Sunday marked another farewell for Rev. Arthur Vaeni, the minister who has served the Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation for 13 years, and who will be remembered for his role in creating Camp Quixote, later to be known as Quixote Village.
His final Sunday service is set for June 29, then he and his wife will drive back to New England. In July, he will begin a two-year term as interim minster to a Unitarian Universalist congregation in Bangor, Maine, and then his retirement will be complete, with plans to return home to Plymouth, New Hampshire, a community of about 4,000 people.
“It’s a sweet little town,” said Vaeni, 64, after Sunday’s hourlong service.
But Vaeni made no mention of his departure during his Father’s Day sermon, largely because the congregation has known internally for months that he was leaving, he said. But that still didn’t stop several from saying thank you or giving him a hug goodbye.
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“I having nothing but gratitude for my time with Art,” said Scott Yoos in written comments, who added that he has been a member of the congregation for more than a decade. “He’s been magnificent.”
Vaeni praised the courage of his congregation and their “willingness to live into their beliefs.” That was put to the test in 2007 when the congregation offered sanctuary to a group of homeless who had occupied a block in downtown Olympia.
He said he felt the congregation had a responsibility to respond to the needs of the homeless, and that first effort was the beginning of what would later become Camp Quixote and Quixote Village. Quixote Village today is a 2.17-acre, $3.05 million real estate development at Mottman Industrial Park in Tumwater that houses the previously homeless.
Penny Chatfield, a member of the congregation’s board of trustees, said that Vaeni “walks the walk” when it comes to his commitment to social justice.
“Everything he does is with purpose and integrity,” she said.
Congregation member Eric Ness said Vaeni provided a steady hand on the tiller, and responded well to sudden calls of action, such as the decision to help the homeless. He added that he had a “wonderful adherence to a fair process.”
“We just love Arthur,” said Eric’s wife, Kathryn Ness. “We’re going to miss him and his thoughtful, intellectual sermons.”
They were the kind of sermons, she said, that gave you plenty to think about.
Vaeni said that once he retires to New Hampshire, he plans to stay active with a group he had a hand in creating called the Whole Village Family Resource Center. He also wants to remain engaged on the issue of global warming, do more gardening and spend time along the banks of the Pemigewasset River.