Saturday, June 24, 2017

Nancy Juggles Being a Minister's Wife and a University Student

Me and Gary 1975. I had a 'shag' haircut.
I was still twenty-three years old when I became a full-time minister's wife in June 1975. Gary had been accepted into the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church. His first full-time church appointment was at Morrisville United Methodist. As an Associate Pastor, Gary was in charge of Education and Youth ministires.

Morrisville, Bucks County, Pennsylvania, was one of the earliest settlements in the state. A few blocks away from the church was the Delaware River and across the bridge was Trenton, NJ. It was a lovely community.
Gary's salary of $7,400 more than doubled what we had jointly earned while at seminary! 

Our first parsonage 
We moved into the 'old' parsonage that had been designated for the senior pastor before a new parsonage for the senior pastor was built across the street. After living in a college dormitory and a two-room apartment we did not know what to do with all the space in the tri-level house!

We had a rocking chair, a record player, several hundred books, and a few bookcases. We were lucky that the parsonage was partially furnished. My folks bought a bedroom set from friends and hauled it to us. The Hostetters gave us a couch for the family room. We picked up rummage sale items, turned in Green Stamps for a lamp, and purchased a desk with a hutch.

Off the dining room was a screened-in porch. We spent most of our summer on the porch, listening to music and reading. The rest of the time, Nasturtium and I were in the family room, and I used the home office as my space for sewing. The house was surrounded by beautiful azaleas and rhododendrons.

Me and Nasturtium
That first July 4 a parish family invited us to join them for a picnic in a park. It was the kind of informal outing I had grown up with. We had our first Tastycakes and learned that out East no one knew what 'pop' was. It was 'soda' from now on!
Sid, Ellen and Mark Hostetter
Mark and Ellen Hostetter were from Pennsylvania Dutch country. This would be Mark's last pastorate before retirement. When he began his career a pastor made a few hundred dollars and was moved to a new appointment every year. Pastors would learn where they were being sent a few weeks before move-out! Mark had served across the country before returning to Pennsylvania.

Their only child, Sid, was our age and taught high school science. Summers he worked with the famous Jack Horner at his Montana dinosaur dig, and he loved spelunking. Sid's pet iguana had grown too large for his apartment so his parents kept Iggy in a huge aquarium in the parsonage. We had our litter box trained bunny. The congregation had great fun with their new ministers' strange pets!

Ellen took me to minister's wives meetings. Ellen had been a teacher when she fell for 'the reverend'. She loved being a clergy wife.

On holidays the Hostetters invited us to their home and we enjoyed Pennsylvania Dutch hospitality with seven sweets and seven sours. A few hours after gorging on dinner Ellen would serve sandwiches with the leftovers and a desert.

I found a fabric store just down the road. Also in town was a great mom and pop pizza place and a fish market where the owner helped us learn about Bluefish, Croaker, and Porgies and explained how to cook fish whole. I missed my garden fresh veggies, but we visited local farms to pick our own strawberries and peaches. We still baked our bread.
Gary and I are on the far right with the vacuum we won.
Gary and I both are wearing jackets I made.
We bought a microwave oven from Jerry Plavin's. It was large enough to cook a turkey, which we did once. When we bought the microwave we were entered into a giveaway and won a Hoover upright vacuum!

Across the street, next to the Hostetters, lived a childless Russian couple who had immigrated to America after WWII. Nadia was a teenager when she was taken to a Nazi farm as forced labor. She volunteered to go in place of her father, as he was needed to provide for the family. It appears she had been sterilized by the Nazis. After the war, she met her husband, who had also been in forced labor. They were given the choice of immigrating to Canada, the US, or South America.
Gary and I in front of the Morrisville UM Church
After Gary left for work in the morning, Nadia would rush across the street to visit with me. She asked, "why two priests" were needed at the church. And she insisted I have a child. She would tell me to ask my husband what to do to have a baby. She did not understand my plans for finishing my education. Nadia could not read, write, or drive.
Morrisville UMC
Gary had his own office with a Mr. Coffee machine. Doris Burkhardt, the church secretary, complained that he was so quiet in his rubber-soled shoes that he was always sneaking up on her. I wonder that the smell of the coffee he always had in hand didn't give him away!
Sanctuary of Morrisville UMC
Mark intended to share responsibilities with Gary, but the Staff-Parish had different expectations. They wanted Gary full time with the youth. Gary and Mark were concerned this would limit Gary's experience and preparedness for his own church.

