Archive for Wednesday, April 16, 2003

Heeding the call

Female ministers take to the pulpit with increasing frequency

April 16, 2003

The four women chatted gaily as they the Basehor Methodist Church where all had met for a photo shoot.

The women were dressed in long flowing robes with contrasting shawls. When asked by a photographer to walk together naturally, they laughed, with one of them saying, "Like this is how we dress every day."

Whether garbed in clerical robes or street clothes, these four Tonganoxie-area women represent a growing trend of women in the ministry.

And even among their own group of seminary students and recent graduates, these women also represent another segment of society --women who are going back to school at midlife to take up a new career.

It should be noted that this story started out to look at what seemed to be a local growth of women serving as pastors.

It was only after contacting five area women -- four who were pictured and interviewed and one whom we were unable to reach in person, that The Mirror learned they all belonged to the United Methodist denomination. Although their personal backgrounds are diverse -- one thing drove all four to the pulpit -- they were called.

A source of pride

The daughter of a Methodist minister, Claudia Bakely felt pulled in a different career direction than her father.

"I had always felt that God had called me into the nursing ministry," said Bakely, who is a registered nurse. "And so it took me awhile to decide that it was OK to move into the pastoral ministry."

As important as her own motivation was the support of her family, which includes her husband, Paul Lipe, and their now teenaged sons, Steve and Will Lipe.

"They were thrilled," Bakely said. "They called everybody up -- they were very proud."

As was her father.

"My father had been telling me for years, 'You should think about going into the ministry,'" Bakely said.

For four years, since her second semester at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, Mo., Bakely has served as the associate/youth pastor at Tonganoxie United Methodist Church.

Of the 250 students in her class, about half are women. And of those, about half are in their second career.

Bakely, who was 43 when she started in seminary school five years ago, said she wouldn't have been ready when she was young.

"I think it was a long time of maturing, both spiritually and emotionally, to the point that I was ready to go into the ministry," Bakely said. "It certainly worked for me, but as far as each individual is concerned it's completely personal. I know people that are at school and they're young and they're going to make wonderful ministers."

Bakely, who will graduate from the seminary this spring, has already received her first appointment. In July, she will begin working as associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Emporia.

Although she describes herself as a shy person, Bakely has grown to feel comfortable in the pulpit.

"I have found that I enjoy preaching," Bakely said. "I won't say that I'm a good preacher, but it's going better than I expected."

To the heart

Peachez Joles' path into the ministry began on a trip to southern Mexico.

"When I saw the condition that the people there had to live in, I guess I started counting my blessings," Joles said. "That's when I realized that I needed to do something for the Hispanic people that came up here."

She recalls being told by a man in Mexico that he believed there was "no god in America."

The man told Joles he had come to the United States to work. But when he became sick in the wintertime and couldn't go to work, he had no place to stay, no food to eat.

"He was sleeping under a newspaper to protect himself from bad weather," Joles said. "He thought he was going to die and his family would never know what happened to him."

Her dimpled smile vanishes as she recalls his plight. Her voice cracks.

"As he spoke his story it went to my heart and I felt that I wanted to help him," Joles said. "He may or may not have been here legally, I don't think God cares whether you're here legally or illegally -- you are still God's children."

Soon after this trip, Joles applied to enroll in the pastoral course of study at St. Paul's. This is a program planned for the older individual, she said.

"You have to be over 40 to even be considered," Joles said.

And, it's a different program from the seminary route that Bakely and the others interviewed in this story are taking.

"After graduation we're called local pastors," Joles said. "The ones who take the seminary route when they graduate they will be elders or deacons. I'll be a local pastor while I'm going to school and after I graduate."

Local pastors, said Joles, are paid less than seminary graduates, and their course of studies is accomplished primarily through correspondence.

In July, Joles will begin working as the associate/youth pastor at the Tonganoxie United Methodist Church, replacing Bakely, who is taking a pastorship in Emporia.

Joles is presently serving with a United Methodist Hispanic street ministry in Kansas City, Kan.

She and her husband, Ron, live near Jarbalo and have three grown daughters who live in the area.

Joles realizes that her new career will take her to positions that were historically more commonly held by men. But she's been there before.

Joles, who worked for a telecommunications firm for 30 years before her 1990 retirement, recalled the frustration of finding that even though she scored 100 percent on an engineering test, she was unable to move into the engineering department because she was a woman.

