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Clergywomen in Lake Wobegon

June 1, 2010 | 19 Comments

To the Host:
I've noticed over the last several months that you have introduced two Lutheran clergywomen to your "News From Lake Wobegon" stories. I've also noticed that they are portrayed considerably less positively than Pastor Inqvist (or the two Roman Catholic priests) have been. One is a glutton and a gossip and the other is just nuts.

Since I live in Mississippi, I don't actually have much opportunity to interact with Lutheran clergywomen, but as the husband of a United Methodist clergywoman, I can say that of all the United Methodist clergywomen in Mississippi, none of them, to my knowledge, is anything like the two you have portrayed in your stories.

Jon A.
Florence, MS


I don't recall having a lot of good things to say about Pastor Ingqvist — it always was much more about his wife Judy, and the pastor was a mild, passive, fairly boring man. Same with Father Emil and Father Wilmer: stuffed shirts, both of them, remembered mainly for small idiosyncrasies. The women are much more interesting. Pastor Liz simply believes that the Holy Spirit has called her to serve the Lutherans of Lake Wobegon. If that's what you call nuts, Jon, then the New Testament was written by and for crazy people. As for gluttony and gossip, they are common in Midwestern small towns, among men and women alike, and if you don't have such problems in the United Methodist church of Mississippi, then you're just better than we are. No surprise there.


M is for Mississippi and Magnolia and Magnificent. Don't it make my Mississippi Brown Eyes Blue: I had no idea she was a nut! I just thought she was one of many nuts to love from the south-'earned' hospitality which comes from actually connecting with folks regardless of your stations.

Imagine a Lake Wobegon where no one has flaws, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities, or...what's the other word I'm looking for...Character? "It's been a quiet week in Lake Wobegon. Everybody got along and nothing much happened. Everyone acted perfectly normal and there was no conflict or development. Well, that's the news from Lake Wobegon....." Better start making the Ketchup commercials a little longer, Mr Keillor.

It seems to me that the only thing nuts about the pastors is that the folks of Lake Woebegone think them nuts. That is not a diagnosis of the pastors but of the cultiral mores of the place--indeed, of any place.

This is fiction. Laugh and have fun with it. Where else can you get such a night of entertainment each and every week.

Please Garrison, DON'T change anything. Having been married (note the past tense) to a pastor, they come in all shapes and sizes, temperaments and morals. And, if the Mississippi Methodist preachers are any different, then they must not have come to any of the Conferences that I went to. I love your stories.

If anyone does religion "shopping," or even looks beyond their own church, they will find a variety of pastor-types. Perhaps the concept of pastor/priest as a good shepherd and painfully dull is shifting. Once it was instant failure for a religious leader to be "appreciated" as laughable. You went to church to be bottled up, or something like that, not to watch for the nuances of shifting culture imported via changing pastorships. Just a thought.
I mainly want to point out that Cadlin's "cultiral" is in my opinion a typo, looking at my keyboard here, not a true misspelling. Tsk-tsk - :>)

I must say, while I attended Methodist Theological School in Ohio ('77-'80) the place was full of female "nuts"-----gals who felt that God was wanting them to be "pastors" after they had gone through a divorce or their husband had died and they had no qualifications for any type of work. Regretfully, so many seminaries any more, as long as you've got the money to attend (regardless of gender), and can get someone to right a flowery letter of recommendation, you can attend until you graduate----even if it takes you 10 years to get the proper grades.

I graduated from Duke Div. School and took my first churches (4) in 1977. So I'm am one of those "pioneer" clergy women. After 30 years and 17 churches (I served more than one four-point charge) I imagine I'm a tad crazy too--in a different way than the Lutheran ladies. I still find that clergy women have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good, however.

Gayla - thanks from the bottom of my heart for being one of those "pioneer" women! You made things a lot easier for those of us who were ordained a little later in the 20th century. I echo your "twice as hard/half as good" comment; but also acknowledge some truth in Wes's letter. I met a few of those in seminary, too; but they didn't get past our Board of Ordained Ministry. We UMs are pretty strict that way, as I'm sure the Lutherans are as well.

But I love the clergywomen on PHC; I find them no more or less quirky than the rest of the town!

