Rix Thorsell has weathered some challenges since he began work Nov. 1 as associate pastor at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Downers Grove.
Thorsell spent his second full day on the job sleeping outside in freezing temperatures with a bunch of strangers, including 16 youth he would work with and their adult leaders. The occasion was Sleep Out Saturday, an annual fundraiser for the transitional housing program Bridge Communities that has participants experience what it might be like without a roof over their heads.
“It brought me back to my own positive experiences in youth group,” Thorsell said. “I find myself reinvigorated every time I see how much fun youth can have serving their community. It was a great way to start my call at First Congregational.”
In December, Thorsell organized a progressive dinner for the youth, which fell on the same day as the first major snowfall of the season, creating a challenge for adult volunteers driving through the slush from house to house. But it also brought out about a dozen youth who enjoyed fellowship while visiting homes of various members. The weather finally broke for Thorsell’s next project, a dinner Dec. 27 at his home for young adults, landing after a Christmas snow and before a return to freezing temperatures.
Despite the challenges, Thorsell has proven ability to adapt, as he has shown since beginning his position ministering to youth and young adults at the 148-year-old church at 1047 Curtiss St. The congregation voted to call Thorsell to the position Oct. 13, after a search committee recommended him for the position. Thorsell said he was looking to serve a congregation with a proactive spirit and willingness to entertain outside-the-box thinking.
“I could tell from my very first day that this is a very healthy congregation one that walked the walk of caring for their youth,” he said. “I’m excited at how fertile the ground is for fostering a place of spiritual and personal growth for our young people.”
He will join in ministry with the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Scott Oberle, who was called by the congregation just two years ago. Oberle is excited about having an associate who will work with confirmation students, high school youth and young adults in their 20s, 30s and early 40s. “Our hope is that this will create some new life in our church in addition to the recent growth we have already had, and continue to bring new people and revitalize some who have grown up in this church but may have fallen away,” Oberle said.
Thorsell is a native of the western suburbs, having grown up in Glen Ellyn and attending the First Congregational Church there. As the son of the director of children’s ministry, he gained early insight into the working of the church. But it was during a summer internship program at the church while he was in college that he learned more about ministry as a possible vocation.
“The scope of ministry covered more than I could have possibly imagined, and in having an opportunity to be mentored by passionate UCC clergy who enjoyed teaching and growing moments, I officially began looking to ministry as a viable vocation,” he said.
He is a graduate of Drake University and received his master of divinity degree this spring from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, where he served as treasurer for the student body. During his seminary studies, he worked as a chaplain at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Thorsell will be ordained a United Church of Christ minister at 3 p.m. Jan. 26 at his home church in Glen Ellyn.
Thorsell is engaged to Katilin Rozof, a fellow student from Union Theological Seminary who is originally from Alabama.