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Believe — or not

Staff Writer | March 5, 2020 1:00 AM

New part-time minister leading North Idaho Unitarian Universalist church

COEUR d’ALENE — Fred Toerne says he is a Christian and his personal faith is Lutheran.

“But the Unitarian Universalists do not hold that against me,” he said, laughing.

Toerne is the new part-time minister of North Idaho Unitarian Universalist church. He hopes to grow the small church of about 30 people, many seniors, attending its 10:30 a.m. Sunday service at the Harding Family Center.

He wants to let more people know about the church and its open faith.

“What we do, we do not tell people how or what they must believe,” Toerne said. “But rather, we give them tools by which they can form their own faith, their own theology, their own understanding.”

He said once a person has their own theology, it “can be a much better help in all of life’s changes and circumstances.”

Toerne is a retired Lutheran pastor from Texas, where he worked in ministry about 20 years and served several parishes in urban and rural settings. He attended seminary in South Carolina.

He also preaches under the name Fred Sivanand in the virtual world at “Church of the Dawntreader,” which can be found online at Second Life.

“I have a wide background and so do the people who attend Unitarian Universalist churches, generally speaking,” he said.

He said the branch of Lutheranism he was in was “becoming more and more” like the North Idaho Unitarian Universalist church.

“There are different branches of Lutherans, some of which are much narrower in their view of what the Bible means,” he said. “I have never been able to swallow that kind of understanding. The Bible is not subject to personal interpretation, as far as Christian faith is concerned. But it must be interpreted or it doesn’t apply to current circumstances, whether for an individual or a community of believers.”

Both of his children attended the University of Idaho.

“So I fell in love with the Inland Northwest,” Toerne said. “When it came time to retire I said, ‘That is where I’m going.’”

He’s called Pullman home about 10 years and will be commuting back and forth.

As a minister, he enjoys helping people on their faith walk. He likes to give them options as to what they believe.

“I can actually participate in their faith formation as they are working things through for themselves without my telling them you have to think this way,” Toerne said.

He said the Unitarian Universalist church is guided by seven principles, the key one being that it believes in the value of every person.

“There is no one who is of no value in our tradition,” he said.

The church is one with “open-minded and opened-hearted people. All walks of life are welcome.

“No matter where you come from, whom you love or what you believe, you are welcome here,” he said.

So you will find Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews worshiping together at a Unitarian Universalist church, each sharing their perspective and understanding about faith.

“It provides me the opportunity to express the full range of my own spirituality because I appreciate all of them,” he said.