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.”