A Grieving Mother’s Journey of Faith

By Sue Sprang

WOODLAND – “I cannot think of anyone stronger that a mother who has lost her child…and still breathes.”  – Robyna May

On Oct. 24, 2018 an ecstatic and seven-months-pregnant Kayla Cole, a member of Zion Lutheran Church, Woodland, arrived for her monthly check-up. Things soon took a horrible, unforeseen turn when the ultrasound technician announced, “I’m sorry; I can’t find a heartbeat.”

“It was the day the rug was pulled from under our [Kayla’s and her husband, Andrew’s] feet and our hearts shattered,” Cole said. “When she first said those words, the words no expectant parent should ever have to hear, I honestly didn’t believe her.”

True to human form, Cole’s initial response was denial. When the technician left the room to get the doctor, Cole found herself coming up with any other scenario than the one she now faced.

“I laid there staring at the ceiling and running every possible scenario through my mind,” she said. “She might be new and have no idea what she’s doing. As the minutes ticked by I thought, just for good measure, I’d say one prayer. In that prayer, I didn’t ask… I told God, ‘this isn’t happening,’ that I would do anything to make it be a mistake.”

The doctor arrived and did a second ultrasound. She confirmed that there was no heartbeat.

“The world stopped,” Cole said. “I sat in shock as the doctor talked… too stunned to hear her or even cry. Finally, she told me that she would get it all figured out and would let me know when I needed to go to the hospital. She handed me a tissue, asked if I’d make it home okay, and told me to skip checkout and just walk out.” 

From there, Cole headed home, shocked, numb, and beyond reeling.

“To this day, I don’t remember the drive home,” she said. “I just know I was speeding, going ninety miles an hour, and I could barely see through my tears.”

She now had to break the news to her husband, Andrew.

“When I got home, I had to walk into the house and tell him that our son, that Wesley was gone,” Cole said. “I still can’t imagine what Andrew felt waking to my sobs or how he even understood me through them. 

“The rest of the day is mostly a blur. I felt like a zombie and a lot went on in those next few hours. Then we had to call our parents to tell them and had several imaginably hard decisions to make.”

There are two things prior to this day that have a significant impact on the rest of the story.  

First, Cole, an active, lifelong Lutheran, was never afraid to talk about Jesus or embarrassed by her Christian faith. But how she experienced and viewed that faith took a massive turn on October 24 and 25, 2018.

“I always thought I was a faithful person. I grew up here, going to Sunday school and church every week,” Cole said. “I went to all the [synod youth] gatherings and was a big part of the youth group. My family prayed before dinner every night.

“I wasn’t afraid to tell people I was a Christian,” she continued. “Yes, I had my struggles in my youth – but it was never a struggle that tested my faith. I was that stereotypical Christian who thought that God doesn’t test people. I wasn’t Daniel in the lion’s den or Moses in the wilderness. And I’ve always been the stereotypical human who saw other people’s tragedies and, despite being sympathetic to them, I always thought it would never happen to me. 

“I used to listen to the speakers at the [synod youth] gatherings and they all had a story. They had some big ‘come to Jesus’ or an ‘I saw or felt God’s presence moment.’ And I just remember thinking, ‘yeah okay, sure you did.’ I never really thought that people truly experienced God in such huge ways, until I did.”

Second, the Coles’ road to pregnancy was not an easy one. 

“The actual start of our journey was in 2017, when we were struggling to get pregnant,” Cole said. “We learned I have Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, which basically is a hormone imbalance that usually makes it extremely hard to get pregnant. 

“After around a year of probably a hundred negative pregnancy tests, I finally tested positive in May 2018. We were shocked, thrilled, and so excited. Our prayers had been answered and our struggles felt worth it.” 

On Oct. 25, the day after learning that Wesley was dead, Cole carried that weight, along with the above history, into the hospital to deliver her and Andrew’s son. Their mothers accompanied them.

“When we left our house to head to the hospital, I was still in shock,” she said. “I was numb with fear. I focused on simply getting through the day. I didn’t think about anything beyond getting through labor. Hour after hour passed and more and more medicine was pumped into my body to help speed up the process. The pain became both physically and emotionally worse and worse. 

“I confess, I grew angry with God. I felt like He’d left me. I didn’t know where He was because He certainly wasn’t there in that room with me. He wasn’t there as I cried out in pain or when the medicine made me shake so badly I thought I’d shake off the bed. How could He be and let this happen?”

The following October (2019), when Cole’s pastor, Rebecca Ebb-Speese, asked if she’d like to use a sermon time during worship to share her faith story with the congregation, she accepted the invitation. Preparing her sermon for that day wove itself into the grieving process. She could recognize God’s work and his care on the day Wesley was born and in the depths of her sorrow.

“When I look back on that day, I realize that God was there,” she said. “He was there in the nurses who were nothing short of angels on earth, as they cared for me in my darkest hour. He was there, in Andrew, who stayed by my side and put me above himself. He was there in our moms who stayed by our side the entire time. He was there in our brothers and sisters-in-law who came to be with us when they could. He was there as our moms, my sister-in-law, and Andrew took turns holding my hands through the pain. He was there in Pastor Becky, who sat for hours waiting to bless Wesley.” 

It was during this time that, even though she felt God had left her, Cole also felt his presence.

“When I really think about that day, despite my anger and fear and the feeling of being completely abandoned by God, I knew He was all around me,” she said. “When Wesley came into the world, this feeling washing over me. It’s really hard to explain, but the only way I can is that it was this overwhelming peace, and this voice-like thought that told me that I could do it, that everything was going to be okay.”

The grief was still raw, and after months of tests and other medical procedures it looked like Kayla and Andrew would never know why their son died. Just when they were beginning to accept the idea of not knowing, it was discovered that she has an extremely rare clotting disorder that makes her more clotting prone. Wesley was not getting the nutrients he needed, which eventually led to his death.

Even though there is still lots of grief to plow through, Cole has been learning more about herself and the way the world works. 

“I learned that life isn’t fair, and that no matter how good you are or how good you try to be, bad things still happen,” she said. “I learned that no amount of planning can prepare you for losing the one thing you wanted more than anything in the world. I learned how to survive my grief even when it felt fatal. I learned that you can be happy and sad at the same time and that that’s okay. I learned to never take even the smallest things for granted.” 

Cole shares her story with women who have lost their babies to make talking about pregnancy and infant loss easier and more common; to show they don’t have to feel ashamed, guilty or worthless when they experience these losses, and that they don’t have to feel they need to hide it; to let them know they aren’t alone; and to give them the love and support they need as they grieve.  

Kayla and her husband also find that sharing their story is part of their personal healing process.

“I do believe that our story is important to tell,” Cole said, “because our story isn’t just about Wesley or our losses or even raising awareness about Pregnancy and Infant loss. Our story is so much more than that. Our story is about a journey that we never expected to be on. Our story is about being strong when you feel weak. Our story is about choosing to have faith when you have lost all hope. Our story is about experiencing God in the time of our deepest sorrows.”

Cole is aware that grief is an on-going process and that God is with her all the way.

“Despite all I’ve learned, there are things I’m still figuring out,” she said. “I’m still figuring out what moving forward without Wesley means. I’m still figuring out how to accept that I’m different than I was before. I’m working on truly putting my faith in God, in a way I’ve never had to before. 

“But most of all, I’m figuring out how to have hope again. To hope that things will get easier. To hope that we can heal. To hope that our journey to parenthood isn’t over. To hope that even if Wesley is our only biological child, God has a child out there that needs us just as much as we need them. To hope that great things are in store for us. To hope that our story can somehow help even just one person. To just have hope. Because without hope then we don’t have faith. Without hope we can’t trust God and have faith that he has a plan. 

“Faith had always been easy for me,” Cole added. “Now I realize that was because I never really had to use it. I never had to sit down and say ‘Okay God, you’ve got this, do what you gotta do.’  But I also had never experienced God like I did that day in October 2018.” 

Ebb-Speese reflected on the Coles’ journey.

“The whole congregation was deeply affected by Kayla and Andrew’s loss of Wesley,” she said. “Kayla grew up at Zion and everyone is family here. We were all so excited to have a new baby in the church family so their loss brought deep grief to everyone.

“Kayla could have taken time away from church activities for a time but she did not. She sang a few weeks later for our Zion Lutheran Church Women’s thank offering service. She jumped right into planning and leading the Sunday School Christmas program. I asked her if it would be too hard for her, but she said it was healing for her to sing and to work with the children.

“Over the next year, I saw Kayla grow so much in her faith,” Ebb-Speese continued. “She was open to share her story with anyone who asked her about it. Certainly, she struggled with why they lost Wesley and had her times of questioning God, but she did not let go of her faith. 

“Kayla has been an inspiration to all of us. And it’s been exciting to see her take opportunities to be a lay preacher at church. I am honored to be her pastor and to have been able to walk this journey with her.”

Things Cole suggests to help you navigate supporting someone amidst their loss of a child: 

Words aren’t hard!  You don’t have to come up with something fancy or try to comfort us.  Simply saying “I’m sorry” is all we need to hear.  We know you don’t know what to say.  We understand it’s awkward and uncomfortable.  We know you have the best intentions when you respond to us, but depending on how new the loss is, our emotions could be all over the place and while you meant to say something comforting, you may have offended us.  So just keep it simple.  Say “I’m sorry”.

Don’t let that fear of not knowing what to say, make you remain silent though.  Silence is the worst — especially if it is someone you are close to. It’s easier to forgive well-intentioned phrases that offend us than it is silence.  Silence tells us that you don’t care.  Silence tells us that you don’t want to try to push past the awkwardness and uncomfortableness.  If you can’t say you’re sorry in person, send a card or text.  Anything is better than radio silence.

