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Progressive pastor now leading one of Colorado Springs' oldest churches

By: Steve Rabey, Religion Correspondent
January 18, 2018 Updated: January 20, 2018 at 9:19 pm
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(Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

She sports a nose ring and tattoos. She preaches about "courageous doubt." One year ago today, she led a group of Ohio women in the Women's March on Washington, D.C.

Now the Rev. Heather Lee Haginduff is lead minister at First Congregational Church, which has been meeting at its downtown location since 1874, longer than any other local church.

Congregationalists have played significant roles in America since the 1600s, founding educational institutions such as Harvard and Yale. Here in the Springs, traditionalists founded a church and Colorado College.

Rev. Heather Haginduff is the new minister for the historical First Congregational Church in downtown Colorado Springs. She greets those attending a Sunday morning service on Sunday, January 14, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Congregationalists have been at the forefront of progressive Christianity in America for years. They were first to ordain African-Americans and women. And when many churches maintain conservative views on gay rights, Congregationalists - and others in the nearly 1 million-member United Churches of Christ denomination - were the first to ordain gays and affirm the right of same-gender couples to marry.

First Congregational calls itself "an Open and Affirming Church, inviting people of every age, race, national origin, marital status, sexual orientation, gender expression, means, ability, and spiritual tradition to join together in the love of God and neighbor through Christian worship, education, care, fellowship, and outreach."

While serving churches in Boulder and Canton, Ohio, Haginduff earned a reputation for creating innovative programs and worship experiences for children, youth and adults. Her passion is leading people in responding faithfully to the world's needs.

Rev. Heather Haginduff is the new minister for the historical First Congregational Church in downtown Colorado Springs. She joins the children for the children's service during a Sunday morning service on Sunday, January 14, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

She was a professional singer and musician before discovering that "God had a crazier plan for her life."

Now, after being selected from more than 50 applicants for the post, that crazy plan has brought her, husband Josh and daughters Lula and Ruby to Colorado Springs, where she succeeds the Rev. Benjamin Broadbent, who served the congregation from 2005 to 2016.

We caught up with her this week.

Question: More than 500 people heard your first sermon, "Another Road," on Jan. 7. What was your message and your goal?

Rev. Heather Haginduff is the new minister for the historical First Congregational Church in downtown Colorado Springs. She delivers a sermon during a Sunday morning service on Sunday, January 14, 2018. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette) 

Answer: As I begin to discuss with the congregation what we're going to start doing together, I explored how we can cultivate a culture of creativity. I researched ideas from a Silicon Valley design company and psychologists and spiritual gurus about how to come up with new ideas.

I also tried to demonstrate and model vulnerability. It's really important to put myself out there and "tell on" myself and my character flaws, which can help people do their work as well. I talked about the three Magi, and how characteristics we sometimes think of as useless gifts can turn out to be good gifts after all.

Q: What are your priorities and passions as you start this new job?

A: First comes building relationships with staff and getting to know the people who have called me to care for them. I also have passions around interfaith relationships, crossing the boundaries of faith traditions to really love and care for one another better, and making the world a little bit more connected.

And I'm passionate about social injustice around our prison system and racism. I hope to build relationships with both law enforcement and activists, helping build bridges with both.

Q: Why and how did you change careers, from performer to pastor?

A: Being a pastor is still kind of a performance. There's a journey that took me from singing in operas and musicals on stage to the ministry. There's a sensitivity in the artist that really lends itself well to being a pastor. I also loved the feeling connecting emotionally with my audience, and I've carried that into ministry.

Q: What role do you think First Congregational Church plays in Colorado Springs?

A: I'm incredibly impressed by the work they do, not just in the church. We say you don't have to leave your brain at the door of the church. People here show you can cultivate a thinking, discerning faith. You can combine science and faith. You can combine social justice and faith. It's a real combination of head, heart and action that this congregation has embraced and integrated. In this community, it's important to show that there is a progressive faith and there is a religious left. We don't get a lot of press because we're not as sexy as the religious right. But we're here. We're a presence here. That's incredibly important in this particular city where the most prominent voice is on the right.

Q: What role do you think progressive Christianity can play in America today?

A: The importance of progressive Christianity is already showing itself, starting with last year's women's march. I engaged so many clergy people at the march. Progressive clergy are finding their voices. They're finding how their faith meets their values. We're speaking out more, and we're not afraid. This continues to be a journey for us as we find our way, but we're not alone any more.

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