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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.”