The church had a huge youth and children's ministry that Gary was in charge of, including two youth groups, Sunday school classes, a mid-week program with a meal and Bible study, retreats, confirmation class, and a youth choir and youth musical! We loved the church youth, many of whom were my younger brother's age.

With the change in youth pastors many volunteers left and Gary had to rebuild the leadership. I helped out with the youth groups and mid-week program. I also played piano for the children's worship service on Sunday during adult worship service, sang in the choir with the youth musical, participated in Bible study classes led by Gary, and when not teaching, joined an Adult Sunday School class.

At times I came into conflict with church members. One time in Sunday School class we were discussing 'insiders who felt like outsiders' in the church and I mentioned that the youth felt that way. In particular, they wished worship was more joyful and upbeat. A youth parent scolded me saying the kids would grow up and accept tradition. And Gary was pressured to be like the last youth pastor, playing baseball with the youth. We learned how the idolization of a leader makes it difficult for their replacement who is compared instead of appreciated for the strengths that they bring.

I did not want to wait a year before returning to school and sent out applications in the fall for winter semester. My reference letters were from METHESCO professors who attested to my preparedness and participation as an auditor. 



It was very unusual for a married woman to return to school after a break in those days. Most women in their early twenties were eager to start a family.

I applied first to the University of Pennsylvania. They suggested I enroll in a special program for women returning to college, and if I succeded in it I could then apply as a regular full time student. I also applied to LaSalle University and Temple University and was accepted by both. Temple cost less, and I enrolled in classes to begin January 1976.

To commute to Temple, located in North Philadelphia, Gary drove me to the train station and I got off the train a few blocks away from campus. It was not a nice neighborhood, so I always was alert walking down that empty street. The campus was huge!

I had to juggle the role of pastor's wife and youth leader with a full college schedule. When I had breaks I spent my time feverishly sewing.
Temple University

My first semester I had Literary Criticism, which was very helpful to me as an English major. Studies in Shakespeare ended up being a Freudian approach. I loved Studies in the Victorian Age. I also had a history class on the Reformation. Professor Schwoebel broke the class into groups to research an aspect of the Reformation. We were to present what we had learned to the rest of the class using multi-media and non-lecture techniques. I was in the group studying John Calvin, but I became most interested in the Anabaptist movement. A year later I discovered that my Gochenour ancestors were Swiss Brethren, an Anabaptist group!

Gary's one year probation as a Deacon concluded with his ordination as an elder into the UMC.
Gary's ordination class June, 1976. Gary is fourth from the left.
Fall of 1976 I took The Novel from Defore to Austen, which was great. I enjoyed Modern British and American Poetry and made several friends. One was a gay Hispanic poet who told me horror stories of Catholic education in Philly. I needed a language and took Elements of Latin. The teacher said I had an odd pronunciation, and I realized I was influenced by how my choirs pronounced Latin when singing.

Spring semester 1977 I had an honors course on John Milton which required three papers; the professor really liked me and I got an A. I also had my second semester of Latin and a self-created class on writing curriculum in which I was mentored by a friend I had met in Victorian Studies class. Murray was fascinated to know a Protestant. So many of my classmates were Catholic and Jewish that I was often a novelty to them!

That fall I had Honors Topics in Religion which looked at Myth and History in the Old Testament; Studies in Drama in which we studied the first and last plays of three major playwrights; and an Honors English course on James Joyce's Ulysses for which I wrote a 50 page paper on Bloom in Nighttown from a Jungian approach, which got me an A. The professor had the class to his home for an Irish meal with Guinness Stout. I loved the course Folklore in America for which I wrote a paper on the culinary roots of American cooking. The professor encouraged me to consider grad school.

My last semester in Spring 1977 I had Colonial American History, American Indian Ethnology, Studies in Drama: Religion and Literature; and Advanced Honors Jane Austen--the class that really changed my life. The Studies in Drama was team taught with the professor who taught Myth and History. The class visited different churches, including Gloria Dei, the early Swedish church, Christ Church where our earliest Colonial ancestors worshipped, a Black Pentecostal church in North Philly, and Beth Sholom, a synagogue designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. We also had a Seder meal.

I had a poem published in the literary magazine.