Eventually, however, she did advance into that department. Now, once again, she's moving into another area historically held by men.

Her acceptance in any church will depend on the congregation. This is where a woman might find the going a little more challenging than a man would, Joles said.

"It really depends on the woman pastor," Joles said. "She has to earn the respect, she has to be able to prove her credibility to the position she's holding, where I feel like a man doesn't have to prove."

Playing church

Alice Purvis is pastor at the Jarbalo United Methodist Church. She is the church's third female pastor.

"In the Methodist Church, it has become more of the norm to have women pastors," Purvis said. "It's not 100 percent accepted perhaps in all areas of the church, but the church denomination works hard to be inclusive to make it available to women. ... They have opened their arms and said we invite women to be ministers."

The church's founder, John Wesley, openly encouraged women to join the ministry, Purvis said. In its early years the church ordained women, she added. And, in about 1956 the church began ordaining women again.

Like Bakely, Purvis, who is 46, is the daughter of a Methodist preacher. Even her childhood playtime was touched by the ministry.

"Sometimes the games we would play would be to go over to the church and play church," Purvis said.

However, it wasn't until years later that she considered becoming a minister. Her first career, before she became a minister, was in the field of social work. Purvis worked with disabled people, helping them obtain services so they could live on their own.

"In my previous career, although I enjoyed the career, I always knew it wasn't my passion," Purvis said.

Would it have occurred to her, 20 years ago, that she might someday follow in her father's footsteps?

"There might have been some years where I might have scoffed at it, but down deep in my heart I don't think I was running as fast as I thought I was," Purvis said.

The knowledge that she might have wound up in Jarbalo might have been a surprise, too. Purvis that usually about 50 people attend Sunday church services.

"It has been one of the most wonderful experiences in my life," Purvis said. "I don't think God could have put me in a better place."

And, being a woman, she's felt welcome.

"They've pretty much embraced me from day one," Purvis said. "They put up with me during my student year, they've begun to work with me on some of the new things I felt God was calling us to look at, they have willingly gone in and given it a try -- it's just a good group of people."

Her reception may have been eased by the two women who preceded her as pastor.

"I feel pretty blessed that the way was paved," Purvis said.

And, Purvis, who fills in as drummer when the church's youth band performs at worship service, is comfortable being herself.

"As a woman you have to have confidence and be willing to let the Lord be your strength when the challenges come up," Purvis said. "You don't have to go into it like a bulldozer, but just confident that you're walking out the Lord's plan and that it's OK for you to be where you are."

Purvis lives in Tonganoxie with her 16-year-old nephew, Larry Purvis, who attends high school in Turner.

Moving on

Claudia Ricks Hubbard graduated a year ago, at 50, from St. Paul school.

Since then she's worked as associate pastor at the Basehor United Methodist Church.

Hubbard's first career included being an early childhood educator. She made her commitment to the ministry in 1997.

"When I left my teaching job, there was a clear sense that it was time for me to do something different with my life," Hubbard said. "I went through the intentional process of letting go of the job that I had. ... I came to grips with the fact that I was being called to the professional ministry. In January 1998 I started seminary after being out of school for a very long time."

Hubbard's smile flashed as she recalled the fear of jumping back into the rigors of school.

"I honestly didn't know if I could do it," Hubbard said. "I had been teaching three-, four- and five-year-olds for 10 years -- my vocabulary had to change abruptly."

It did.

"Once I got over the initial shock, I found it to be incredibly exhilarating -- just an amazing process," she added.

The women pastors in the Basehor pulpit before Hubbard have made her work easier, she said.

"This church has a very long history of women pastors," Hubbard said. "I am the third woman here. The two predecessors served as solo pastors -- in many ways they broke ground for me."

Friday afternoon, Hubbard learned that it was likely that her next pastor position would be in her area of interest -- hospital work. In particular, at St. Luke's Hospital in clinical pastoral education. If this goes through, she'll start in July.

She's appreciated the opportunity to serve Basehor.

"My time here has really given me insight into how much I do love the local church," Hubbard said. "I will miss the long-term relationship because in the hospital you won't have that as much."

Hubbard and her husband, Ed, who live in Johnson County, have one son, Brad, who is 20.

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