All we want is to be acknowledged as moms, to feel like our baby mattered and that our pain and grief are valid.  No matter how early the pregnancy is lost, it is a loss. Many women, like me, struggle for a long time to conceive and even if it’s only a few weeks, that positive test means the world to us. We are moms and our babies matter.  Let us talk about them, say their names, let us share our stories.  Pray with us, cry with us, grieve with us.  Include us in your list of mom friends.  

Remember that everyone is different.  We all grieve differently.  There is a difference between a loss at four weeks and a loss at seven months.  Nonetheless, they are both tragic losses.  What offends some may comfort others, and what may comfort some may offend others.  Everyone handles their loss differently.  The best thing you can do is be there for them.  Let them know that no matter what, they don’t have to go through it alone.  

Be patient with us.  Our lives were thrown upside down and the pain is crippling.  We might not want to go to the party or dinner or celebrate a holiday.  We might want to just sit on the couch in our pajamas and mindlessly watch TV.  That’s okay.  Be patient with us as we are learning to live with this constant ache in our hearts.  This is not something we get over or move on from, but we do learn to move forward with the pain.  We all move forward at different paces.  We all have days where we break down or back track in our grief.  So please, be patient with us.

Lastly, for those of us whose loss is not fresh and even for some of us when our loss was fresh, do not treat us like we’re fragile.  For me, this one is the worst.  Don’t be afraid to talk about pregnancy and babies with us.  We are thinking of our babies 24/7, so you won’t set us off.  When we say their name or talk about when we were pregnant, don’t panic.  Talk to us like you would any other mother.  We long for the day when we can say our sweet baby’s name and not bring tears or sadness to anyone’s eyes.  Until you experience it, you can never understand how we can be happy and sad at the same time.  We are learning to be happy for you at the same time we are sad for ourselves.  So while it may be hard or uncomfortable for you, please do not shy away from these conversations.  When you do, we feel ashamed or like you don’t care about our story, us, or our baby.

These are just a few of the things that can help you navigate through someone’s loss.  The more we talk about pregnancy loss and infertility, the more comfortable we become with it.  When we are more comfortable talking about it, we can better support our women and their families, when they experience it.

Things that helped Cole through her grief:

Journaling: “A coworker of mine had given me a journal.  I used it to write letters to Wesley and to just write in daily so that I could see how far I had come.  It allowed me to be 100% honest about how I was feeling.”  

Reading and Bible Study: “The first book that helped me was Mending Tomorrow: Choosing Hope, Finding Wholeness by Alyssa Quilala.  I found a lot of what she went through during her loss and the things she felt were similar to how I felt.  The second book that really helped me was It’s Not Supposed to be This Way by Lysa TerKeurst.  While the book is about her dealing with the blow of an unexpected divorce, I found the book to be extremely helpful.  It had a bible study book and DVD that goes with it.”  

Therapy: “When it was coming close to a year since losing Wesley, I finally decided I needed to talk to someone who wasn’t emotionally connected to our story.  So I found a therapist to talk to.  It was helpful that she was a spiritual person (Roman Catholic), so we could talk on a spiritual level as well.  She helped me to see things from new perspectives.”  

Music: “Music has always been a huge part of my life and it has been a huge part of my grieving process – whether it has been singing in church or just blaring it in the car and singing my heart out.  A few of the songs on my playlist are. ‘I Will Sing’ by Kari Jobe, which was also the song that I was singing in the car when I first felt Wesley move; ‘I Will Carry You (Audrey’s Song)’ by Selah; ‘Gone Too Soon’ by Chris Daughtry; ‘Winter Bear’ by Coby Grant; ‘I Want You Here’ by Plumb; ‘Worn’ by Tenth Avenue North; ‘Why God’ by Austin French; ‘You Don’t Know’ by Katelyn Tarver; and ‘Even If’ by MercyMe.”

Church Community: “The huge thing that helped me was continuing to stay involved in my church.  No matter how angry I was at times, I had to stay involved.  It was a huge support system for me.  And it helped me continue to hold onto my faith.”

Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month is in October and began in the U.S. in 1988. You can find more information, resources, and activities at https://nationaldaycalendar.com/national-pregnancy-and-infant-loss-awareness-month-october/

The Word: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Here is Part 9 of the series observing the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church by raising up the women clergy of our synod. In this installment, some of our pastors share scripture passages that inspire and sustain them. 

QUESTION: Do you have any “go to” scripture passages? Please share why, if you wish.

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “All of Romans 8 because I think that Paul distills the gospel so well. If we need to be reminded of anything it is that ‘nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.’” 

Pastor Joan Oleson“’Fear not for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name. You are mine.’ (Isaiah 43:1b)This was my confirmation verse.  It brings comfort, peace, and joy.  Wherever I find myself in life, whatever the circumstances, I know that I have been named and claimed as God’s own.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I have a lot of ‘go to’ scripture passages. I guess a few of my personal favorites would be John 14:6 – ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the father except through me’ – because it reminds me that Jesus is the way to God, and life isn’t about figuring out how to be saved; life is about realizing we have been saved, and responding to that gift. It reminds me of what Jesus has done, and helps keep me humble. 

“Another would be Isaiah 9:2: ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light…’ That is because it reminds me that though there will be times of darkness, God will always help us find light… and that belief in God isn’t the naive hope of people who have never known suffering… it is the resilient faith of people who have suffered, who have walked in darkness, and who still see and believe that there is light and love in the world God has made – and that is what helps me take the next step even in the darkest of times.” 

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “Each phase of ministry seems to have a scripture passage that ends up shaping the narrative. In my last call, it was the story of the exile, Moses reluctantly leading grumbling Israelites through the desert. He doesn’t really want to lead them, they don’t really think he knows where he’s going – but they muddle along together, for God has given them to each other. At Trinity [my current call], the verse that has stuck with me is Esther 4:14: ‘perhaps you have been called… for such a time as this.’”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “So many passages, so little time.  In scripture I return again and again to John 20:21.  Jesus said to them again ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ But I also rely on Martin Luther’s sacristy prayer; particularly the section: ‘Lord God, Thou hast appointed me in the church as bishop and pastor (at least the pastor part for me), Thou seest how unfit I am to attend to such a great office, and if it had not been for Thy help, I would long since have ruined everything, therefore I call upon Thee.’”

Pastor Miriam Bunge: “Exodus 15:20-21 is special to me: ‘Then the prophet Miriam, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine in her hand; and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing…’ I’m sure you can surmise why these verses are important to me.  In fact, 40 years ago, during my first year at Trinity Lutheran Seminary, one of my classmates, David, gave me a tambourine as we were studying this part of the Bible.

“Psalm 121:1-2 will always be special to me. I struggled through a time when I was very sick. I decided to memorize these two verses.  When the days got really hard, I would say these verses to myself. I reminded myself that my help comes from the Lord, the Lord who made all of heaven and earth!  Now, I pass these two powerful verses along to people in pain and struggling, to give them comfort, courage and hope.

“A scripture passage that has been and is becoming more and more important to me is Micah 6:8. I use the acronym ‘JKH’ for this verse, which stand for:  Justice, Kindness, Humbly.  The Lutheran Study Bible contains very helpful notes on this verse. ‘Justice” (mishpat in Hebrew) is about fairness and equality; ‘kindness’ (chesed in Hebrew) describes merciful actions such as loyalty and integrity; and ‘walking humbly’ is set in contrast with the rapid strides of the powerful.’ Racial justice for people of color has been and continues to be a passion of mine. God, through the prophet Micah, could be speaking these words to us today, as we continue to be plagued by racial injustice. God is calling, especially those of us who are white, to ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with your God.’

“Luke 1:28-31 is another favorite Scripture verse of mine. Here was young Mary, a virgin, told that she would be the Mother of Jesus! This must have been both frightening and exciting for Mary. The angel gives her the words she needs to hear: ‘Do not be afraid.’  Our lives are good and our lives are hard.  There are many times in our lives when we are afraid, sometimes in response to a very difficult experience and sometimes even in response to a very good experience. When I am afraid, I think of the angel Gabriel’s’ words to Mary. Implied in those words is the reality that God is with Mary and us, our Emmanuel!

“A favorite Scripture passage I enjoy preaching on is a text for Reformation Sunday, Romans 3:19-28. I am especially drawn to verses 23-24 – grace, God’s unconditional love in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, giving us the gifts of forgiveness and salvation.  What a gift for us from God through Jesus Christ!  ELCA Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton wrote this about grace in the 2018-2019 publication of ‘Stories of Faith in Action’:  ‘Grace – God’s love freely given – is for everyone.’ I like the simplicity and the profundity of that statement. As we are gifted with God’s grace, we then are called to be servants of God’s grace. May we live in and out of God’s grace!”

Pastor Marilyn Robinson: “’Go to’ scripture passages for me are 1 John 1: 5-7, Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 1:6; 8-11,Psalm 91: 1-4, Romans 8: 12-13; 26-27, John 12:32, and John 1:12-14.

 “But Psalm 27:13 speaks most strongly to me: ‘[What, what would have become of me] had I not believed that I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living!’ (Amplified Bible) The Berean Bible translation of this same verse is: ‘Still. I am certain to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.’

“There’s no need to quote the verses that precede verse 13. The current State of the Union and the State of the Church are overtaken with ‘adversaries, and witnesses breathing out cruelty and violence. The flesh-eating host abound:’ human trafficking, watching the life leave the body of George Floyd via someone’s’ I-Phone, gender violence, racial hatred, poverty, sexual abuse and sex trafficking of our kids, the continuous lust for power, the lack of compassion for our neighbor, rebellion within and without, appropriation and acculturation of lands and peoples, children sacrificed for the good of the order, incarceration of African-descent men, women, boys, and girls.

