BSP: What is your educational background? How did that education equip you for ministry and how did it fall short?
CW: I experienced my call at age 15 at the Kansas West annual Conference ordination service. I was a member of the conference through the Conference Commission on Youth Ministries and one of our adult leaders was being ordained that night. The Reverend Paul Matthaei was preaching. I start with that bit of information because my undergraduate degree was specifically chosen with my ministry in mind. My local church was not very supportive (think early-mid 1970’s), but there were many on the district and conference level that felt differently.
After a year in Switzerland as an exchange student through the International Christian Youth Exchange, I began my freshman year at Friends University. I had every intention of doing a liberal arts degree with an emphasis in theater and music. It became apparent after my freshman that the theater and music departments were at odds. So my major became drama and I worked on a minor in music.
No one believed me when I said I planned on being a pastor. The school was relatively conservative and evangelical and there were not a lot of models for women in ministry. I choose theater, because I believed (and accurately as it turns out) that I would receive plenty of theology, Bible, church history and doctrine in seminary. What I wanted was to be able to be comfortable with readings, with preaching, and with interacting with groups of people.
Most of my ministry until recently have been in very rural areas and my music and drama has helped me immensely. Creating worship that flows well makes sense and has a common thread woven throughout the service. Even in small towns, that focus on worship has blessed the congregations, the people, and myself.
The area where my education at both the bachelors and master’s level fell short is in administration. Like most clergy, it is my least favorite task. And yet, being ordained to word, sacrament, and order has never been optional. We, as clergy, are not given choices as to which two our three we will do. Through diligence and perseverance I have learned to read in-depth financials and converse with financial officers and with executive type lay persons. As far as I am concerned, every clergy should be required to take a business class in order to do the administration necessary in the local church. I would have complained in seminary, but now I wish I would have had it.
BSP: What is the mission of the current fellowship you serve? How are they impacting the community they serve?
CW: The mission of West Heights United Methodist Church is “Changing Lives by Connecting Hearts to Jesus Christ.” All our ministries are beginning to be more focused on ministry and mission outside our walls. Each month we have a food challenge to support United Methodist Open Door’s food ministry. Our food total through the end of July has been 13,000 plus pounds as well as over 80 bags of hygiene products and diapers. We host the Red Cross blood drive in conjunction with other west side churches. We support, with other churches, the seasonal homeless shelter with meals and contributions as well as serving meals 6-8 times a year at the U.M. Open Door’s homeless drop-in center. Our children have handed out socks and mittens to the homeless with St. John’s Episcopal Church’s Sandwich Saturday, and created gifts and visited our home bound. Our youth participate in all kinds missions to individuals and organizations. We host the West Side Shepherd Center an ecumenical group that reaches out to senior adults. We have the West Heights preschool, which was one of the first preschools forty years ago. Of course this does not mention any of our ongoing programs within the church, but our commitment to connect lives and hearts means reaching out to those who are not connected.
BSP How could the UMC better support you in ministry?
CW: Tough question. This would be an invitation for me to complain, but I really hate doing that. Even though we are a connectional system, I have always had the sense it was sink or swim. I was not always sure I could depend on support. Having said that, if I have ever had an issue that I believe could be brought to the District Superintendent’s attention, or could cause problems, the D.S. was, and is, the first person I call. I don’t like surprises and I have assumed D.S.’s are the same.
I came into the system at 23 and was the second youngest in my seminary class with an average of 37. I was among the youngest 15 clergy in my annual conference for much longer than I should have been. At almost 52, I am grateful for the support and encouragement of young clergy. My slight frustration is that with an emphasis on “young” we devalue years of service and learning that comes with experience. I am sure there is some kind of balance that can find a way to incorporate the energy, new trends, and possibilities that young adults bring, with an appreciation for what can only be learned through experience and an understanding of history. I am getting a wee bit weary of the statements that I, at my age, cannot relate to anyone under 40 or over 65. As some one who has mastered Facebook and Twitter and have encouraged my church to find ways to use social media as a “connecting” tool, I believe that dichotomy of young/old may not be as helpful as it appears.
BSP: If you could change one thing in the ordination process, what would it be?
CW: I have just rotated off my second 8-year term on the Board of Ministry. My first term was from 1988-1996 and this one was 2002-2010. There have been many changes over the years. I believe in an educated clergy and clergy that can have appropriate boundaries. However, that means the process tends to be long and frustrating. Men and women want to “be” in ministry and often feel shackled and hindered from doing the work they have been called to do. The conference has an obligation to protect local churches and to properly “vet”, if you will, any person wanting to be ordained a deacon or an elder. While the process may be cumbersome, it is one way to make sure, as much as humanly possible, to provide the best pastors one can. I think if I were to change it, it would have to do with supervision in order to shorten the process, not in integrity, but in time.
BSP: What congregational expectations of the pastor are unrealistic?
CW: Is this a trick question? What congregational expectations of the pastor are unrealistic? Like all of them? I jest. I have served churches in three-point charges where the smallest church averaged 8 on a good Sunday morning, a county seat church where we average around 175, and now a large suburban church where we average around 325. As a woman in ministry, it was occasionally difficult for those churches to balance the need for the traditional “clergy wife” with a clergywoman.
I have found that churches will take everything I have and then some. So it took my first few years, to establish boundaries about what I would do, and what I would not do. Even small churches can accept areas of expertise and areas where I was woefully inadequate.
I found that it was important for me to define those areas and priorities for ministry. This is not an easy task. It took a divorce in 10th year of ministry for me to really focus on what was important. I became clear about how I prioritized ministry: preaching and worship, my calling: hospital and emergency; and then administration.
Above and beyond that, I was single mom for a while, so I stacked meetings in order to be home more and informed the church, that I would do school parties, go to ball games, and attend school activities for my children. In small towns, that was a bonus. I came to my current setting after my last child graduated from high school. Since I tend to work too much, I am grateful that this opportunity did not open before then. I would have been sorely tempted to work too many hours, which would have been a disservice to my son.
I try to balance it all, work, family, and self-care. Often, I do not do it well. I am driven to be a preacher. It is in my bones. The challenge for me is to balance all those parts of who I am, preacher, wife, mother, grandmother, amateur chef and potter in order to live the fullest of who I have been created to be by God.