She Finds Her True Calling With Church Of The Brethren

September 12, 1990|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,Staff writer

WESTMINSTER - Like any young woman heading off to her first year of college, Christy Jo Waltersdorff was uncertain what career she wanted to pursue.

"I went through a phase where I wanted to be a veterinarian, then a forest ranger, then a 4-H extension agent," she said. "Ten years ago I'd never have chosen this direction, but things fell into place and here I am."

"Here" is the Westminster Church of the Brethren, where Waltersdorff, 31, was installed Sunday as Minister for Christian Nurture.

Ronald Petry, executive of the Mid-Atlantic District of the Church of the Brethren, conducted the installation service and gave the sermon for the day.

On Sept. 30, Waltersdorff will finalize her career decision when she is ordained a minister of the church in her home congregation of Codorus Church of the Brethren in Loganville, Pa.

Although not yet ordained, she has been at Westminster for the past three weeks and already has preached at the joint Labor Day service with St. Paul's United Church of Christ across the street.

"That's a good way to initiate you -- put you in the park and let you preach in front of 200 people," she said with a chuckle.

But the weather was beautiful and the people were warm and friendly, and Waltersdorff now is looking forward to more occasional preaching and even someday having her own church.

For now, however, she will concentrate largely on her position as Minister for Christian Nurture, in which capacity she will develop and direct such programs as Christian education, youth, young adults and intergenerational activities.

"It's a new position for this church," she noted. "And since it's a new position, we're all kind of feeling our way through. It's been wonderful because everybody is being so flexible, letting me decide which areas I'm best in and what I haven't had experience in."

The Westminster church has about 360 members, with a large group of preschool to fifth grade children, Waltersdorff said. One thing she'd like to develop is a long-range program for this group to go through as it grows up.

"I want to strengthen the youth program here," she said. "I really enjoy junior and senior high youth and teens have so much to offer to the church, which doesn't call on them like it could."

Her plans include youth Bible study groups and service, as well as fun projects for the teens.

Another area she'd like to stress is getting young adults more actively involved in church programs.

Waltersdorff also will have other duties as an ordained minister. She expects to preach about every six to eight weeks, lead workshops, and do counseling and visitations.

"A lot more churches are beginning to realize they need more than just one staff person," she noted. "I'll work in nurturing, where our strongest need is now, but I'm also finding my way through the whole program of the church."

Waltersdorff chose Westminster over several other churches at which she was interviewed last spring as she prepared to graduate from Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey.

Born and raised on a small farm in York County, Pa., she was one of five girls in a close-knit family and "the least likely choice to go to seminary."

She started out at Penn State University, but interrupted her studies in 1981 when she was named youth coordinator for the 1982 National Youth Conference, held every four years by the Church of the Brethren in Colorado.

She then returned to Penn State and received her bachelor of science degree in community development in spring 1983.

Turning her back on her earlier career choices, Waltersdorff took a position as full-time youth director at the First Church of the Brethren in York, Pa., which she kept for four years.

In 1985, the church licensed her in a unique program to encourage her ministerial work.

With the support of her church and family, Waltersdorff decided to go into the ministry, and in 1987 began her three-year program at Princeton Theological Seminary.

During her senior year, Waltersdorff served as chaplain at a center for battered women, where she saw a way of life that she knew existed, but had never actually seen.

"You think you know how the world works until you get into it," she said. "It's incredible, scary, how many people think that's a natural way to live. I knew there was domestic violence, but I'd never been exposed to it before."

While there, she co-wrote a junior high program, "Peace in the Home," for use in the church for those with domestic problems. She hopes to try the program out at Westminster.

"People don't want to admit it, but there is domestic violence in the church," Waltersdorff said.

Her decision to be an ordained minister came in 1988 when she served as a summer interim pastor at the First Church of the Brethren in Carlisle, Pa.

"Up to that point I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but that experience changed my mind and I realized this is where it's at," she said.

Still not sure of her ability in the pulpit, she goes by what others tell her and says she has gotten good feedback on her sermons.

Although she will be an ordained minister on Sept. 30, church members needn't call her "reverend."

"I'm not big on structure or titles," Waltersdorff said. "I like 'Christy.'"

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.