“The immensity of these conditions, can leave anyone in a constant state of angst and despair. The onset of this 21st century COVID-19 has amplified these conditions. The impact of this unyielding and indiscriminate disease is heartbreaking. What is even more malicious is its frightening yoking with the heartless human dis-ease that inhibits compassion, reason, and solidarity of that which is common to humankind. Love of self and the lust for economic and social power is predominant, usurping our love of neighbor.

It is quite frightening when we recognize the freedom that we have to continue in and let sin dominate our life. To be hurt, for example – real or perceived – is painful, creating a reflex response that can be irrational, unforgiving, and unrelenting. The time within this darkness leaves one longing for help, for freedom, for deliverance. 

“At one time, the onset of darkness created a deep terror and fear within me, creating a surreal reality. It was overwhelming. I needed to see beyond fear and believe that God was real and very present help. Belief in God grew within and God’s love became preeminent in my heart. God is faithful! Reading this particular verse in Psalms 27 evoked a spirit of praise and an anguished cry out to God. Upon first glance, I felt fresh and new – time and faith are verifying this ‘newness.’ Seeing God in the world begins with regard, considering, and envisioning God at work firstly in Marilyn. 

“We see the goodness of God in the ways that worked in Christ – for all of God’s creation finds its ultimate expression in the cross of Christ, the forgiveness of sin, and the hope of eternal life in the Resurrection. The Holy Spirit challenges us: she reminds us of what we are free from and what we are free for (Martin Luther). When we love in that deeply intimate way that God always loves us, then we will see lives changed, neighborhoods empowered, nations transformed, policies and polity begin a surprising transformation. 

“God never leaves us alone. God’s goodness gives us hope and keeps us alive. We live in God’s goodness so that everyone can know what the living God is doing in the world.”

Belonging & Nourishment: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – In Part 8 of this series, some of our synod’s women clergy share their thoughts about being Lutheran and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We’ll also get a glimpse at where they turn for personal or professional nourishment.

QUESTION: Is it important to you to be a Lutheran and/or a part of the ELCA? Please share your thoughts.

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “Yes, being a Lutheran is important to me.  Having transplanted from the United Methodist Church at the age of 21, it was a conscious and considered choice to become Lutheran. Lutheranism continues to encourage education, self-revelation, and tolerance.  It vocally stands for equality and equal rights.  It is in solidarity with the least and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Lutheranism expects me to have a mind and a heart and to use them.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “Yes, it is important for me to be part of the ELCA with its theology and practical applications.” 

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “I was raised in the ELCA, so I’m responding with the caveat that I know nothing else. But, that being said, I remained Lutheran as an adult because the way in which this tradition approaches faith fits the most with how I understand the world. 

“For me, the Lutheran tradition sums up as a giant arrow pointing down (as a theologian, I get heaven is not an actual physical place located above my head, but there are no metaphysical arrows, so arrow pointing down), this idea that God loves God’s creations, loves us, so much that God put on flesh and came down to be with us. That God died for us, so that death might be destroyed. There is nothing we have to do – nothing we could ever do – to earn or deserve this love. It is unconditional. And then, because we have experienced that kind of unconditional love and acceptance, what else can we do but share that with the world – which is the social justice of the church? The work in the world is like the cup of love overflowing.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “Yes, it is important to me to be Lutheran – specifically an ELCA Lutheran. Our doctrine, inclusivity, and ways of worship feel like the right path for me.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “It is important to me to be part of the ELCA Lutheran Community. I grew up in the ELCA, and while I know firsthand that it is not a perfect organization (honestly, what organization is?), it has been a great place to grow in my faith. Throughout my life the ELCA has challenged me to think about what I believe and why. People have shared their ideas and beliefs with me, but never said ‘you have to believe this.’ In fact most of the time I heard ‘this is what I believe, but you need to figure out what you believe.’ 

“I love that our social statements are deep and thought provoking, that they challenge things that need to be challenged, but don’t just pick a side. They cause us to think more deeply and compassionately about tough topics like abortion, immigration, same gendered marriage, and social justice. We embrace tradition, and I find comfort in that, yet I’m always amazed at the new things the church is doing and trying. I love that we do big things like the National Youth Gathering which I’ve been part of as both a youth participant and adult leader… and that we value small things like rural churches with 25 families sharing God’s love. I also love how the most important voice in the ELCA is the people sitting in the pews… that the main voting body of every congregational, synod and that the national assembly is made up primarily of lay people. I believe that this helps us stay grounded in our communities, while remembering that we are all a part of something bigger! 

“Honestly, I love the ELCA, I love that we work with other church bodies, learn from and admit our mistakes, and that we truly are a group of redeemed sinners trying to share the good news of God’s love in this world any way we can.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “My identity as Lutheran, especially as part of the ELCA, is very important to me. I believe that the way we approach scripture and our emphasis on grace are extremely important in a time when the loudest forms of Christianity, or at least the ones getting the most press, promote division and prop up the status quo.

“Luther challenged the status quo – he believed that the scriptures should be read and open to everyone and he believed that grace was for everyone. Today the ELCA has taken stands on immigration, race, and LGBTQ rights that are against the status quo and in line with Jesus’s teaching – our message of Grace for people can be a balm to the souls of people who are tired of hearing that they are ‘wrong’. If we do it right we have a message that welcomes the outcast and the marginalized – which is exactly what Jesus did.”

QUESTION: Where do you find professional and/or personal nourishment?

Pastor Ruth Overdier“I find both personal and professional nourishment in reading the Psalms and in reading selected novels (e.g. Marilynne Robinson, Geraldine Brooks, Barbara Kingsolver) and poetry (e.g. Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov).”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Standley: “A complicated question with an easy answer: family, reading and prayer.”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “Especially in this strange time, dialogue with colleagues is huge. Pastor Jennifer [Michael] from St. Peter [Lutheran Church, Battle Creek] and I are working on a virtual Family Camp together right now, and having someone to bounce ideas off of is life-giving.

“The other thing that feeds my soul are the really simple moments of connection with someone. Nursing home visits (off the table right now, but some day again, getting to give someone a ride, hearing a story…Being a pastor gets me invited into people’s inner lives in a way that is both sacred and precious.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “I find nourishment in collegiality, continuing education events (especially with a focus on worship), and working in my flower garden.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “Reading gives me both professional and personal nourishment – I try to read a good blend of professional and ‘for fun’ books. I also enjoy journaling and education events. Part of what nourishes me professionally and personally is connection with my peers – events like synod assembly and various rostered leader events give me the social connection as well as the continuing education that I crave, and in that respect this last year has been difficult. I look forward to the day we can gather again as the body of Christ.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I guess I find a lot of my nourishment in prayer. I love to pray in lots of different ways – by walking a labyrinth, coloring, journaling, through music… all kinds of things. Even my sermon writing (one of the things I love doing the most) is a form of prayer. I ask God what the people need to hear, and I’m often challenged and inspired by how the scripture unfolds through study and prayer. Study would be my other form of nourishment. I love to prepare for, lead, or participate in a good Bible or Church study. I loved being challenged to think more deeply about my beliefs and how I share those beliefs with others, and I love to learn about other people’s faith journeys and how God is at work in their lives. 

“This brings me to the final thing that truly nourishes me, and that is travel and service trips. I love organizing and participating in service trips that focus on accompaniment and help people hear the faith stories of new people while learning how to share their own. Be it working with companion synods in Global mission, taking youth a to new city for a service trip, or exploring church history while hiking up Mt. Siani, I feel fed and nourished when I get to connect to God’s greater world.” 

A Bit of Whimsy: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – This is Part 7 of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church by focusing on the women clergy of our synod. Here they cross seriousness with fun – creating a bit of whimsy.  

QUESTION: If you were to choose one, some, or all of the following to write – book, song, movie, reality TV show, opera, and/or Broadway play – about your time as a pastor, what would your titles be? 

Pastor Jane Mountain: “I would write a symphony, and it would be entitled ‘Dancing with the Trinity in Community.’”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “It would be a memoir or a how-to book with the title ‘Where Did the Chicken in the Parking Lot Come From? And Other Questions without Answers.’

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Stadley: “This is not an easy question, but it would have to be a book and would never be a reality TV show. The title would be:  ‘The Times They Are A-changing’ or ‘You Can Do Anything… Be Anything.’

Pastor Megan Crouch: “Okay, so I’ve actually thought about writing a book about being a pastor. Because I have OCD, it would be called ‘OCD Theology: My Often Obsessive, Sometimes Compulsive, and All too Frequently Disordered Journey of Life and Faith.’ If I could have anyone write a Broadway play or song about my time as a Pastor, I think I would want it to be titled ‘Lin-Manuel Miranda.’”  

Pastor Julie Bailey: “I am not sure what the title would be of the whole book, but I know some chapters (or maybe songs!) – as I have written them in my head several times:

‘Did Your Mother Really Name You Vicar?’

‘Will There Be a Pastoral Procession? (and other questions I didn’t understand)’

‘Birthday Cakes and Other Congregation-Splitting Decisions’

‘You Never Told Us: What Do You Do for a Real Job?’

‘How Long Do You Plan on Staying?’

‘When Was It That Sounded Like a Good Decision?’, and

‘Let’s Stop This Conversation Before the Women Get Emotional.’”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “I would write a book turned Broadway musical, ‘Faith, Coffee, and Fabulous Shoes’ –   featuring songs like: 

‘We’ve Never Done That Before’ 

‘Church Ladies Make the World Go Round’

‘Appropriate Shoes’, and  

‘Pastor, You Look Tired.’”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “A theme for my title would be ‘grace.’   ‘Amazing Grace’ is trite, and not my favorite hymn. So, for now, no title available.”

Direction: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Part 6 of our series celebrating the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church by focusing on the women clergy of our synod gives us a chance to hear a word from our second career pastors (or other life experiences that helped shaped first career pastors).  

QUESTION: Is this a second (even third!) career for you? What was your previous work? What, if anything, have you carried from your previous work into your work as a pastor? 

