she said, will prove that she's accomplished one of her goals.

        “We laugh and we cry in our services. When people are open, they can do wonderful things in their lives,” she said. “It's important that we touch people's lives and one another. I touch people. People touch me.

        “That's what (faith) does.”

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