50 Years of Ordaining Women in the Lutheran Church

By Susan Shinn Turner

As the year 2020 draws to a close, so does the ELCA’s 50th anniversary of women in ordained ministry. We want to recognize all the women who have served as pastors at St. John’s.

The Rev. Dr. Marty Stevens

The Rev. Dr. Marty Stevens was the first woman to serve as a pastor of the congregation.

As she said then of being a trailblazer, “It was interesting. Some people were not in favor of it, and other people were fine. It takes awhile to change. I get that. Once they got to know me and saw the ministry I had, it was fine.” Pastor Stevens returned to St. John’s last February as a featured preacher.

Pastor Mary Peters became an associate pastor in 1998, the same year that Rob Durocher joined the staff. It was not long after the death of her husband, David.

“Bill Safrit, call committee chair, encouraged me in a way for which I am ever grateful,” Mary says. “He said, ‘Please consider this call; we will help you,’.”

Pastor Mary Peters

“Love came again and marriage to Donald Miller took me away to Virginia in May of 2000. We were married at St. John’s on one exceedingly hot day in May. After a short time in Virginia, Bishop Bolick phoned and I was called to serve on the his staff from 2001 to 2003.

“After a move to Atlanta, Pastor Robert Sims (of the Sims family at St. John’s) phoned and I was subsequently called to serve at Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Atlanta in 2005 as their Pastor for Member Care. I served as dean of my conference of the Southeastern Synod during that time. I retired from Redeemer in November of 2019. My husband and I moved to Spartanburg, SC, for retirement, but Bishop Smith phoned and Donald and I are now interim pastors at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Kings Mountain.

“All the significant people in my ministry career have been connected with St. John’s, and I credit this congregation for loving me back to health. I find myself wanting to say thank you to lots of people, like Pastor Carl Sachtleben. I have a debt of gratitude to folks at St John’s.”

After serving as a pastor at St. John’s from 2000 to 2009, Pastor Jennifer Ginn now serves Cross and Crown Lutheran Church in Matthews.

Pastor Ginn was instrumental in helping to form the contemporary service and enjoyed a unique ministry in story-telling. She helped train a team of story-tellers who presented the gospel stories in worship.

Pastor Jan Huntley

Pastor Jan Huntley was to preach at St. John’s in November, but that opportunity has been delayed because of the virus. After serving at St. John’s from 2010 to 2013, Pastor Jan now lives in Durham with her husband, the Rev. Dr. Harvey Huntley.

“It was one of the most joyful times in ministry I have ever experienced,” Pastor Jan says.

Pastor Danielle DeNise now serves as the synod’s Director for Evangelical Mission, based at the N.C. Synod Headquarters. She and Pastor Laura Henrik recorded a podcast together earlier this year about the joys and challenges of being a female pastor.

Pastor DeNise began work at St. John’s as a youth director, until discernment led her to complete work towards ordained ministry. She was ordained at St. John’s in 2015, leaving 9 months later to accept the synod’s call. Along the way she married Michael. They are the parents of Moses and Olive.

In January of 2018, Pastor Laura Henrik and her family moved from the upper Midwest to Salisbury to begin a new call at St. John’s as the Pastor for Discipleship. Pastor Henrik grew up in Knoxville and attended seminary in Columbia, but her first two calls were in Minnesota and North Dakota.

“I tossed out the snow shovel whenever we moved.”

Currently she manages the congregation’s youth program and oversees staff in children’s and adult discipleship ministry. She and her husband, Davin, are the parents of Eliana and Everett.

Pastor Beth Kearney was a longtime member of St. John’s while serving as an assistant to the bishop. She retired in 2017 after 36 years in ordained ministry.

“I was sort of at the beginning of the second wave of women,” Beth says. “I was the third ordained woman in North Carolina, and then Doug and I were the first clergy couple in North Carolina.”

Early in her ministry, Beth and Doug were in a restaurant with high booths. The men in the booth next to her were talking about their congregation. One was complaining that his pastor never visited, and another complained that his pastor always asked for money. The third man, whose voice they recognized, then said, “Y’all think y’all got problems? My pastor is pregnant!”

Pastor Adrienne Martin

Two daughters of the congregation are serving in ordained ministry. Pastor Adrienne Martin is pastor of Sardis, Hickory, while Julie Tonnesen will begin a call as associate pastor of Macedonia, Burlington, on Jan. 1. Adrienne’s mom, Debbie Martin Purpur, is a certified lay preacher through the N.C. Synod.

“In honor of their ministries at St. John’s and the Lutheran church, each of these pastors was invited to preach during 2020,” says Pastor Rhodes. “Unfortunately, Covid-19 changed most of those plans. Nevertheless we give thanks for their ministry, their deep sense of call, and their continued commitment to the work of the church. No doubt we are better people and congregations because of their presence. Thank you!”


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