Pastor Joan Oleson: “My first career was working as a Christian Education director [as a lay person]. That brought the experience of working with volunteers, other leaders in the congregation, and as part of a staff.  It also helped me explore learning and teaching styles, and how to choose curriculum and recruiting and training volunteers.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “In the years before seminary my focus centered on being an active mother for our children, and ‘assistant pastor’ to husband, Fred.  I worked as a substitute teacher in the Kalamazoo and Traverse City public schools. I worked for a year as Library Director for the Interlochen Public Library. I’ve served as organist both regularly and part time, beginning in high school and continuing through the years. My background in music is helpful in worship planning, and I guess I’ve always been attentive to detail.  I think my family background—the faith and witness of my parents has been perhaps the most significant influence in my ministry.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “No, I was a ‘pipe-liner’ – college to seminary to ministry.”

Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese: “This is my first and only career. I went to seminary from college and to my first call.”

Pastor Julie Bailey: “I suppose this is my second career, the first being a nurse. I served as both a floor nurse and in management, both of which bring a wealth of knowledge and insight. As a nurse, I worked with people in the most difficult times and learned to listen – and be vulnerable – not everything I experienced with my patients was medical in nature – they shared their lives with us. Nursing also gave me a confidence to work with all people.”

Pastor Jane Mountain: “I’ve had several careers. I was a professional violinist in college and later I took voice lessons. My experience as a musician helps me in leading worship and also gave me listening skills. Then I became a family physician and a physician owner of a multicultural practice. This gave me an understanding of different cultures and skills for interpersonal communications. There was also a strong element of spiritual healing in the type of practice I had. As a civil surgeon doing immigration physicals, I became comfortable with a variety of people from all over the world. 

“After I sold my practice, I did disability physicals, and that introduced me to the disabilities community with whom I worked with later on when I became a wellness educator in the field of mental health. I worked as an author, publisher, consultant, and speaker. It was during this time that I participated in community and political activism as a board member of the Mental Health Association of Colorado (now Mental Health America of Colorado) and Founding President of the Mental Health Ombudsman Program of Colorado. In these roles, I learned skills to help me in my role as a Redevelopment/Vitality pastor. I learned how to meet and grow community relationships, and I learned business skills that are often applicable to ministry.”  

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan“Having taken three years between college and seminary, I am technically not a pipe-liner, though just barely. I think three years is considered the cut-off. Anyway, before seminary I managed the volunteer and in-kind donations office at a District of Columbia homeless shelter. The shelter was founded by an ELCA congregation, and the pastors were still very involved in the ministry. It was from there that I learned how congregations can be involved in reshaping entire communities. It gave me an entirely new perspective on what being church in the world could look like, and started me on the path to the work I get to now at Trinity [Lutheran Church, Battle Creek].”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I am a pipe-liner… right from high school, to college, to seminary… so I am not second career. But I did spend a year on the Michigan Civilian Conservation Crew in college, and worked many jobs throughout school including after school programs, state park ranger, working in a movie theater, cooking assistant in college, security team, archivist, and janitor – lots of great life experiences that have helped me become the pastor I am today.”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Stadley: “If you go back far enough, my first job was as a dog minder for my mother’s friend for a whole quarter.  F.Y.I.:  I was four years old.  In addition, I have been a baby minder; house sitter; house cleaner, cook, baker; toy factory assembler; retail clerk; secretary; seamstress; reader; public and private school teacher; and counselor. All of these have given me the ability to work well with people.  They have helped me live up to my mother’s teaching that I could be and do anything that I wanted if I was willing to work hard and pay the price. However, she was not always aware of the prices I had to pay.”

Pastor Karen Niemeyer: “Actually, this is my fifth career, and the perfect one to cap off the other four that I delighted in throughout my earlier life. First, for about 15 years I was a stay-at-home mom. And I loved it, as my family moved around the Midwest six times and my kids grew to be 11, 10 and 1. This was a time filled with moving vans, new neighborhoods, new schools, and new churches where I’d always find, or begin, a mom’s home bible study.

“My second career came along as my two older kids were approaching college age, which necessitated my getting ‘a paying job’ so I could help with college finances; but doing so was a challenge with a three-year-old still at home. God answered my prayers when one day ‘out of the blue’, my new Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod pastor asked if I’d consider taking on a part time lay position as Spiritual Gifts Director… during a time in the 1980s when discovering, developing and using one’s spiritual gifts was a hot topic and more and more churches were hiring and educating lay staff. I was fortunate to attend many seminars on spiritual gifts and grow in learning how to encourage congregation members in the joys of using their gifts in church ministries.

“After helping put my two oldest children through college, my husband gifted me with the opportunity to finish my degree, so I quit my lay staff job to go to Aquinas College in Grand Rapids full time and graduated a year later with a bachelor’s degree in business. (Prior to that time, I had attended Valparaiso University for two years, and the University of Michigan for a year.) It was while I was at Aquinas that I took on an internship at a marketing communications firm, and where, after graduation, I went to work full time. Thus began my third career: marketing project manager. It was during this career that I also pursued and earned a Masters in Organizational Communication.

“During my ten-year career in marketing, my husband and I joined an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America church: Trinity in Grand Rapids. After hearing from some other congregants (who had also transferred to Trinity from my former LC-MS church)  about my prior spiritual gifts work, the pastor asked me to join Trinity’s lay staff. So once again I changed careers, quitting my marketing job and becoming Trinity’s volunteer coordinator. There I found that my communications classes on small groups, listening, and conflict management came in very handy. It was also then that, combining my spiritual gifts knowledge with my marketing background, I was able to develop Tapestry, which was a congregation-wide program designed to encourage participation in church ministries. 

“After ten years in that position, at the age of 67, I decided it was time to join my husband in retirement. However, I love going to school. And having graduated from the ELCA’s lay ministry program, I had always wondered about the possibility of attending seminary. So I decided to take some classes at the Reformed Church in America’s Western Seminary in Holland, ‘just to see how I’d do.’ I took Greek and Hebrew first, because I figured if I was too old to learn the languages, I might as well go no further in pursuing a divinity degree. Whereas I loved Greek, I survived Hebrew. So from there I just kept on going, taking a two-year internship and graduating from the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago some seven years later. I was ordained at Trinity Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids in February 2017.

“Now I wake up every day amazed and ever so thankful that at my age I am able to be assisting pastor at Trinity. And looking back on my five careers, while I loved each of them when I was in them, I can see God’s hand in continually leading me into the ordained ministry in the later years of my life. Even now, after my husband has passed away…..and even now during this time of COVID-19…..I am blessed with a rich, and meaningful life.”

Challenges Along the Way: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran Church by focusing on the women clergy of our synod, Part 5 of this series gives us a chance to learn what has challenged them during their journey as ordained ministers of the church, both professionally and personally.

QUESTION: What have been the professional and/or personal challenges?

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “Personal challenges have always been to balance family needs with professional calling. I intentionally waited until our fourth son finished high school and was off to college before entering seminary. It was hard for me to imagine serving as full-time pastor and caring for a family at the same time.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “Some major challenges for me are learning to balance work and play, as well as over functioning. Dealing with gender biases has also been challenging.”

Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese: “At one time I attempted to become a Clinical Pastoral Education supervisor. That was the most challenging experience of my career. It involved a lot of work and time while also working as a chaplain full time. The committee appearances were very difficult. After almost two years, I decided that it was not worth it… a hard decision to make but the best decision.”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “Well, given that we’re in a pandemic, where do I start… I think, in general, the biggest challenge is helping folks move through the cultural change of the role of church in society. Historically, we as Christians do way better when we are not the cultural center of society, so I think the shift is actually good for the church. But it’s hard to move from everything being Christocentric to the more secular society we are in now. Couple this with how the loudest voices in Christianity are completely antithetical to my congregation’s understanding of faith, it’s a challenging time.”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Stadley: “I never expected: hate mail while I was in seminary, professors who refused to recognize that I existed. The Vocation Committee (Michigan Synod, Lutheran Church in America) who were more interested in whether or not I was going to have children than in any of the theological reasoning or practices I held, call committees who could and did refuse to consider a woman, or synod staff (Upper New York Synod, LCA) who expected me to work for less that my male colleagues. After all, I had a husband who worked.”

Pastor Megan Crouch: “Ministry is a challenging field of work. I’ve had my call questioned because of my gender by people throughout seminary, internship, and as an ordained Pastor. I have found myself in situations I never dreamed I would be in – like the home visit turned ER trip for the person having a heart attack. I have dealt with real trauma, loss, grief, and stress. Those Holy Weeks where the words won’t come for your sermons, multiple people die, and the roof of the church starts leaking. 

“I’ve had to learn how not to step on the egos of other pastors who have been around a lot longer than me, and how to be the kind of pastor I am, not the kind of pastor I’m supposed to be. This has meant learning hard lessons, like allowing myself to feel the pain of others as I walk with them through grief and heartbreak, admitting I can’t fix the problems written on prayer cards by teens struggling with life, and learning to be okay with the fact that the work is never done. I don’t regret doing what I do for a second, but being honest about the challenges is the only way to survive in ministry, and as every pastor knows the challenge are very real.” 

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “I think that people who are called to ministry share the kind of personality that wants to please other people – we want to make people happy and we can’t make everyone happy. I learned very early that someone will always be unhappy with any decision I make. Developing that thicker skin is difficult. Personally, balancing motherhood and ministry has been difficult. As women pastors we are often expected to have a family, but then challenged when we put that family first. I got so many questions about when I was going to have children, then I got pregnant and had people saying ‘oh, does this mean you are leaving, we don’t want you to leave’ and then, after my son was born, challenges about taking time if he is sick, why does my son always come to church with me? My son might be distracting me… This kind-of goes back to the first thing – you can’t please everyone.”

