One of the signs of health in any congregation is the number of persons who have answered a call to ordained ministry as a result of participating in that church’s life. During our celebration of the 175th anniversary, it would have been an interesting but impossible task to research all the persons who would claim First Church, Austin, as the spiritual home in which this call was heard and followed. Once upon a time, I was one of those persons.
I resisted that call, trying to get my head around how women could be priests/pastors. However, Kathleen Jones and Bob Tate shoved me out the door to attend Perkins School of Theology, SMU, an act for which I remain very grateful to them. I left here in 1973, returning for my internship at Wesley UMC in 1975, the same year I was ordained a deacon in the Southwest Texas Conference. In 1980, I was ordained an elder.
My first appointment in 1976 was as Director of Community Life at Perkins. In 1982, when it was time for me to step out to serve in local church ministry, I made it as hard as possible on myself. I applied for an appointment in a British Methodist circuit in England and was assigned six churches for pastoral responsibility in a circuit of twenty-five in the Forest of Dean. This year-long adventure was a life-changing experience.
I returned to Southwest Texas and served as an associate pastor at St. Andrew’s UMC in San Antonio, as solo pastor at Gaddis Memorial UMC in Comfort, as senior pastor at St. John’s UMC in San Antonio, and for ten years as co-pastor with John at Oak Hill UMC. In January, 2005, I moved to Corpus Christi to serve as the district superintendent, and John followed later to serve Grace UMC. In 2010, we came to First Church to serve as co-pastors.
Forty years have passed since my ordination as deacon and my internship at Wesley UMC. Like most folks my age, I would say that, on the one hand, those forty years have passed with the blink of an eye, and on the other hand, it seems like an exhausting and exhilarating road trip. I am proud of my length of service as a clergywoman because so many women who entered when I did dropped out either because of the prejudice and distrust we endured, the unique pressures of ministry, or family concerns. I thank God for the friends and family members who have sustained me all along the way.
On my first Sunday at Wesley UMC, I stood in front of that congregation of African-American men and women and listened to them sing by heart a hymn I had never heard in my lifetime. It was rousing and emotional and heartfelt, and I was embarrassed that I could not join in. James Weldon Johnson wrote the words to “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and, though I still think of it as more powerful in the hearts and soul of a particular life experience in the Christian faith, I will borrow these words from the third stanza for myself: “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far on the way; thou who hast by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray.”
What’s in store for me after I retire on July 1? I have no idea, and I am keeping it that way! I assume that the God who gave me life in this world, who called me into ministry, who has brought me thus far along the way, will keep me on the path leading to places where we will meet again and again.
— Reverend Barbara Ruth