For the first 36 years of my life I lived with undiagnosed chronic depression and anxiety. Most of the time I didn’t think about it as it was just a way of life. At the end of each day I was exhausted, but wasn’t everybody? I was always on edge, always afraid of getting in trouble or criticized. I thought I had a lot to prove. It was magnified many times over on my journey into and through ministry.
I never felt good enough to be where I was. At St. Paul School of Theology, as at Drew, I still felt like I had to constantly prove myself and that I was always just one step behind. I thought if important people like Tex and Gene would be impressed by me, then maybe I could feel ok. Gene, however, was not one to express such things easily. I didn’t know this at the time. Tex was impressed with my gifts and said so, but after gaining one accolade, I had to move on to another, as if they expired. Well, he said last week that I was awesome, but he might have changed his mind…. I felt like I had reached this point in my journey by tricking people, and felt that sooner or later someone was going to catch me and call me a fraud. I was scared. All the time.
Coming up for ordination didn’t help. I thought perhaps this was where I’d be unmasked, especially after the fiasco at Conestoga Parish. In 1992, there was a two-step ordination process in the United Methodist Church. The first step was Deacon’s Orders and a probationary membership in the Conference. Candidates were eligible for this step once they were halfway through seminary. The second step, Elder’s Orders and full membership in the Conference, became possible after serving a church full-time for two years. I was eligible for application for Deacon’s, Larry was eligible for Elder’s.
I still didn’t know anybody in the Nebraska Annual Conference, since I was at school during the year. Larry’s interviews for Elder’s Orders were in January. His experience didn’t help my terror. He’d had only two pastors on his interview committee. One hardly spoke at all, just smiled. The other, whom we’ll call Frank seemed to resent that Larry graduated from Drew. He was a St. Paul grad. He was hostile and accusing, suggesting that Larry wouldn’t have any theology at all graduating from Drew. He asked Larry questions that were common questions asked at our Senior Credo conferences at St. Paul; not questions Larry was prepared for. But being Larry, he kept his cool and didn’t confront his accuser. Afterward, the dopey quiet one whispered helplessly in Larry’s ear, “I’m so sorry.”
Fortunately, Larry and the other candidates had the opportunity to mingle with the rest of the Board of Ordained Ministry throughout the day in discussion groups and over lunch. In addition to that, Larry was already known and loved in the Conference. They knew he was already a good pastor. When Larry was ordained in June, Frank shook his hand in front of the whole congregation and whispered, “You got in in spite of me, I see.” And he smiled a mean smile. God Bless.
If I hadn’t been terrified before Larry’s interviews, I figured I was doomed afterwards. Carol had warned me back when I left Conestoga that this could reflect badly on me. My interviews were in March. In preparation for these interviews, like Larry, I had to write pages and pages of answers to questions from The Book of Discipline. I had to submit a sermon and a detailed Bible Study. I had to write an autobiography. I sweated over those papers. I wrote more than they ever needed to know for my answers to the questions. I took breaks, paced the floor, cried, insisted to Larry that I’d never make it, lost sleep. Still stinging from his own experience, Larry was more than supportive and assuring.
“When you get there, look for a man named Don Bredthauer. He was a D.S. when I was a student pastor, and he was really supportive of me. He helped me get started. At Annual Conference he suggested books I should read to help me. He’s a good guy.”
Right. Larry wasn’t allowed to come with me, so he dropped me off at Kearney First United Methodist Church early one Saturday morning and told me he believed in me.
I walked into the fellowship hall at Kearney First, scanning the crowd, feeling like everyone knew I was a stranger. Everyone else surely knew everyone there. My hands were shaking as I leaned over and wrote my name on a nametag and pulled the sticky backing off. When I straightened up, there was a tall, thin, graying man smiling at me. He stuck out his hand.
“Hi, Peggy, I thought that was you. My name is Don Bredthauer…” You’re kidding. “I just wanted to greet you and tell you how impressed I am with your written materials. I’m on your interview committee this afternoon–” he laughed, “I’m not really supposed to tell you that, but I am really looking forward to it.” He patted me on the arm, looked around as if to see if he was overheard, winked at me and disappeared into the crowd.
Well, ok then. My heart was still pounding and my hands were ice cold. But I thought, thanks for that one, God.
I stood up straight and took deep breaths, pretending I knew what I was doing. Thankfully my friend Eric, from school, was also up for ordination. I made a beeline for him, the only familiar face in the crowd.
The members of the Board were all dressed casually, with the idea of blending in. Throughout the day we were in discussion groups with a few of them, answering questions about ministry situations. The idea was to make everyone feel as if we were all equal. I intentionally kept my distance from Frank when I spotted him and inwardly snarled.