Pastor Julie Bailey: “This is a hard one. When I was first a pastor, it was dealing with things I had no idea a pastor would have to deal with, or better be expected to manage. Being single, I have been told on more than one occasion it is good that I don’t have a family because I can devote all my time to the church – I have a family – just not a husband and children! Sometimes I received letters from community members that told me that I was leading the congregation into hell as a female pastor with all the reasons why I shouldn’t be a pastor.  I have had a few people leave a congregation admitting it is because I am a woman. For the most part, I have been able to state this is their issue, and don’t take it personally; and I can’t change that fact that I am in fact female.  What has become more difficult to manage are the comments from within the congregation and in the larger church who treat pastors who are also female as secretaries or event planners, and as being too emotional to have a conversation about a difficult subject.’

Pastor Jane Mountain: “As a pastor, the surprises of ministry present interesting challenges. For four years I was the pastor of one of four churches that consolidated this past November [2019] into a new church. I never dreamed I would become the pastor of a church that more than doubled in size in one day. It is challenging to help our leaders establish and nurture structures and a culture into which we can grow. Listening to the Holy Spirit is so important in this environment. I also never thought I would be doing this during a global pandemic. Over the past few months, I think many of our pastors are challenged by the need to become digital and media experts in a way that supports church community. Added to this challenge is that of finding ways to better communicate in multiple ways so those who are not a part of the digital world are not left behind.

“The church is ministering to six and seven generations in today’s world, and that is both new and exciting. It requires me to think in both old and new ways in order to carry the gospel message to people whose generational experiences are quite different. I am challenged to experiment and encourage others to do so as well. I love to try new things, but sometimes it is difficult to balance all that is happening in order to give myself time to process and plan. I think time management and a balance between doing and dreaming are challenging for many pastors. The COVID-19 experience has taught me that I need to adjust my days to allow for new ways to communicate and nurture our being church together.

“Personally there have been challenges being away from my family in a place where families are so greatly emphasized and where relationships are not as fluid in as in the large urban environment to which I am accustomed. My husband also has health challenges and is homebound. That makes it difficult for him to bring his physical presence into my activities beyond our home, and it gives me greater responsibilities at home for things that he used to take care of.”

Pastor Marilyn Robinson: “Professionally, I am an ordained minister of Word and Sacrament in the ELCA. My call and affirmation for this service began as a child with subsequent years of personal development, growth, and life experiences, which acted as scaffolding for the call within. When navigating the waters of Reformation, Protestantism, Catholicism, Pentecostalism, and multiplicities of faith as an African-descent woman, certitude, fortitude, and courage led the way; the presence of a female in the most liberating and welcoming worship spaces provide only a subaltern* atmosphere or environment whereby she can exercise her calling. The addition of racism, marginalization, or fear of ‘other’ (not European-descent) sets the stage for subtle or indirect acts that become oppressive, bitter, or malicious.

“Considering the context of my work, my language might seem a bit manic… but it is the most effective and the most forthright ‘recap’ of my contentious ‘sinner/reconciled saint’ relationships within the body of Christ; ‘co-laborers together as God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.’ (2 Corinthians 5)  

“The professional/personal challenge has been walking on the wild side of cultures, traditions, presumptions, unconscious biases, structural, systemic, and overt expressions of racism; with the continuous assault upon my voice, my character, and my authority; wrestling with a denomination and worshipping community who also believe they are ‘good people without any connection to racism,’ seeing no ambiguity between a confession of faith in God’s grace and forgiveness while holding racist thoughts of African-descent peoples in practice. 

“My personal challenge: clinging to my ‘be-ing’ in Christ while reminding those I served and worked with of ‘our’ being in Christ; the fact that ‘we’ are is made evident through God in Christ. Kathryn A. Kleinhans writes: ‘Martin Luther describes Christians as “simultaneously saint and sinner” … a distinctly Lutheran understanding of who we are in God’s eyes… he redefines “saint” as a forgiven sinner. We are called saints…because our relationship with God changes as a result of God’s grace. When I look at myself in the mirror, I always see the reflection of a sinner. But when God looks at me, he sees me through Jesus. Christ’s righteousness covers my sin.’** 

“In 2 Corinthians, Paul addresses the idea of working from a ‘focused center’ – ‘the one man who died for everyone’ so that ‘everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.’ He talks about not evaluating others by how they look. The passage ends with ‘The old life is gone; a new life burgeons.’ This new life for all is under the direction of the Holy Spirit. ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life…’ Ethnologic politics, governments, law and order, evaluation of others based on looks, economic standing, and accepted faith practices are not the Holy Spirit’s advisors. This far better life that we can live is inclusive and not under our directive but is divinely given.

“The pervasiveness of white supremacy and systemic racism in my country and within the church is challenging, personally and professionally. When asked to contradict my ethics concerning the value of every human being, how God sees us, how God sees me, makes me undone. My body type and my mahogany completion are, in the mind of the dominant culture, God-ordained inferior. I find myself forced to live within a pseudo justified characterization, theorized as ‘other,’ ‘naturally violent,’ ‘sub-human intelligence,’ ‘bred for service but not inclusion.’ 

“This designation is not God-given, but is derived from very human desires for power that appropriates and marginalizes as the way we’ve always done ‘it,’ an act of God and nature. The believing community’s justification for actions that run counter to what God says about the works of God’s hands is challenging and most grievous: it is difficult to see the saints living and worshiping in faith, a god, that supports a racial construct that empowers/marginalizes, forgives/demonizes, loves/hates and feeds/impoverishes as a standard operating procedure for the designated dominant group. 

“Galatians 5 says that ‘It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. But instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows.’ 

“I believe what God says about humanity, how much God loves the world. That is always the challenge before me. God is reconciled to us.  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). We have been freed from the power of sin and the grave and freed to love and to make known to a world in chaos the unsearchable riches of God’s love. This is not expressed in bigotry, hatred, impoverishment, warfare, power-mongering, or as allies/collaborators with evil.  

“The greatest temptations, missteps, and challenges inevitably lead the transgressor and the transgressed to God, reminding us of the commonality of our fragility, our sinfulness, while at the same time, renewing us, empowering us, so that we can make the steps that not only glorify God but bring God’s justice and peace into the world as we love and fight for one another.

I am challenged by God’s Word. I live and I am because of it. My profession, called to serve, compels me to believe in God’s Word through which I am called into kinship and kingdom relationship with everyone because of my Father’s multifaceted grace, love, and mercy. 

“Challenge: repentance and newness of life always lay before me. I cannot sit idly by and not challenge injustice, nor resist oppression, no matter the challenges. I must accompany anyone who is actively resisting any form of captivity, ecclesiastical or civil. I pray that we, the church, can again embrace the life-giving words of Christ found in the book of Luke:

“’He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor… Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”’ 

*A subaltern is someone with a low ranking in a social, political, or other hierarchy. … Subalterns occupy entry-level jobs or occupy a lower rung of the “corporate ladder.” It is also used to describe someone who has no political or economic power, such as a poor person living under a dictatorship.

**“Saints and Sinners,” April 12, 2005, https://www.livinglutheran.org/ 2005/ 04/saints-sinners/

Surprises Along the Way: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Part 4 in our series focusing on our synod’s women clergy (in honor of the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran church) gives us a chance to learn the surprises our pastors have experienced on their journey as ordained ministers of the church, both professionally and personally.

QUESTION: What have been the professional/personal surprises (unexpected positives)?

Pastor Miriam Bunge: “I had just finished leading Sunday morning worship at a congregation for which I was their supply pastor that day. Thinking back to that Sunday, I do not remember if I stood behind or in front of the altar for different parts of the service. I do not remember what the appointed Scripture texts were.  I do not remember how I formulated my children’s message. I do not remember the contents of my sermon.  I do not remember the names of the hymns we sang. I do not remember the prayers I prayed. Yes, I really was there!

“During the final hymn, I walked from the altar to the back of the sanctuary to greet folks as they left worship. An older gentleman walked up to me, shook my hand, looked into my eyes, and I still do remember the brief and gracious words he said: ‘I see Jesus in you.’  

I imagine my mouth widened and I humbly said ‘thank you.’  In the many years of my ministry, I do not remember anyone saying that to me before. That was, as the question Sue asked, not only a professional/personal unexpected positive, but the most meaningful comment I have ever received after worship.  I do not remember the above details of the worship service, but somehow in those details of me leading worship, an elderly man ‘saw Jesus in me’.  My great hope is that in my life’s journey, people will ‘see Jesus in me’. Amen. Amen.”

Pastor Julie Bailey: “By far it is the people I have met and worked with. With over 20 years in public ministry, I love meeting the youth that I have worked with who are now adults and practicing their faith in such a variety of ways. I also enjoy working with people during times of illness and even death – a privilege to walk with them through the holy moments of life. And I am a bit surprised I enjoy leading Bible studies as much as I do.”

Pastor Jane Mountain: “I love leading in worship, and it is a privilege to be a part of the lives of individuals and families at important times in their lives. I have loved learning about a new (to me) community and to find its resilience and struggles with social issues. 

“When I was first exploring the call to a church in Muskegon, my bishop told me I would be ‘near the water.’ He thought that was very attractive, but all I could think about was sunburn and lake effect snow. It’s been a surprise to fall in love with living ‘near the water’ and to learn about Lake Michigan. My heart jumps each time I see the lake and its many changes with weather patterns, high and low tide, and different times of day.”

Pastor Joan Oleson: “It has been surprising that so much of my professional training was the internalization of ministry that came from growing up in a parsonage.”

Pastor Ruth Overdier: “I’ve found pastoral ministry to be truly a privilege. This vocation has brought more joy than I’d ever have imagined.”

Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “Times of unexpected grace and support from both my congregation and my husband’s (also a pastor) congregation.”

