Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 10
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Walla Walla’s First Congregational Church Welcomes New Pastor, Ann-Marie Illsley

Illustration by Paloma Link

Walla Walla’s First Congregational Church, the first division of the United Church of Christ, had a change in leadership on Sunday, Oct. 22. 

The previous pastor, who has now taken a call (religious migration to another church) to Pennsylvania at a different church, left a vacancy behind as the head of the church. A team from the congregation has chosen Ann-Marie Illsley as the new pastor. 

Illsley is the first woman to be a solo pastor at the First Congregational Church. Illsley is a graduate of Andover Newton Theological School where she received her Master of Divinity along with special certificates in Spiritual and Pastoral care, and in Ethics and Social Justice.

She received her bachelor’s with a dual major in Chemistry and Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, and obtained her master’s in Chemistry from Wesleyan, a private liberal arts institution much like Whitman. 

Before arriving in Walla Walla, Rev. Illsley most recently held standing in the Southern New England Conference in the United Church of Christ and served in her home church, Christ Congregational Church, UCC, in Brockton, MA, where she has held both Bridge Pastor and Associate Pastor titles.

“What really drew me to the church was their strong commitment to justice and how welcoming and affirming they are,” Illsley said.

Illsley is very happy with the way things are currently going with the Church’s leadership agenda.

“We have a strong focus on diverse horizontal leadership, and it’s a very welcoming place just in general,” Illsley said.

Whitman has a sturdy relationship with the First Congregational Church because the founders of Whitman founded the Church in 1900. The college also has a history of funding the Church and holding events for holidays such as Ash Wednesday .

Jill Juers is a moderator and a non-clergy leader, who started the position just as Illsley was instated. She says Illsley is very engaging.

“Rev. Ann-Marie’s timely, thought-provoking and moving sermons, leadership in social justice advocacy and direct and approachable communication style have been inspiring,” Juers said.

Juers also mentioned the affirming atmosphere and guidelines of the Church.

“Many members and friends of the church have been positively impacted by the Open & Affirming — which means that we explicitly welcome and affirm into full participation and leadership LGBTQ+ folks,” Juers said.

The First Congregational Church has also played a significant role in helping start the Walla Walla Immigrant Rights Coalition. In addition, members of the Church have participated in quite a few events on campus. Collaboration between the Church is overseen by Adam Kirtley, Whitman’s Interfaith Chaplain. 

“First Congregation has been pretty involved in interfaith activities in Walla Walla for a long time and always extended a warm welcome to students and members of the Whitman community. For example, last year during Ash Wednesday, Illsley was on campus and set up in the All Faiths Room,” Kirtley said.

The First Congregational Church is open to students, LGBTQIA+ community members and the Muslim community, says Kirtley. Whitman’s MSA was one of the clubs that met at the church occasionally when they had just started out as a group, according to Kirtley.

“The First Congregation has been pretty involved in interfaith activities in Walla Walla for a long time,” Kirtley said.

As for the inner workings of the Church, there is a congregation which makes decisions as a group and a pastor or minister which leads the group. Major decisions come from the whole group and the minister, now Illsley, leads when it comes to oversight and overall leadership.

“I’m a leader within the congregation and the entire team chooses the new minister,” Illsley said.

The new leadership was made official during Sunday’s sermon. 

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