We began the day with worship and ended with worship. The whole day did help to calm nerves, but despite Don’s introduction and compliments, I did start to worry again as the afternoon interviews loomed closer. Would they grill me on Conestoga?? Would they shame me for quitting? Would they ask me to prove my commitment in light of that episode? Would Carol be on my committee? If so, I was sure I was doomed.
While waiting for our turn, all of us candidates paced the halls of the large church. Eric went into the sanctuary and played the piano. Some of us gravitated toward the worship area and soaked up his soothing music. All of us were praying.
Finally it was my turn. A woman named Nancy called for me and escorted me to a Sunday School room.
“Ha!” I said, answering with my shaky laughter.
She smiled. “I wouldn’t worry. Your materials are wonderful.” She winked at me.
As we entered the room and she introduced me, there was Don, grinning like he was having a good time, an Indian pastor named Mannick Samuel, and the pastor who hadn’t defended Larry at his own interview. I didn’t know what to think about that.
Nancy introduced me to the group, adding that I was a student at St. Paul School of Theology (which they knew from my autobiography) and that I’d transferred into Nebraska from Southern New Jersey (which they also knew).
“I see that Larry has already gone through his interviews and passed. Does that make this any less frightening for you?” Nancy asked casually.
I let out an involuntary guffaw. “Hardly! His experience actually makes me MORE nervous!” I laughed again–a little too loud, I was certain.
Nancy’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?” She turned to the pastor who’d been on Larry’s committee. “Bob? Can you tell us something?”
Bob looked a little sheepish, as he wrung his hands in his lap. “Frank was really hard on Larry,” he said, shrugging.
Nancy pressed her lips together tightly. Her displeasure was evident. This eased my anxiety quite a bit. “Well, I’m really sorry to hear that. We’re not going to do that,” she smiled.
I liked this woman.
Nancy had a stack of copies of my papers in her lap, as they all did. She looked through them, browsing, and told me that my answer to all the questions were very strong, well thought-out, nicely written and well-informed. She complimented my sermon, my Bible Study. She made positive comments about my autobiography and asked me one clarifying question on something– I don’t remember what.
“Now, does anybody have any questions?” she referred to the rest of the group.
Don grinned at me. Holding the thick stack of papers in his hands, he shook his head. “I agree with you, Nancy, these are excellent materials. She answered every question so thoroughly there’s nothing to ask! I say we approve her!” He dramatically dropped my papers on the floor in front of him.
I sucked in my breath and stifled a laugh. Really??? I smiled, trying not to laugh and cry at the same time.
Nancy rolled her eyes but did so smiling. “Don, we can’t just let her go after 10 minutes. I agree, there’s not much to ask, but let’s take some time here, ok?” Don nodded, leaned over and picked up the papers again and started to shuffle through them.
Mannick asked me about my father. I was very honest in the autobiography about my difficult relationship with my father. I suspected that this would come up, especially since he was a pastor himself. Mannick asked me pointed questions about our relationship, how that affected my faith and my call, etc. I answered as best I could, and I was starting to calm down. We talked about his culture growing up in India, and how that affected his view of women.
Nancy and Don both raised the questions about Conestoga, asking me to tell them again what happened. Again, I was very honest. I knew they knew Warren the D.S. I didn’t disparage him, but I shared the frustration at not being able to get any support or intervention from him to help the situation. I told them how I tried to address the problem, but the stress of school and my wedding on top of it all made it necessary for me to leave. I spoke of how much I valued my seminary education, so much so that I did make the transfer to St. Paul, and that I didn’t want my student ministry to undermine that at all.
They seemed pleased. By the end of the interview– which was shorter than anyone else’s–they affirmed their compliments of my materials and my handling of the interview and wished me well. They assured me that they would recommend to the Board that I be ordained a Deacon in June. Someone would call me in two days to let me know how the vote went.
Mannick pulled me aside before I left. “Just one word of advice,” he said. “Learn more about your father’s culture.” He smiled and patted me on the arm.
At the end of the day, Larry picked me up, giving me flowers and Garth Brooks’ new CD. He was happy to hear that my experience had been much better than his, and agreed that it was a “God thing” that Don was on my committee.
On June 5, 1992, at the Nebraska Annual Conference, Larry and I were ordained in the same service; him an Elder and full member of the Conference, and me a Deacon and probationary member. It felt particularly significant to be ordained together, another huge gift of our new marriage. My parents flew out to Lincoln for the event. It was their first time in Nebraska.
“The roads are all straight!” my Mom said. “When we were landing, it looked like the whole state is drawn in a grid!”
“The sky is right next to you!” my father commented. “It’s like a dome!”
It was fun to show them around and share my new home with them. The congregation was very supportive and threw us a reception to celebrate our ordinations. They presented us with a quilt, handmade by the quilting ladies, with blocks signed by each member of the Ceresco/Valparaiso parish.
I was home.