Associate pastor, Bethany Covenant Church, Berlin, Connecticut
I first sensed a call to ministry in junior high. I’d never experienced any women in ministry other than teaching children in Sunday school, so I truly didn’t realize what was going on inside of me. I was already teaching children in Sunday school, VBS, and children’s church on a regular basis. As a high-school student I played an active part in leadership with our youth group. I remember watching the pastor serve communion and wishing that I could do that someday. During my senior year of high school, a new pastor, James Lundell, encouraged me to formally respond to this call.
I felt called specifically to staff ministry—being collaborative and able to use my skills and gifts. When I first entered North Park Theological Seminary in the mid 1970s, they didn’t have a Christian education degree. I could have earned an MDiv, which was a four-year degree at that time, and then another year of additional classes in Christian education. The alternative was to transfer after one year to a cooperative school. Several of the NPTS faculty encouraged me to consider an MDiv. Though I clearly felt called to serve in the church, I didn’t feel called in that direction, nor did I feel confident that I was strong enough to be the under the microscope as one of the early females being ordained.
I chose to transfer to Presbyterian School of Christian Education in Richmond, Virginia, and graduated with my master’s of religious education. I then spent six months working odd jobs including as a salesperson at a department store and a carhop at a local root-beer stand. I’m sure I was the only carhop at A&W that summer with a master’s degree. My first call was to my home church, First Covenant in Moline, Illinois, where I served five years as church secretary and Christian education director.
My second call was to Glen Ellyn (Illinois) Covenant Church as director of Christian education. There I had my first opportunity to preach, and I also began taking classes at NPTS toward my MDiv. I served that church for ten years before accepting my third call to Bedford, New Hampshire. I was the minister of Christian education and family ministries in Bedford for more than six years. While continuing to focus on children’s and adult ministry, I was actively involved in leading worship with opportunities for preaching. Since 2000, I’ve served as associate pastor at Bethany Covenant Church in Berlin, Connecticut, in the full range of pastoral ministry.
There were, of course, barriers and challenges in ministry. At one church, after I led worship and read Scripture, a gentleman commented, “Well, I guess it’s okay if they (women) are on that side,” meaning speaking from the lectern side but not actually in the pulpit. Several years later, I was the first female to preach in that same sanctuary.
When I first pursued my license—which meant the church had to pay into the pension fund—the church chair told me they could get someone cheaper to do my job. I have also had a few people tell me to my face that if the church was going to have a female pastor on staff, they were leaving the church.
Many times, especially early in my ministry, I felt like a second-class citizen, more because of being staff than female. I was commissioned in staff ministry before I was ordained, and it was the practice at that time for the ordinands to serve communion at the Annual Meeting. That year they didn’t have enough ordinands and filled out the numbers with the wives. None of those being commissioned into full-time ministry were asked to serve.
The rewards have been numerous as well. Bill Hausman, who mentored me through my internship, encouraged me in preaching and using my pastoral skills. Later, as I watched females leading worship and preaching, I saw how they could be themselves and not have to fit into the male models of ministry.
As a child I was scared to death of my pastor. I remember saying even as a child, if I ever have the chance to teach children in church, they won’t be afraid of me. Once a child asked me if I could have “the other pastor” come say hi to her. The other pastor happened to be male. This child saw me and recognized me as her pastor.
I had tears in my eyes the first time I served communion and the first time I baptized an infant. It is also a great privilege to be with someone as they are at the end of their lives, praying with them as they take their last breaths and enter into heaven. One of the most rewarding experiences still is helping people grow in their faith. Sometimes I have the privilege of meeting with someone years later and realize that I’d been a part of their journey of faith.
I’ve never known of any church with a female pastor to say they were sorry they called a woman as their pastor. My hope is that someday it will be very natural for women to serve in every conference and in churches of all sizes. Connecticut is known as “the land of steady habits” and the Covenant is similar. Change comes slowly. Each woman who receives a call and serves faithfully in ministry continues to pave the way for other women to serve God in the local church.
My advice to women who are called to ministry is, stay true to your call. And my advice to the church: be open. Don’t close the door just because the servant of God is female. You may just miss out on a true blessing.
Quirkiest item in my office:
An inch-high red plastic toy that a little boy gave me on a mission trip.
When I grew up, I wanted to be:
A math teacher
If I had to be in a talent show, I would:
Be in the back row of a group playing kazoos