My earliest memories of Jesus come with the paint-by-number picture painted by my dad and hanging in my bedroom as a child, the baby Jesus in the manger in our nativity set that I cradled every advent telling him the great stories of how he’d save the world. I was Christian from birth, baptized into the Lutheran Church (Missouri Synod) when I was two and a half weeks old. I attended church regularly either snuggled next to my grandmother who passed me butter rum lifesavers or singing the hymns boldly next to my Dad who was a loud, passionate tenor. I attended Emmanuel Lutheran school where I learned Bible stories, memorized psalms, creeds and the Lord’s Prayer, and where I became a fan of Martin Luther. Being both of German and Lutheran heritages, I was highly influenced by both the passionate and critical nature of Luther. I was born, my mother says, asking “how come?” That questioning, though, didn’t sit well with my traditional church, or fundamentalist pastor. Like Luther, I believe, my love of the church was only surpassed by my love for Jesus, and I persisted in asking questions, both of theology and ecclesiology.
Because of my deep love and solid knowledge of Christ in my life, I sensed a call to ministry at a very young age. As a child, though, I was told, “God doesn’t call girls.” After marrying a Methodist at age 18, we looked for a new church together and stumbled upon the First Presbyterian Church of Jamestown, NY, where the pastor clearly announced to the congregation, “this is a place to ask your questions.” I was home. After learning that Presbyterians were willing to ordain women to ministry, I sought to be a candidate under care of the presbytery while a junior at SUNY Fredonia, majoring in psychology. In 1983, I began my studies at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. While I was there, my faith was challenged and strengthened by not only the academics of biblical and theological study, but by the life experiences of personally battling infertility, my uncle dying of alcoholism, and my brother coming out. Where was God, Where was Christ in all that?
In my first call, as Associate Pastor in Allen Park, MI, I learned the mechanics of ministry in a large (1800 member) church and, at the same time, how a congregational system can be deeply wounded and disoriented by the mental illness of a senior pastor. My second call, to St. Paul PC in Livonia, MI, was where I was first introduced to “missional church.” The senior pastor there served as mentor as we explored ways of being church (as opposed to doing church) in a changing culture.
My call as solo pastor of Westminster PC took us to Baytown, Texas. Living as a Presbyterian in the “Bible Belt” was always a challenge to my faith, bringing me face to face with some of the fundamentalist theologies I left behind as a child. I accepted a call to be Associate General Presbyter for Congregational Development and grew in my knowledge of church planting and congregational transformation. My ministry took me beyond the PCUSA to participate and find a “church home” in a Southern Baptist Emergent Church Plant in Baytown. Reconciling with the gifts of my Missouri Synod upbringing, I learned how to be evangelical and reformed and liberal.