Our pet rabbit adjusted to the move nicely. Nasturtium loved the large family room as 'her place', with a litter box in the utility room. I would come home and find Nasty Buns sleeping on the end table next to the couch. She would wake and run circles around my feet. If I took her outside she was terrified and crawled on my shoulder, hiding her head under my hair.
Nasturtium

When we were away Ellen would take care of Nasturtium. But the bunny would attack Ellen, nipping at her ankles. Ellen always wore a dress, nylons, and high heels so she had no protection! Ellen had to come into the house with a broom to swish Nasty Buns away! When we cared for Iggy we had no such problems!

At Christmas break, Gary and I drove back to Michigan to see our families, first stopping at Tonawanda, NY to see my Grandmother Gochenour and family. Then we drove across Canada to Gary's folks home in Grand Blanc and then down to Clawson to see my family. The second Christmas trip, we left Tonawanda and drove into a heavy snow storm. We finally pulled into a hotel and went the rest of the way home the next day. That ended our Christmas homecomings.

Our first visit back to Michigan my Grandma Ramer was living with my folks. Mom put us in the hide-a-bed in the family room, which was open to the kitchen. Gary had forgotten his PJs that year, and when we woke my Grandmother was sitting at the kitchen table, eating her toast and tea, watching us. Gary couldn't get out of bed!

Before our first anniversary, my grandmother had been set up on a blind date with Milo Fisher, a widower of 25 years. He came to the door and Grandma answered, but he said, "I am here to see your mother." He thought Grandma was my mom! Grandma was only in her early fifties. Almost a year after Grandma had caught my wedding bouquet she married Milo.
Grandma and Milo Fisher at his Birmingham home
During our time in Morrisville, we loved to take the train into Center City Philadelphia and explore the city. We walked from one end of the city to the other, looking in the huge department stores--Gimbels, Lit Brothers, John Wanamaker's with it's inner court and organ concerts, Strawbridge & Clothier-- and shopping at Reading Terminal Market where we first ate Tabouli.

We visited the Philadelphia Art Museum and stood in line on Friday afternoons for cheap seats in the 'nosebleed gallery' to see Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra.
1776 musical program
The Bicentennial celebration in Philadelphia was exciting. We saw the musical 1776 for free. We visited the historical museums and Independence Hall.
1776 musical stage on Independence Mall
A new museum for Benjamin Franklin opened, and we visited his grave. We saw the Rodin Museum and I often went to the Free Library. There was the Edgar Allen Poe house, Betsey Ross House, and Elfreth Alley. At Head House Square's New Market we saw vendors selling crafts, including miniature quilts. I loved to have ice cream at Once Upon a Porch in Society Hill; the restaurant decor included porches were customer enjoyed their ice cream.

On the Fourth of July, we went downtown to see the fireworks and free concerts. One year we saw the Beach Boys perform on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

On Christmas Day we went to Washington Crossing State Park and saw a reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware.
Reenactment of Washington crossing the Delaware
Reenactment of Washington Crossing the Delaware
We visited the Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve and learned to identify Eastern wildflowers. We drove to Princeton, NJ, passing cranberry farms, to visit an antique and used book shop. Our first trip to New York City we took a bag lunch which we ate in Central Park, then we saw The Fantasticks. We also saw Yentl, visited the Cooper-Hewitt Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Modern Museum of Art.

The youth group made trips to Asbury Park on the Jersey Shore and the Hostetters took us on day trips to Cape May and Ocean Grove. The Hostetters took us to Lancaster, County where we enjoyed family style meals.

The craft revival was in full swing during the Bicentennial. Gary and I took macrame classes and made hanging plant holders. I tried my hand at needlepoint, hooked rug making, and Crewel embroidery.
Gary and I in the Morrisville parsonage back yard, 1977
Our second year at Morrisville I wrote elementary school curriculum for Vacation Bible School with an ecology theme. Gary and I also helped create the church's first elementary school age retreat.

We had joined several small groups. One group met monthly for a world food dinner. The other was a support group. A man in that group was involved in Serendipity small group training and we took the training.

For summer vacation we went camping. We intended to go to Nova Scotia but fell in love with Acadia National Park in Maine. We made it to the Bay of Fundy. We saw the tide come in. But we also got soaking wet and spent a night in motel room drying out. Then we turned back for Maine.

Mark Hostetter suggested that Gary should not stay an associate too long. Gary let it be known to the District Superintendent that if the 'right church' came up he was willing to make a move. The Cabinet contacted him about going to a church in Darby, PA and Gary accepted.

It was a sad day when we left the great youth we had come to know and love, and the wonderful friends we had made.

After two years in Morrisville, we were moving again. I was 25 years old. We had no idea that two pastors had already turned down the Darby appointment.