Rev. Marcia Eaton shares the story of her first assignment and call to ministry.
Rev. Marcia Eaton, member of the 2012 class of Kansas East retirees, reflected that she never intended to be a pastor at the Retirement Service June 7.
Members of the retiring class were invited to reflect on their ministries during the service. Eaton, Rev. Butch Ritter and Rev. Fritz Clark shared during the service. Rev. Young-Gil Bahng led the congregation in a Korean prayer practice called Tongsung Kido.
“But then our pastor of [more than] 20 years retired, and we had a student pastor assigned in February. In May, we were told she was going to be appointed elsewhere, and they didn’t have anybody right then to appoint to our church probably until fall,” Eaton said.
Having just completed lay-speaking training, Eaton offered to preach one Sunday if they were really stuck. Something got lost in the translation, she said, because the next thing she knew she was being interviewed by her [district superintendent] and being appointed to serve the church for 10 weeks.
Eaton recalled thinking, “10 sermons? I guess I can do 10 sermons.” Then the other shoe dropped; she also would do pastoral care. She thought, “It’s only 10 weeks. It’s a small congregation. What could possibly happen?”
In her fourth week, one of the members came to church, went home that night, and died in his sleep.
“This was someone I knew and loved, and I knew and cared for his family,” she said.
The retired pastor came back to help her, and, fortunately, the retired pastor told her she was in charge. He met with the family with her, and then he spent more than three hours with her planning the funeral.
“I had to make every single minute decision,” she said. “And in that, he gave me a wonderful gift. When the funeral was over, and I was alone that night, I thought, ‘This was hard, but you know, this is what I want to do.’ And that’s when I decided to become a pastor.”
Eaton encouraged those entering ministry to trust their personal experience, trust their training, trust their hearts, and most importantly, seek the heart of God and trust God’s heart.
Rev. Butch Ritter said everyone has transitional moments in life, moments that confirm something incredible has taken place.
“For clergy, it is when we are asked to function, to actually function as a pastor,” Ritter said. “Eventually, you grow into your role. You realize that there will be bad days, good days, blah days, and you learn that God will be with you.”
Ritter said he was blessed to minister because of those who came before him, and those who follow him will have pulpits because his generation did its job.
“Those of us who are retiring have left some work for you,” Ritter said. “We did not bring perfection on the earth.”
Rev. Fritz Clark said like Marcia, he never planned to enter the ministry either.
“Because of my own experience as a reluctant disciple, I’m a strong believer in planting seeds and being patient and trusting in God’s spirit to grow those seeds over time,” he said. “That’s what God has done with me.”
Clark said he is passionate about providing many contact points with the church because you never know when those seeds will sprout.
“I believe really in reaching people where they are, planting those seeds and then watching the spirit do its work,” he said.
He told the story of Bill and Mary, who were marginal church members who came only at Christmas and Easter and a handful of other times during the year. He invited Bill to take a turn mowing the church lawn. Through that investment of time, Bill and Mary became more involved in the church, and their faith deepened.
“I’ve seen Bill and Mary’s story repeated again and again and again in the life of the church,” Clark said. “I think it’s so important as a pastor and lay [people] to engage with people and then look for ways to connect them as they come through the church doors with something that might interest them, and to do so before they walk out the door.”
Following the reflections, Bahng and Rev. Kibum Kim shared the Tongsung Kido practice. Usually the congregation is given a specific time period, with a common theme of petition or supplication for their prayers. Then all pray at the same time, out loud. The voices of others will not bother them when they concentrate on their own earnest prayers, longing for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
As Bahng led them, annual conference members prayed together.
The conference recognized nine retirees at the conference session.
Bahng was born in the capital city of Korea and graduated from the Commercial Economics College in Seoul. In 1998, he obtained a student visa to attend Saint Paul School of Theology. He graduated in 2003 with a master of divinity. He served as associate pastor at Manhattan First United Methodist Church from 2003-05, pastor at Alta Vista UMC from 2005-08, and at Cottonwood Falls UMC from 2008 until his retirement. Beginning July 1, he will serve the Bronson and Moran UMCs.
Clark graduated from the University of Kansas and Kansas State University. A second-career minister, he graduated from Saint Paul School of Theology in 1988. He served at Alma and Paxico as a student pastor. He also has served Overland Park: Valley View, Hope, Olathe Grace, and Shawnee United Methodist churches. He has served Topeka Countryside UMC for the past six years.
Eaton entered the ministry as a second career in 1997 at Union Chapel UMC. From there, she completed seminary at Saint Paul in 2002. She served at Union Chapel until 2001 and has served at Gridley-Turkey Creek since then. Prior to entering the ministry, she worked in banking.
Brenda Fluellen served congregations in both the Kansas East and Kansas West conferences during her ministry. Ordained an elder in the Kansas West Conference, she served Nortonville and Cummings, Garden City First and Topeka University. She plans to return to chaplaincy in her retirement.
H. Sharon Howell served in the Kansas East Conference for 40 years. She was pastor at Edwardsville, St. Mark’s Overland Park and Lawrence First; associate council director and council director; district superintendent of the former Ottawa District and Kansas City District; staff at Saint Paul and now president of the Scarritt-Bennett Center in Nashville. She plans to return home to Kansas to contemplate where God is leading now.
Joyce Jenkins has served Pittsburg First, Overland Park St. Mark’s, Galesburg and Thayer, Council Grove and Dunlap and interim appointments at Strong City and Elmdale, Reading and Saffordville. Mission trips have had a lasting impact on Jenkins and her ministry, beginning with a trip to Nicaragua during seminary. She and her husband own and operate the Dairy Queen in Council Grove. Upon their retirement, their daughter will assume its management. The couple plans to travel.
Susan Montgomery helped start the conference’s lay-speaker program before answering her own call to candidacy for ministry. She served Aliceville, Neosho Falls and Olpe while attending college to complete her bachelor’s degree. After graduating in 1991 with her master of divinity degree from Boston University School of Theology, she returned to Kansas and served at Sedan, Peru, Elgin, Frankfort, LaCygne, New Lancaster, St. Mary’s, Emmett and Belvue. She will continue to serve the Lord as part-time pastor for the Beattie and Axtell churches.
Ritter was ordained in the New Mexico Conference and moved to Kansas in 1972. He served Emporia First UMC twice, first as an associate pastor and later as senior pastor, Meriden, Ozawkie, Parsons Wesley and Fairway Old Mission. He was the first pastor appointed to serve Baker University.
Frederick Thibodeau served Junction City Church of the Savior, Olsberg, Fostoria, Nortnville, Winchester, Centralia, Corning and Baldwin Ives Chapel, and as associate director of the KSU Alumni Association before moving out of state in 1995. He and his wife, Rebecca Chopp, also a member of the Kansas East Conference, live in Swarthmore, Pa.