Pastor Megan Crouch:  “Ministry has brought me so much joy. I think one of the biggest and most surprising positives was the opportunity to be involved with international church partners. I really thought being a pastor would limit my ability to travel and experience the world, yet ministry has opened the doors for more partnerships around the world then I would have dreamed possible. 

“Another unexpected joy came when I realized I could organize and plan really awesome service learning trips for youth and adults that helped them explore new cultures and ideas while living out their faith through serving others and forming new relationships with people. I was thrilled to find out how much opportunity there was to teach as a Pastor, as I have always loved learning and admired my parents who were both teachers. I was also amazed at the joy of getting to do things like baptize my nephew and officiate at my best friend’s wedding. 

“Finally, I have been unexpectedly surprised by how my OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) has turned into a strength in my ministry. I worried constantly that people wouldn’t accept me as a pastor, judge me for my disorder, or that my OCD would keep me from doing the work. Instead I’ve learned that honesty and transparency can open doors and break down walls, and start conversations that people feel safe having with me because I’m able to share my own struggles with them. God turned the things I thought were barriers to my ministry into tools that helped me be a better pastor! Ministry has taught me so much, and given me so many things, and I feel blessed to get to say that this is my job.”

Pastor Pauline (Polly) Stadley: “The very best surprise was the 12-year-old boy who wrote a letter to the Church Council (Dayton, Ohio) stating his outrage at their sexist treatment of me – his pastor. And also the overwhelming positive attitudes of people, congregations, synods, and the national church toward Pastor Polly!”

Pastor Kjersten Sullivan: “My favorite thing about what I do (though I’m currently a bit tired of this, I admit) is how diverse the work is. Every day is a different adventure and there is a lot of freedom to explore and learn new things. I also love how people invite me into the most sacred parts of their lives and trust me with so much.”

Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese: “Early on, I was surprised that I had no problems finding a call in the mid 80’s. I was called to the first church that I interviewed with and never felt much prejudice or opposition to being a woman at that time nor has that been the case for most of my 36 years. In my first call, I was seen as a “novelty” in the community. It was interesting that there were three or four women clergy in our ministerial group in those years – one other Lutheran. So there was a lot of support. When I came to what was then Luther Community I had some push back from some of the Christian Reformed residents who didn’t think that women should be pastors; but after we got to know each other, that was no longer an issue. This was a wonderful surprise and I am thankful as so many of my sisters did not or are still not having this experience.”

‘Tis the Season: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – In this third installment looking at our synod’s women clergy during this year of celebration of the 50thanniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran church, some pastors weigh in on the church year.

QUESTION: What is your favorite season of the church year and/or “high day” of the church year and why?

“Easter, especially as it is celebrated with the Easter Vigil with its story telling of salvation history, music, affirmation of baptism, and the first shouts of Alleluia!” – Pastor Joan Oleson, Sarong Evangelical Lutheran Church, St. Joseph

“My favorite festival is the Paschal Triduum. These three days are the very heart of the Christian faith, and the well spring of my ministry. I am called by a God who chose to come down to be with us, even into death, that we may have life. I am called to proclaim, in word and deed, Christ crucified and risen. Alleluia!” – Pastor Betsy Kamphuis, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Greenville and Settlement Lutheran Church, Gowen

“Each is a favorite, so it is hard to choose, but I think Pentecost is the one I would choose today because the coming of the promised Holy Spirit as our advocate gives us the robust experience of God with us as we grow into our lives as Church and as Christians together.” – Pastor Jane Mountain, Harbor of Grace Lutheran Church, Muskegon

My favorite season is Advent.  I love the contrasts, the scriptures, the hymns… themes of waiting, remembering and hoping… Advent is really a poem. A few favorite texts: ‘O that you would rend the heavens and come down…’ ‘…they will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain.’ ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd.’ ‘The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.’ (I know, that’s Christmas Eve, but still a favorite.) Several favorite hymns:

‘In the Bleak Midwinter,’ ‘People, Look East,’ ‘Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying.’” – Pastor Ruther Overdier, Trinity Lutheran Church, Manton

“I love Pentecost–I think it is in part because it is a red day, I love the spontaneity of the Spirit, and the music.  A close second would be Easter.” – Pastor Julie Bailey, Ascension Lutheran Church, Saginaw

“Holy Week, which I know is likely very common among rostered leaders before they became rostered leaders…  Even though now as a pastor, this is a particularly taxing week with all the added responsibilities, I still appreciate the rhythm of the week.  That slow walk toward the cross is a spiritual practice for me.  I try to take a moment each day to reflect and meditate so that I don’t let the frenetic pace of preparations for worship deprive me of the deep way I am affected by remembering all that Christ endured and how he triumphed.” – Pastor Jennifer Michael, St. Peter Lutheran Church, Battle Creek

“I have a deep appreciation for the contemplative seasons of Advent and Lent. Both of those seasons reflect our own need for Christ, they call us to see where in ourselves and in our society we are in need of healing and urge us to call upon God for that healing. These two seasons also focus on the incarnation and the amazing miracle of God meeting us in our own need.” – Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker, Good Shepherd, Holland 

“Advent is my favorite season… the waiting, the expectation, the hymns that allow introspection.. They aren’t quite minor or mournful in key or tone, but they are different from the rest of the year.  I always hope Advent is full of sunny cool days and chilly, cold, star-filled nights because there is just something for me about being able to look up at a star-filled sky during Advent that is special.  

“The high day of the church year, however, is Good Friday.  For me, it is the high day because I know beyond a shadow of a doubt on Good Friday that Jesus died for me, exactly as I am, and for my sins, and for some unknown reason loves me in spite of or because of who I am. It’s mind-boggling in a lot of ways, and gut wrenching in just as many.  It makes me want to be a better person, and a better pastor, because of the amazing outpouring of God’s love for me and for the world that is so evident on that day.” – Pastor Christina (Chrisy) Bright, New Life Lutheran Church, Spruce

“Advent is my favorite season of the church year.  I love the scriptures and stories that go with the season, which have a sense of God setting things right and of hope.  I also love the hymnody, both old and new, that goes with the season.  My favorite festival day service is the Easter Vigil.  I love the movement of the service from darkness and quiet to the shouting of ‘Alleluia!’ and the pronouncement of Jesus’ resurrection.” – Pastor Julie Schneider Thomas, Zion, Comstock Park and Hope, Rockford

“Pentecost Sunday and All Saints Sunday are my favorites… Pentecost because of the miraculous ways in which the Holy Spirit worked through the disciples on that day, and All Saints Day which reminds me of our glorious togetherness in Christ with all those in the church triumphant.” – Pastor Karen Niemeyer, Trinity, Grand Rapids

“Advent has some of my favorite music. And I’m increasingly becoming a fan of Pentecost, because of the opportunity to do creative stuff at worship. A couple of years ago we blew up over 100 red balloons and poured them over the balcony onto the congregation during the part in the Acts reading about the tongues of fire. The looks on people’s faces were amazing.” – Pastor Kjersten Sullivan, Trinity, Battle Creek

“This is an easy question for me to answer, for numerous reasons!  My favorite day of the Church Year is Reformation Day.  I love the theme of the grace of God through Jesus Christ that permeates the day.  When I preach on Reformation, I preach on the Romans text, 3: 19-28.  The verses of 23-24 are very powerful to me:  ‘For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.’  As the Lutheran Study Bible states in the notes about Romans 3:24:  ‘Grace is God’s unmerited love for humanity.’  

“I also have a special place in my heart for Reformation Day because this day focuses on Martin Luther and the Reformation. He and I have a connection in that we share the same birthday, November 10, not the same year!  I was a Lutheran from the time I was in my Mother’s womb.  My parents were ALC and then ELCA, my dad was a Pastor (must have been a bit tricky for him on that day!), I was born on a Sunday and Martin Luther and I share the same birthdays!

“Finally, my late mother crocheted a beautiful bright red stole for my ordination in Bismarck, North Dakota on August 19, 1984.  There are only two Sundays, Pentecost and Reformation, we wear red stoles, other than ordinations.  I love wearing my bright red stole and being wrapped in the love of my mother on Reformation Day.” – Pastor Miriam Bunge, synod supply 

“My favorite season of the church year is Advent. I think Advent is a good reflection of where the church is today, both celebrating that our Savior Jesus has come, but also that we are still awaiting his return to make all things complete. I also enjoy the extra time of contemplation, prayer, and reflection on what the Incarnation means for the Christian faith, and just the excitement it builds towards celebrating the Christmas season.” – Pastor Nicole (Nikki) Smith, Lutheran Church of the Savior, Kalamazoo

It’s hard to pick one… but I feel like my favorite celebration in the church is probably Christmas Eve worship. I adore Advent with the powerful and prophetic texts reminding us that God is coming and will be with us… and that all seems to come to a wonderful crescendo on Christmas Eve, when we welcome long time members and strangers together, preach the good news of Emanuel to those who know the story, those who have forgotten the story, and those who have never heard it… and sit in the stillness and wonder that God loved us enough to come screaming into the world with us… to both die for us, and live for us.” – Pastor Megan Crouch, Trinity and St. Timothy Lutheran Churches, Midland

Service and Saints: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Part 2 of this series poses two questions to our synod’s women clergy, as part of the 50th anniversary of the ordination of women in the Lutheran church. Question #1 is an “informational, house-keeping-type” one; question #2 is a challenge.

QUESTION #1: Where have you served and in what capacity?

Pastor Megan Crouch: “I was ordained in Sept of 2009, and have been a pastor for almost 11 years. During that time I have been an associate pastor at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, and currently serve as youth pastor at Trinity and St. Timothy Lutheran Churches in Midland.” Pastor Karen Niemeyer: “I was ordained at Trinity in Grand Rapids in February 2017 and have served there ever since in a part-time capacity as assisting pastor.”Pastor Nicole (Nikki) Smith: “I served for about ten months as a synodically authorized minister (SAM) at Zion Lutheran in Manchester, Indiana. I currently serve as the solo pastor of Lutheran Church of the Savior in Kalamazoo.” 

