Being the Colorado-born product of a mixed marriage (my Daddy was a native Texan of German heritage; my mother a Yankee from Kansas of English and Pennsylvania Dutch heritage); so, when people ask me “Where are you from?” I usually respond by asking “Where am I from or where do I live?” I live in Pennsylvania; but, I claim to be from the Southwest, specifically Texas.
My spouse, the late Dr. Charles Whitson (who I frequently refer to as St. Charles) and I were married in Texas in 1972 and did our doctoral work at Texas A&M University. (Yes, I am a proud Texas Aggie!) From there we journeyed north to spend 24 years in Columbus, OH where we worked as research faculty at the National Center for Research in Vocational Education at Ohio State University. We then operated our own consulting business for a few years. We worshiped at First Community Church (UCC) and our participation in the life and ministry of that church led to our being called to staff the Telemission Program for the Board for Homeland Ministry of the United Church of Christ. Being part of the national staff and working daily with local UCC churches across the United States affirmed my call to attend seminary in preparation for the ordained ministry. Years ago, when I graduated from Mary Hardin-Baylor College, several people encouraged me to attend seminary. But I knew even then that as a Southern Baptist, I would be prepared for a career as a director of Christian Education – not ordained clergy.
During my seminary years at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio (METHESCO) I had a paid internship in a Methodist church with a vital ministry to working poor and houseless people. Those years and that ministry were foundational in the formation of my heart for the poor and the marginalized, the oppressed and the exploited.
The more recent stages of my journey included being ordained in the United Church of Christ at First Community Church in Columbus, Ohio. My first call was to serve a church in Hilo, Hawaii where we lived for four years. When Charles and I returned to the Mainland, we were hoping to set up a home base from which I would be able to do intentional interim ministry and to which we could return between periods of interim ministry. We chose El Paso because of our strong Texas and Southwest connections as well as its proximity to the Mexico-Texas border. Sadly, most of those dreams were not to be realized. Charles died suddenly and unexpectedly in November 2003; and, I found myself caught up in the whirlwind of trying to continue to pastor the church I was serving in Buffalo, WY and attempting to adjust to my profound grief and to the liminal space in which I found myself.
Following the interim in Wyoming, I moved to College Station, Texas (home of the fightin’ Texas Aggies!), to serve as intentional interim minister with Friends Congregational UCC, an Open & Affirming congregation. From there I moved to Pennsylvania to serve a two-year interim at St. Paul’s UCC in Mechanicsburg – also an Open & Affirming congregation. In the course of the past 11 years I have served churches in Hanover, Mountville, Williamsport and Harrisburg.
Part of the reason I share these personal aspects of my journey with you is to bear witness to the steadfastness of God’s love and faithfulness. It is those characteristics of God that are foundational to my faith and that make it possible for me to attempt to follow the example set for us by Jesus the Christ. And it is the radical nature of God’s love, mercy and grace as well as the radical and unworldly nature of our appropriate response to that love that form the cornerstone of who I try to be as pastor, teacher, preacher and friend.
My deepest prayer is that God will richly bless us as I join you in your journey during this time of transition and transformation. May God grant us God’s vision of the church God is calling Wisdom’s Table at St. Peter’s UCC to be and give us the strength and courage to work toward that end.
I probably need to let you know that I remove my shoes when I am leading worship. For the reason, I refer you to the story of Moses and the burning bush.