A Journey to and through Ministry: One Woman's Story
In the two weeks I’ve been with you, a number of you have asked about my journey to ministry, particularly as a woman. I told the story of my initial call when I was just 13 or 14 years old and the reactions of those around me during my sermon on June 24th. There is more to the story, of course.
I went to Marietta College in Ohio, chosen because it was founded by Congregationalists and because it was far enough away that my parents wouldn’t expect me home frequently. While there I started a campus ministry, a coffee house for college students in the basement of a local hotel, advised youth groups, and preached for a year at two churches in town – one right next to the Dean’s House in town, and the other six miles out of town on a dirt road. I didn’t have a car so recruited other students to drive me. One service was at 9 and the other at 11, and the churches could not have been more different. I wrote the sermon for the rural one at 9 and revised it on the ride back for the town church at 11. All of which confirmed my strong sense of call. I still had not met an ordained woman though I had heard tell of one not far from Marietta.
When I arrived in the fall of 1967 at Andover Newton Theological School, I was excited about the courses I was taking and the people I was meeting. Many were supportive, some were not. As I encountered obstacles along the way, people who didn’t think women in general or this one in particular belonged in ministry, my call stayed strong. If not for their opposition, whether subtle or overt, I probably never would have become the advocate for women I became.
To make a long story short, I gradually found some other women on campus who shared my concern for the church’s future if all women encountered such prejudice. We organized. We lobbied the administration. We spoke and wrote and began gradually to change the culture. I never did succeed in reaching the seemingly ancient professor who refused to call on me when I put my hand up the second week of class to ask a question. Since he never called on me, I simply kept my hand up all semester. The male students in the class began to “get it”. Nevertheless, the great majority of the faculty were over the top supportive. I’m deeply grateful.
Eventually, our national President, Dr. Robert V. Moss, invited me to be a delegate to some ecumenical events nationally and internationally. Then I was elected to the national Executive Council as the youngest one ever to that date. I had the privilege of going with him and 20 or so others, including all our top national executives (the only time that’s ever happened), on a mission experiential visit to Asia in 1976. It changed my life and my perspective on the world.
In my early ministry days, I had short term jobs and often had to piece together a living with as many as three or four positions at a time. I was ordained in 1972 but was unable to find a church that would consider me, never mind call me, until 1980. I served that parish for 11 years, the longest anyone had since the 1800’s. We grew from 45 in worship to 125 in the first 12-18 months, deepened faith, grew in stewardship and mission and had a great time together. While there I did my Doctor of Ministry degree and focused on the Sunday to Monday connection. From that dissertation grew my Alban Institute book, The Empowering Church. I continue to believe that we are all ministers of Jesus Christ when we choose consciously to make Christ’s way ours. And I believe that we who are ordained are set in the midst of the rest of you to preach, teach and coach you on your spiritual and vocational journeys.
In 1991 I was called to be your Conference Minister here in Southern California. Conferences are creatures of the churches – your delegates and your giving to Our Church’s Wider Mission shape the life of the Conference and the national setting of the Church. So my work was to lead the staff in nurturing the churches, clergy and Pilgrim Pines to be as strong and faithful as possible. I hadn’t been here long when the riots broke out in response to the Rodney King – LAPD trial. I was here through the Sierra Madre and Northridge earthquakes and numerous wildfires, an arson, and mudslides. We reorganized the Conference, focused on building relationships, bought a bank building in Altadena and converted it to an office space to share with the Disciples of Christ, and were active in a movement for the churches to offer alternatives to gang membership through the Hope in Youth Campaign.
Then I was called to Connecticut to serve the Conference that had raised me up to ministry. That is a much longer story as I was there 14 years. It was a rich and full ministry among the 245 churches of the Conference and through Silver Lake Conference Center, the camp of my youthful call to ministry. I retired in 2010 to spend time with my husband who was dying and to be his caregiver for several months at the end. Since then, I’ve flunked retirement royally, and I’m glad. I love people and love the United Church of Christ! I am pleased to be among you for this month, especially since Karl Johnson served on the search committee that called me to Southern California in 1991 and David Young was on the Conference Board of Directors in Connecticut!