Pastor Julie Bailey: “I have served three calls – two solo calls in congregations and one term as synod staff. I currently serve with the people of Ascension Lutheran Church in Saginaw, in my seventh year.” Pastor Christina (Chrisy) Bright“I served as intern pastor at Barronett and Augustana Lutheran Churches, Barronett and Cumberland, Wisconsin, 1906-07, and have been the solo pastor, New Life Lutheran, Spruce, since 2009.” Pastor Ruth Overdier“I’ve served as associate pastor at Shepherd of the Lakes, Walled Lake (13 years); pastor, Bethany Lutheran, Northport (five years); officially “retired”, but served, with Fred [husband], as interim pastor at Trinity, Manton and Bethany, Kaleva, as well as supplying at other local congregations. I returned to Northport in 2017, accepting a Call to serve Bethany for another two years. Currently I’m back at Trinity as a contracted pastor.”

Pastor Betsy Kamphuis: “I did my internship year at St John Lutheran Church in Lancaster, New York. Pastor John Scarafia was my supervisor.  I think I was the first woman pastoral intern at that church.  My first call was to Zion Lutheran Church in Saginaw.  I was the first ordained woman to serve at that church. I was the sole pastor at Zion and was serving full time. In 2008 I was called to St Paul Lutheran Church in Greenville.  I was the first ordained woman to serve at this church. I continue to serve full time at St Paul as the sole pastor. For ten years I have served as a supervisor of pastoral interns for Settlement Lutheran Church, Gowen.  This coming year, in addition to my St Paul responsibilities, I will serve as an interim pastor at Settlement.”

Pastor Jennifer Michel“I am currently in my first call as a solo pastor at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Battle Creek.” Pastor Kjersten Sullivan“I served as interim pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Rancho Palos, California, and am currently serving as solo pastor at Trinity Lutheran, Battle Creek.” Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker: “My first call was to St. James Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota. I then served as an associate chaplain at St. John’s Hospital, Maplewood, Minnesota.  My next calls were at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Gretna, Nebraska, as an associate pastor; and at Edgewood Lutheran Church Fruitport as pastor as well as Pine Rest Inpatient Hospital as both a per diem chaplain and as a staff chaplain. My current call is as pastor of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Holland.”

Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese: “When I did my first CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) unit in seminary, I decided that I would prefer to work in the chaplaincy setting rather than parish ministry. I found it to be a good fit and my dad spent much of his ministry career as a chaplain so that was my strongest model. I had a positive internship experience in a congregation and knew that I had to serve a minimum of three years in parish ministry before I could specialize so looked forward to my first call. I was called to serve Settlement Lutheran Church in Gowen and did stay there for six years before I really felt that nudge to move on to chaplaincy. 

“I did two residency years at Pine Rest Christian Hospital, Grand Rapids. Following that, I got a job as a chaplain at what was then St. Lawrence Hospital in Lansing. While there, I ended up moving to work at the long term care center of St. Lawrence, Dimondale Center. During this time, I found my chaplaincy “niche” in senior adult ministry. I was at St. Lawrence and Dimondale for eight years. I was then recruited to go to what was then Luther Community (LSSM) and served there for 17 years, through its different incarnations as Maple Creek and then Samaritas Senior Living. 

“I never dreamed that I would serve a congregation again, but God had other plans. During a time when I was feeling burned out at Samaritas, I was asked to supply preach at Zion Lutheran Church in Woodland. On that first Sunday there, I felt the voice of the Spirit calling me to consider serving there as Zion was vacant. I supplied there a number of times and felt the call stronger each time. So I entered the call process and was called to serve there in 2017 and am currently still there. I feel that my CPE training and years of chaplaincy, gave me good gifts to serve in the parish setting again.”

Pastor Julie Schneider-Thomas“Twenty-five years ago, I began serving Zion Lutheran in Comstock Park as a stated supply pastor.  I was fresh out of seminary and was living in southeast Kent County where my then-United Methodist Church- husband, Bryan, had been appointed to a church.  After serving four months at Zion, they called me as their pastor and I have been serving there since. In 2015, I began serving Hope Lutheran in Rockford as well. These two churches, along with Peace Lutheran in Sparta, share ministries as Koinonia Lutheran Co-op.  The time we have spent at home during the pandemic has allowed me to serve at Peace as well, as our co-op has shared worship and other activities on-line. I continue to serve Zion and Hope.”

Pastor Joan Oleson“I was called as mission developer for Bread of Life Lutheran Church, Hudsonville, then as their first called pastor (solo). I currently serve as solo pastor at Saron Evangelical Lutheran Church in St. Joseph.” Pastor Jane Mountain“I came to Our Savior’s Lutheran in Muskegon as a redevelopment pastor on Aug. 1, 2015, the date of my ordination. As a developer, I spent half my time in the congregation and half my time in the community. Part of our redevelopment plan included working with three other ELCA churches in Muskegon. On Nov. 24, 2019, the four churches gave up our congregational lives to form the new church, Harbor of Grace Lutheran Church, and I was installed as the transitional lead pastor.

QUESTION #2: If you were to choose a Patron Saint of Ordained Female Clergy, who would it be and why OR if you were to “make up” said saint, what would her name be and what would be her patron saint attributes?

“If I were to choose a Patron Saint for Ordained Female Clergy it would be the virgin Mary,” said Pastor Nikki Smith. “We are first introduced to Mary as someone who is completely trusting and obedient to the will of God. Even though she does not have all the answers, she does not necessarily know all the outcomes, and she does not know what may be required of her Mary none the less follows where God calls. Mary trusts in God’s goodness, mercy, compassion, and that no matter what God will be with her. 

“At the wedding at Cana Mary is the one who goes to Jesus asking for him to help solve a need and she trusts that he can and will do something. We also hear that at Pentecost Mary was faithfully praying and awaiting the promised coming of the Holy Spirit where no doubt she too was given amazing gifts to proclaim the good news to others. 

“I think this really reflects what ministry is all about trusting and following God, proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ, and even when we don’t have all the answers or know the outcomes having faith that God is working in, with, through, and around us.”

“My patron saint is Tabitha/Dorcas, as I have claimed her to be a wonderful example of a woman in social ministry,” said Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese. “Her life resonates with mine as a professional chaplain.”

“I don’t know if I would categorize Perpetua and Felicity as patron saints of Ordained Female Clergy,” said Pastor Jennifer Michael. “However, the way I remember the story of Perpetua’s final moments had something to do with her being badly wounded, but she was the one to place the final sword upon her neck. I have this vision of her standing up tall despite all the chaos that swirled around her, despite all the pain she was suffering.  Then she boldly throws her hair back and faces the forces against her with courage and faith. That, and any woman who wants to make sure her hair looks good as she’s facing that kind of attack has something in common with me!”

“My nomination for Patron Saint (mine personally) is Helen Leppala. Helen was my dear friend, spiritual confidante, woman of deep faith, said Pastor Ruth Overdier. “Although she suffered major losses—her mother at age 12, her husband at around age 50, and a daughter when she was in her early 80’s—she would not dwell on this, but always showed genuine interest and concern for others.  She looked on everyone with grace.  Her wisdom, her encouragement, her prayers have meant the world to me.”

“I think I would choose some combination of the current Wonder Woman/ Diana of Themyscira; Rey(from Star Wars); Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls; all three lead actresses (Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae) and the women they portrayed in Hidden Figures (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson) and Elphaba from Wicked,” said Pastor Chrisy Bright. “Why?  Wonder Woman knows that love is the thing that will save the world. She takes matters in her own hands and does what needs to be done, even when everyone around her says it’s impossible. She fights for justice.

“Rey:  At the beginning she and the audience thinks she comes from nothing, that she is no one, and by the end, with several others, she helps to save the world.  She works hard, she is willing to learn, she questions the powers that be, she doesn’t take any guff from anyone.  She is caring, and protective, and uses the force for good even when she doesn’t fully understand it – sort-of like we follow God and try to things for the good of others, and yet we don’t fully understand it either.

“Sophia:  As a pastor, sometimes you have to be willing to tell stories. Sometimes you have to be willing to listen to stories from the Roses of life without going insane. Sometimes you have to be compassionate. Sometimes you have to scheme and plot, and sometimes you just need to know how to put a good Italian curse/hex on others.  Sophia is all those things.

“Hidden Figures:  Against incredible odds, they were resilient, they worked hard, they didn’t back down, they didn’t let all the noes stop them.  They were intelligent, inspiring problem solvers, who, when allowed to do what they knew how to do, changed the space program and thus the world for the better. 

“Elphaba:  We are all a little green, a little different.  Sometimes we are the ones who are shunned because of a myriad of things.  Sometimes we are completely misunderstood.  Yet, we can still defy gravity, and we do.”

“Perhaps I would look to Katherine von Bora – Katie Luther – because she was courageous to escape the convent in fish barrels,” said Pastor Jane Mountain. “She spoke up for what she wanted and thought it was God’s will when she determined to marry that stubborn Luther who thought every priest should marry except for himself. She studied scripture and theology with the Table Talkers, even when her presence wasn’t desired. She was an astute business woman who worked for her community. All these things and more make her as much of a Reformer as Martin Luther.”

“My Patron Saints of Ordained Female Clergy would be Joan and Marcy,” said Pastosr Julie Schneider-Thomas. “Joan Oleson, Marcy Miller, and I all began ordained ministry within a year of each other in the Grand Rapids area. Over the years we have shared laughter, joy, frustrations, and tears.  I don’t know what I would have done without the opportunity to rage about something with them when I needed, to laugh with them over the sometimes ridiculous things that happen in ministry, and to share my struggles. The attributes of these patron saints would be faithfulness, resilience and joy.”

