Letters I Had to Write to Try to Change the Culture

What was considered “normal” at the beginning of your ministry that might surprise people today? That was a question posed to me from those seeking to gathers stories in 2020 from women clergy for the 50th Anniversary of the Ordination of Women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. Here is mine.

              In 2002, after I had been ordained 22 years, I was serving in parish ministry in my tenth year at Trinity Lutheran Church in Danville, Pennsylvania. During the previous few years I had been privileged to supervise five interns from the Gettysburg Seminary. Our most recent intern was Beth George (who continues in parish ministry to this day.)

              A member of the congregation had died and following a meaningful, well attended funeral in the church sanctuary the funeral procession of cars was being led through the streets by the hearse to the cemetery for the committal. I was in the front seat of a sedan with the funeral director, Dean, and Beth in the back seat. As he drove us in the slow moving line of cars, Dean gave me the Clergy Record card. I handed it back to Beth and explained that on it was the relevant information about the deceased for us to be able to enter into the official Parish Record Book. It was her first funeral. “Notice that it says Clergy Record on the card. These things used to say Clergyman’s Record but they changed it to make it gender inclusive.”

              Dean laughed softly and said, “Yes, we changed that almost ten years ago after we got a letter from someone telling us it needed to be updated since there were now women pastors.”

              “Oh, yeah,” I responded, “who was that?”

              Dean then laughed loudly as he said, “It was you!” I laughed. Beth laughed.  Dean laughed some more, especially since I did not remember writing to him.

              But it was certain that I had since during my two decades of ministry I regularly, gently for the most part, had to point out that it was a new age where both men and women were pastors.

  • The Gideons International, the group that places Bibles into hotel rooms, would write to me inviting me and my wife to a dinner. So off would go a letter from me telling them that I had no wife but did have a husband. I believe after a few years, they finally changed the language of their annual invitation. 
  • I would, on a number of occasions, receive letters for the Church Council that included the salutation, “Gentlemen.” So off would go a letter each time telling them that I was not a gentleman, nor were the women on the Church Council who served a long side of the men. I always would offer alternative forms of salutation such as Ladies and Gentlemen, or simply Dear Members of the Church Council. 
  • My husband was once invited to a retreat for the spouses of pastors. We were pleased that as a Lutheran retreat the organizers had recognized that there were male spouses as well as female. However, he was asked to bring along a piece of fabric that would be included in the quilt they would be working on. I did not bother with a letter on that one as I dearly did not want to hurt the feelings of the women who had planned the retreat.  My husband chose not to attend, needless to say. He was one of just three male spouses in my synod at that time.

              I had learned that certain responsibilities were mine as one of the first female Lutheran pastors in the United States. (There were about 200 of us in 1980 when I was ordained in the Lutheran Church in America.) It had not really been my plan to be a pioneer. Yet, following God’s call had made me one.

              My letters, along with likely similar ones from my clergy sisters around the country, did over time begin to make a difference in our small towns, suburbs, and in the cities in which we ministered.

              I am most pleased with the impact that my presence had on children. One Sunday morning, 30 years into my ordination when I was serving St. Michael Lutheran Church in Wellington, Florida, the bishop was visiting our congregation. The bishop was a man. A little boy of about age eight saw him walk by wearing his identifying collar and the child immediately placed his hands on his hips and looked up at me with great joy on his face. “Pastor Margie, do you mean boys can be pastors, too?”

              “Yes, indeed, they can, Ethan. Maybe when you grow up God just might ask you to be one, too.”  

              That is one of my favorite memories, a lovely God moment that warms my heart each time I think of it.

I would love to hear your responses to this blog post and maybe some stories of your own.

6 Comments

  1. My favorite memory if my favorite pastor was when Pastor Margie first came to our Trinity Lutheran Church in Danville, Pa. My wife and I had the honor of driving Pastor and her daughter around Danville and the outlying areas. We bvb were on a back country road around Lake Chillasquaque. I was nervous as I hadn’t ever been around a female pastor, afraid I would do or say the we wrong thing. All of a sudden Margie blurted out that the road reminded her of a road she and a group of fellow seminarians were on. The driver got a little close to a cow and knocked the side view mirror off and she said I c as n just imagine what the farmer would say if he saw a mirror up the cow’s a–. From that point on I knew I would never feel uncomfortable around her. That’s what makes her so special. She may not even remember this as it was a long time ago, but I will never forget it. Love you Margie.

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  2. My favorite memory if my favorite pastor was when Pastor Margie first came to our Trinity Lutheran Church in Danville, Pa. My wife and I had the honor of driving Pastor and her daughter around Danville and the outlying areas. We were on a back country road around Lake Chillasquaque. I was nervous as I hadn’t ever been around a female pastor, afraid I would do or say the wrong thing. All of a sudden Margie blurted out that the road reminded her of a road she and a group of fellow seminarians were on. The driver got a little close to a cow and knocked the side view mirror off and she said I can just imagine what the farmer would say if he saw a mirror up the cow’s a–. From that point on I knew I would never feel uncomfortable around her. That’s what makes her so special. She may not even remember this as it was a long time ago, but I will never forget it. Love you Margie.

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  3. I thoroughly enjoyed coming upon this as I awakened at 1:45 AM as I do so many nights! I have such fond memories of you, Margie, when you were at Trinity Lutheran in Danville. Just as Ed Haas said, you were my favorite pastor ever. I, along with my husband and children, enjoyed the Saturday evening casual services that allowed so many more to attend. But, my fondest memories of you are how you visited my husband, Don, during his years of illness and being confined to his bedroom. He always looked forward to your constant visits and would often ask me when you would be coming again. Those visits were more meaningful to him than you will ever know. Oh yes, I know that I was discussed during those times, never to find out what those discussions were .but, it was his special time to be able to allow his frustrations and sadness of being so ill be heard by you, as he never talked about them to me or the children so as not to upset us. I also enjoyed the opportunity of you and Dave trusting your beloved Angela to my care at my daycare center. I can still see her today! After all these years we still light his candle and my oldest son reads the prayer you gave us right before we begin our Christmas Eve dinner. Then it gets lovingly packed away until the next year. Do you remember giving us this? I have shared the prayer with a few very close friends through the years and they have gotten the candle and light it just as we do. I wish the best to you and the family, and may God continue to bless all of you with his love.

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