Chris Rothbauer

The Rev. Chris Rothbauer, right, was installed at the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Sunday after the ceremony was delayed two years due to the pandemic

On Sunday, the Auburn Unitarian Universalist Fellowship hosted the official installation of Rev. Chris Rothbauer, who had already been serving as settled minister for two years. The ceremony was set to take place in April of 2020, but as with everything else in the world, it had to be postponed over two years because of the pandemic.

Originally raised in Louisville, Kentucky as an evangelical Christian, Rothbauer has traveled the world developing his faith and listening to the call to be a minister — a call to pull others close in a fight for social justice and equality of all. 

Rothbauer came to Auburn in May of 2019 after a lengthy process between the congregation and potential ministers that ensures an ideal match. Rothbauer compares this process to “speed dating.”

This process starts off with a website that lists every congregation in search of a minister. If interested, you click on the congregation and are given a full profile of them. If still interested, you then send a profile of yourself to the congregation. 

“It’s like Tinder,”Rothbauer said. “You both have to match to each other to contact each other.”

After meeting with a few different congregations, Auburn came out on top. Rothbauer felt there was something different with this congregation — a spark. 

“This was where we most felt welcomed," Rothbauer said. "We most felt at home.” 

However, coming to preach a Unitarian Universalist parish in the South is not an easy task. As a self-defined liberal faith community that is not monotheistic, there can be some conflict with the surrounding Bible Belt Christian normalcy. For AUUF, the point is to open arms wide to those of any faith, race, sex, gender, age, and any other characteristic that may separate us. 

As Rothbauer says, “there’s a lot of intolerance in the South for anyone who’s not Christian, and even for certain people who are Christian that aren’t the right sort of Christian.” 

For Universalist Unitarians, it is less about defining the faith and more about how you use that faith. 

“We’re a faith that believes that what you do matters than what you believe.” Rothbauer said. "What you believe is important but it’s not as important as the way you put those beliefs into action.”

There has been some pushback from others, including aggressive Facebook comments and thievery of a sign. This sign shows ideals the congregation believes in such as “love is love” and “all genders are whole, holy and good.” Last year, the sign was twice stolen from the lawn of the parish. 

While the sign might have been taken momentarily, the beliefs are rooted so deeply into the congregation that Rothbauer knew they would not be shaken. 

It is clear Rothbauer practices what they preach. During the wake of George Floyd’s death in 2020, Rothbauer organized a march through Toomer’s Corner to spread the message of love and acceptance of all. They also worked to facilitate the presence of the congregation at major social justice fights. Most importantly, Rothbauer has made it their goal as minister to be there for the congregation and the fellowship in times of need.

This mission couldn’t have been clearer than in Rothbauer’s starting time at AUUF. Just eight months after starting the position as settled minister, the pandemic hit the U.S. Rothbauer was stuck with the task of maintaining the close connection of their community together but without the physical proximity that congregations flourish on. On top of that, not all members in the community even used the internet, which made the entire endeavor that much more difficult. 

Through the challenging time, Rothbauer persevered — and so did the congregation. 

In the profile AUUF had put up three years ago, they hoped for a professional who would lead them in strength, compassion and empathy. Marcia Rossi, former chair of the Search Committee that chose Rothbauer, explained during Sunday’s installation that they were searching for someone “who is inclusive, open minded, and non-dogmatic.” The congregation feels that they have found that in Rothbauer. 

Multiple other members of the congregation, as well as ministers from across the country, shared equal sentiments. 

One such member is Emily Livant, who serves on the Congregational Support Committee. While talking about the struggles the congregation has faced in the last year, she expressed her gratitude towards Rothbauer, saying, “For the extraordinary challenges of the past few years, we are fortunate that the minister was called as good fit during normal times turned out to be a good fit for especially challenging times” 

Although there will be challenges during all times, as Covid-19 restrictions are winding down, in person events are happening again, and the AUUF minister of the last few years is finally officially installed. it seems that normal, or at least the new normal, is underway. 

Longtime member of this fellowship, Conrad Ross is eager to look toward the future with Rothbauer heading the congregation. 

“This is a marvelous day and I hope it is a time of new beginnings and hopes that have always been there but not realized.”

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