Pastors are human. Humans are nuts. QED, from the son of a (pastoral) nut

My clergywoman writes poems and is turning us all into vegetarians. Of course, she is a Unitarian/Universalist, which Some People seem to think is a good qualifier for nuttiness. I guess being at the head of a flock of nuts might wear a person out. We have let her go on sabbatical for a brief respite into sanity, but she promised to come back. Anyway, sane or nutty, we love her.

As a non-believer (therefore a happy non-churchgoer), I'm pretty darn open to the idea that men and women of the cloth have to be nuts in order to function. I mean, can anybody tell me exactly what the Holy Ghost is? (Please, no explanatory responses backed up by Bible quotes--I've heard it all). So the amiable loopiness of the Inqvists & the clergy of Our Lady of Perpetual Responsibility seems spot on to me. Keep it up, Garrison. (You can take that remark any way you like. :-)

As of this June, the college in this college town is letting go all their clergy. A dean says the college plans to encourage students to develop their spiritual sides by doing community service. Also, they encourage student-led worship. It seems there is too much diversity, too many faiths to serve. Chaplains have been available to all students regardless of religious presence, but spiritual counseling and spiritual community are being sacrificed in a budget-cutting measure. "We hope the area religious congregations that are being asked to welcome students do so with enthusiasm," says the local editorial. Where will the forum for discussion of social justice and ethics now reside? The community asks.
Way back in the 1960s, I as a religion major came to the same conclusion, not for budget cutting, but with the feeling that spirituality and the churches were not in sync, not the church community/ies on campus or those elsewhere.
Women have seemed, since 1970, to be the agents of coming changes though. Women in the clergy in real life and some in Lake Wobegon.

Batbeespiderdragonfiresnake! - That was my young son's fabrication of the very worst animal his young mind could imagine. So, I have kept the lovely creature in my own mind, low these twenty-some years (My son is an old college grad now).
God help us all - to laugh, and to love each other.
N. Harrold
Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany

I have, in my 58 years on this planet, been a Presbyterian, a Unitarian Universalist, an Episcopalian and a Methodist, as well as attending a Catholic church with my son. all at various times and in various locations in the area where I reside. As a small child and young teen, I was sent to a Fundamentalist Christian church by my parents. My point? I have been exposed to males and females of many faiths and traditions serving in pulpits and on altars, and they to me. My conclusion is that they and I all have quirks, human peculiarities
and foibles and I learned from all of them, and perhaps they even learned from me, whatever their gender. So, Garrison, I like the pastors of Lake Wobegon just as they are.

Like Jon A. I am also married to a United Methodist Clergy woman. To be married to a pastor can be a delightful experience of observing quirks and foibles of service in the ministry. My wife grew up as a the daughter of a Mississippi Methodist pastor. In the tradition of that culture she was schooled in the submissive role of females to the male dominated environment. In maturity she came into her own personhood, was called to the ministry and has successfully served churches in New York State for over 20 years after a career as a college admissions professional. I am proud to say that she has been much beloved by her congregations and has won over many male detractors who thought women should not be in the ministry. If I had only one thing to point to that maintained her sanity in this business and along with it mine, it would be having a sense of humor. Her ability to laugh at herself and to laugh at the absurdity of church society has kept it all together.
Garrison your stories of the pastoral relations with the congregations are right on the mark. Thanks for the laughs!

After years of being devoted Lutherans, we endured two ministers, both good and earnest men, who read their sermons to the consternation of us all. We decided to branch out and found a popular and large non-denominational church with sweet music and a handsome minister who was a great speaker. (We did have to overlooked his comments about people with a different life style.) Then one day, he shocked us all by disappearing from the city, the pulpit and his radio show. It was rumored that he ran away with a lady from the church. We had another thought. The new and improved Lutheran Church looked good to us once more. It's in our bones, I guess.

Hi, Ann,
It has taken us (the ELCA) a long time to move forward on the question of glbt people, but it has been 35 years already since we said yes to female pastors. It takes people within the ranks to make the changes. Welcome back!
Keep on looking for and working for social justice as a mandate of the Hebrew Bible and the Gospels. God willing, it will continue to get better.

I think the original commentor was gently teasing.

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