“I would say that the Patron Saint of Ordained Female Clergy should be Hagar,” said Pastor Megan Crouch. “She is the only person in the Bible to Name God. In Genesis 16:7 she names ‘God El –Roi’… God sees… saying that God sees her and she has seen God and lived. She trusts God enough to continue working in a system that oppresses her, to continue living when her resources are gone, and she entrusts herself, her future, and her child to God… who has seen her and knows her… and through her, more people see God.”

“I would name the Patron Saints of Women Clergy to be The Rev. Dr Wil Gafney and Dr Angela Davis for the same reasons,” said Pastor Marilyn Robinson (currently serving as a supply pastor for the synod).  “Saint Gafney and Saint Angela are deeply spiritual, are profound theologians, have profound articulation of womanist presence in the Bible, are warriors, have devoted their entire lives to service on behalf of all humankind, are strong social justice advocates, are gifted in lay ministry, are activists and educators, and have given faithful attentiveness to the call on their lives.”

“I would choose Anna Howard Shaw as the Patron Saint of Ordained Women,” said Pastor Betsy Kamphuis. “Shaw was the first female minister in the Methodist Protestant Church in the U.S. –in the year 1880. She was also a physician and a worker for women’s suffrage. She was smart, she was called, she was strong, she persisted.”

The Call: Women Clergy: Shout Out!

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – Featured: Pastor Julie Schneider-Thomas, Zion, Comstock Park, and Hope, Rockford; Pastor Nicole (Nikki) Smith, Lutheran Church of the Savior, Kalamazoo; Pastor Betsy Kamphuis, St. Paul, Greenville, and interim, Settlement, Gowen; Pastor Julie Bailey, Ascension, Saginaw; Pastor Kjersten Sullivan, Trinity, Battle Creek; Pastor Christina (Chrisy) Bright, New Life, Spruce; Pastor Ruth Overdier, Trinity, Manton; Pastor Joan Oleson, Saron Evangelical, St. Joseph; Pastor Jane Mountain, Harbor of Grace, Muskegon; Pastor Megan Crouch, Trinity, Midland, in partnership with St. Timothy, Midland; Pastor Karen Niemeyer, Trinity, Grand Rapids; Pastor Jessica Rivera-Walker, Good Shepherd, Holland; Pastor Rebecca Ebb-Speese, Zion, Woodland; Pastor Jennifer Michel, St. Peter, Battle Creek

QUESTION: When did you suspect and/or know that you were called to ordained ministry?

KAMPHUIS: “I felt call to ministry in college. At the time I was Christian Reformed and attending Calvin College (now Calvin University), 1978-1982.  I majored in religion, minored in English literature, Greek and philosophy.  

“However, the CRC did not allow women to be ordained.  I was not willing to leave that denomination; so I did not pursue the call to ordination. Instead, I went to the University of Chicago Divinity School for a time. I battled with cancer (and won). Bob [spouse] and I had two wonderful children.  Life was full.

“In 1995 my husband and I joined the ELCA while living in Maryland.  By 1996 I was entranced into the ELCA candidacy process and Gettysburg Theological Seminary.  I was ordained here, in the N/W Lower Michigan Synod on January 2, 2000.”

BRIGHT: “I had suspected for a while in college after my dream of being a pediatrician was ended by my desire to avoid any more college level physics, chemistry, and math, but it wasn’t until after my father died in 1996 that the idea started to really crystalize. “It was sort of like God constantly tapping me on my shoulder going, ‘Um, Chrisy, I am going to keep tapping on your shoulder until you pursue this.’  

“After my dad died, church felt like the only place where the world would return to some sort of normalcy, or that the world would return to its axis. I talked to my pastor and he looked at me and literally said ‘It’s about time you figured that out.’ Looking back I can see all sorts of gentle God nudges, but hindsight is 20/20 and all that…”

MOUNTAIN: “I had other careers before, so I consider my call to ordained ministry to be a surprise. I first began hearing this call when my church asked me to chair their call committee. I kept thinking, ‘I’d like to do this.’

“There followed a time when God spoke to me over and over about becoming a pastor. I began to tell others – my husband, the pastor who became our pastor as a result of the work of our call committee, my good friend who is Jewish, and other close friends. All encouraged me to follow this path. I entered seminary when I was 63.”

MICHAEL: “For many years I served as a lay leader in the church. Much of that work was with Women of the ELCA. My role on the Churchwide Board for WELCA presented me with many opportunities to speak in front of large gatherings. During that time, it was common for women to come up to me and ask if I had ever thought about being a pastor. I would laugh and thank them for their encouragement, but no I couldn’t even fathom how I might even begin a journey like that.

“Then in 2009, while I was living in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, I had the opportunity to serve as a Synodically Authorized Minister of Word and Sacrament. For about six months, I served as the ‘pastor’ to this small faith community where every week I planned worship, preached, and presided.  That is when my internal sense of call was developed to match up with all those years of external call from the women I encountered.

“Still I couldn’t think of how I would ever get there. That’s when the Holy Spirit stepped in.  After years of debating internally, I decided to apply for candidacy. My mother asked me, ‘How are you going to pay for seminary?’  I told her I had no idea, but I had to just put in my paperwork and if I didn’t have the money, I wouldn’t go. 

“The day that I received my positive entrance decision from my synod candidacy committee was also the same day that I learned that I had been selected to receive the ELCA Fund for Leaders scholarship, which covered all of my tuition and fees for seminary.  What seemed impossible to me became possible. That was when I knew this was God’s call for me to become ordained and serve the church.”

RIVERA-WALKER: “When I was confirmed, about 14 years old.”

OLESON: “Actually, when I finished my work as a Christian education director three years after college, I pondered the thought – only to set it aside for another 13 years or so. That is when I began working on the development of a new church start and realized the call was truly there and I could ignore it no longer.”

BAILEY:  “I think I had some inkling as a child, playing church and Sunday school with my dolls. I remember a conversation in high school with my parents, but I had never seen a pastor who was a woman, and didn’t get much support. It was later, after working as a nurse for 13 years, that I reviewed old diaries where I had written about my thoughts of being a pastor. I was active in my home congregation in teaching, worship leaders, youth and council–so got great support from my congregation.”

SCHNEIDER-THOMAS: “I first felt a call to ministry in confirmation class in 7-8th grade. Because I was in a different town (Mackinaw City) than where my church was (Cheboygan), I couldn’t make it to the after school classes.  In essence, I did an independent study with Pr. Bob Riedel.  I loved those conversations we had about God and Jesus – and I felt that just maybe Jesus was telling me that I should be a pastor.”

NIEMEYER: “In 2008, at the age of 66, as I was facing retirement from my lay position of Congregational Life Director at Trinity Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, one of the options I was considering was going to seminary. However, I thought I was probably too old to do so. But then I read an article in The Lutheran that caught my attention. The article was about Louisa Groce, who was the pastor of a New Jersey church, where she had served for the past nine years. As I read the article, I thought, ‘Well, if she could do it, so can I.’”

SULLIVAN: “On a road trip back from a Lutheran Campus Ministry event my freshman year of college… I was trying to understand the historic episcopate (because I was that kind of a dork) and I asked the pastor if the historic episcopate meant I couldn’t become a pastor because I wasn’t genetically related to Peter. Instead of answering my questions, she replied with excitement ‘You want to be a pastor?’ I backpedaled, no, I just wanted to be annoyed about genealogy and theology, but I could never get the idea out of my head.”

CROUCH: “My family would tell you that I was a pastor from my childhood when I asked all the hard unexpected questions during the children’s sermon (something I enjoy kids doing to me now as a bit of karmic payback). But I didn’t start thinking seriously about it until I served as a youth representative on an internship committee for a wonderful young female pastor. I had seen a woman preach before, and thought ‘that’s cool, but I’m not that put together… God can’t want me… however working with this young woman training to be a pastor I learned that pastors are people… wonderful imperfect people just like me…’ and suddenly the barriers to ministry seemed to start fading away. Suddenly I began to wonder if this was something I could do… It still took years to discern my call, but I will never forget talking to her and realizing that if she could make this journey, I could too.”

SMITH: “I began to suspect I was being called to ordained ministry after having lunch with a friend at seminary, where I was attending for a Christian Education type degree, who told me she thought I should consider ordained ministry for my gifts. After that I called the pastor of my home congregation to say I was thinking of switching my tract to MDiv and he expressed they had already had my paperwork approving the transfer ready for a while and were just waiting for me to discern my calling.”

EBB-SPEESE: “I first felt a call to ordained ministry as a small child. I watched my dad lead worship and wanted to do the same. I am told that I played church with my stuffed animals when I was very young and I do remember trying to play church with my friends when I was in early elementary school. I would make my friends sit on the front steps and I would preach to them. That kind of play did not last very long as the other kids did not enjoy that!

“Of course, the option of being a pastor was not there when I was a child. In high school, I began talking to staff at the Bible Camp I attended and later was a Counselor-in-Training, about becoming a pastor. I was told over and over that the Bible did not say that girls could be pastors. When I brought it up to my parents, though, I don’t think they were opposed to the idea, they just didn’t know it was an option and was told I should marry a pastor and seek a non-ordained type of church career. I decided that I would go into youth ministry. 

“When I got to college in 1975, my advisor told me that yes, I could become a pastor! He really encouraged me to follow that call. But it took a while to get all of the voices out of my head that told me that I could not be a pastor. I did go to seminary after college, but initially in the MA program for youth ministry. While in seminary, I was finally able to realize my calling.”

OVERDIER: “When my and my husband’s youngest son (fourth child) finished high school and applied for entrance to colleges, I decided it was time for me also to continue my dream of further education. I entered Harvard Divinity School in the hope of finding answers to theological questions that had always intrigued me.   During my years there I realized that answers lead to more questions…and that I felt then a Call to parish ministry.  Unexpected, but such a blessing it has been and still is.”