Young, female and leading a church
Jennifer Lee Preyss
March 18, 2011 at midnight
Updated March 17, 2011 at 10:18 p.m.
Donning a white traditional pulpit robe and violet sash, the Rev. Amy Danchik raised both arms in the air and invited her congregation to pray. Gazing downward, hands folded, the congregation followed her lead.
"Merciful God, accompany our journey through these days. Renew us in the gift of baptism that we may provide for those who are poor. Pray for those in need, fast from self-indulgence, and above all that we may find our treasure in the life of your son Jesus Christ, our savior and Lord. Amen," Danchik softly prayed.
Each week, Danchik, known locally as Victoria's youngest female lead pastor, ministers a congregation of about 200 at Christ the Victor Lutheran Church. And despite her age and gender, the 28-year-old Danchik has, in a short amount of time, earned the admiration and trust of a congregation that has never before been led by a young, novice, woman.
"That's the thing I really respect about this congregation. They never had a woman pastor, or a first-call pastor. So, they took a huge leap of faith inviting me here," Danchik said, reflecting on the members' decision to assign her to their church in December 2008.
When asked, however, members of the congregation said they wouldn't want anyone else to minister to them.
"We were not against her coming here; we were in need of a pastor," said Karen Peterson, 69, a member for about 14 years. "I don't know how she writes such meaningful sermons. We hope she'll stay for as long as she needs."
Another member Eleanor Anderson, who was one of the church's charter members in the 1960s, said "I didn't have a problem with it; I was open to a female. I see her youth as an asset."
But not everyone was as welcoming to Danchik when she first arrived, she said. When out in the community wearing her ministerial black and white collar, Danchik said strangers would approach her with negative comments about women in the clergy.
"People would come up to me here and tell me it was wrong to be a pastor. I got that more than a couple of times," Danchik said.
And while officiating funeral services, she was often questioned about her age.
"Someone came up to me at a visitation and asked 'Are you 12?'" she said, laughing. "I'm never sure how to respond to those comments."
That may be one of the reasons why Christ the Victor secretary and church member Linda Kramer ensures that Danchik is properly introduced.
"I call her Pastor Danchik. I try to remind others to do the same. Because of her youth people sometimes don't see her as an authority, but I try to remind others to treat her as they would any male pastor who's 80 years old," Kramer said. "She's great. I'm glad to work with someone so spiritual and sweet."
Danchik wasn't always convinced ministry would define her future. A lifelong Lutheran and native of New Hampshire, Danchik said she was hit with a "spiritual two-by-four" by classmates and professors in grad school.
"Everyone seemed to see gifts for ministry that I didn't see," said Danchik, who entered grad school to be a youth minister. "I wanted to work with kids."
After a semester of pursuing the youth ministry masters, Danchik was encouraged to get a master's of divinity, forever changing the direction of her life and vocation.
"It was so empowering for me to realize I had gifts for ministry," she said. "I took a deep breath and told myself to go on, and thought I could do it."
But it wasn't an easy transition, Danchik said. She was unsure how she felt at that time about women serving in pastoral roles and suffered a fear of public speaking.
"After I got into it, I just assumed I'd figure the public speaking out later. And now preaching never feels like public speaking. It always feels like I'm in someone's living room talking to friends," she said.
While in grad school, Danchik researched biblical women in ministerial roles mentioned by the apostle Paul in Romans 16. Soon after, she said her understanding of the vocation shifted, and she felt prepared to embrace her divine call.
Since assigned to Christ the Victor, Danchik has encountered many unexpected hurdles at her church, including having to guide and counsel her church through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's decision to adopt three resolutions pertaining to homosexuality, allowing congregations "to recognize, support and hold publicly accountable lifelong, monogamous, same-gender relationships."
"It was terrifying to go through. I was very aware that I was looking out at people in the congregation who had lived so much longer than me," Danchik said. "They never questioned me; they had wider questions with the ELCA."
In the end, Danchik said the church got through the controversy and came out a stronger body on the other side.
"I feel like we're just now getting going," Danchik said. "It's odd, but Victoria really feels like home now. I hope they'll let me stay."