ELYRIA – Karen Farthing became the pastor of Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Elyria in January, but it`s not a position she ever thought she would hold.
“When I graduated from high school, I would have been the one voted least likely to step into a church,” she said.Â “And now here I am – a pastor.Â And it`s my passion.Â It`s what I love doing.”
Farthing`s pilgrimage to the pulpit involved years of skepticism and challenges.
“I missed being able to grow up in a community of faith,” Farthing said, and even though she attended a church while in college she admits she “was very skeptical about the faith.”
Farthing graduated from Northwestern University with a master`s degree in applied math and environmental engineering, and she worked for several years as an engineer.
Her life – and her career – Â changed when her husband died from leukemia at the age of 27.
“He was just one of these really alive people,” Farthing said. “We were kind of theology buddies.Â We`d argue about God and read stuff from the Christian tradition, the Jewish tradition and the Buddhist tradition, and traditions that don`t even have names. We loved doing that together. After he died, I really missed that.”
Farthing, 39, began a quest for faith. She said she experienced an encounter with God.
“It was like Jesus said to me, â€˜Karen, you can be Buddhist. Or you can be Jewish. But I`d like for you to be Christian and follow me.`”
Farthing made her choice and began attending Dover Congregational Church in Westlake.
“I had this sense that there was something special for me to do, but I didn`t know what it was,” Farthing said.
When the church decided to hire an intern pastor, Farthing wondered if this was what she was called to do.
Despite having no experience, Farthing volunteered to fill the position.
And surprisingly, the church accepted.
Scott Patterson was Farthing`s mentor during the nine months she was on the Dover church staff.
He said there were areas of ministry that she naturally gravitated toward, and that it was evident from her comments and actions that she was called to serve in ministry.
Patterson described Farthing as insightful and perceptive with an ability to see into things very well.Â He also mentioned that her life experiences have made her a very caring and compassionate person.
From the internship, Farthing went on to attend Eaton Theological Seminary in St Louis.Â While attending the seminary, she had the opportunity to work for Michael Kinneman, who is the general secretary of the National Council of Churches.
She assisted Kinneman with the research and writing of a yet unpublished book for the World Council of Churches.Â Through Kinneman`s influence, Farthing also became active in promoting worldwide Christian unity with the National Council of Churches.
“He just got me into all of these things that I would never have imagined,” Farthing said. “And since I hadn`t grown up with a single tradition, I believe that with all of these denominations, you have to work within a structure, but Christ has called us all to be one.Â We`re really all one church.”
With Farthing`s global perspective, she was a natural fit for her first position after completing her seminary studies – interim associate pastor for English language ministries at the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church of Greater St Louis.
From there, she was hired by Global Ministries in Cleveland as the program director for East Asia and Pacific.Â In this position, she served as a liaison between missions programs and churches.
Because of budget cuts, Farthing was laid off from Global Ministries, and the United Church of Christ Association suggested that she submit her portfolio to Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Elyria.
“I talked with them the first week of January and started the third week of January,” Farthing stated. “It`s just a wonderful fit.”
She describes the congregation, which consists of about 40 members, as “friendly, loving, and forgiving.” And she said that anyone could walk in the door and feel welcome.
In addition to pastoring the church, Farthing has resumed her work with Global Ministries as a freelance writer and editor. She and her daughter, Meghan, 11, reside in Bay Village.
“I always knew something was missing in my life, and I came to realize that it was faith and a faith community,” Farthing said, noting that what she has learned on her journey to faith has become a cornerstone of her ministry. “God is going to reach out to us – no matter who we are, no matter where we are – in whatever way he can.”
Contact Dale Sheffield at 329-7155 or firstname.lastname@example.org.