Female minister ready to take reins of Greensburg church
Growing up, Shirley Musick had two voices to contend with.
One was calling her to Christian ministry. The other — her parents’ — was suggesting perhaps a more practical path.
For a long time, the latter voice won out.
She got married, raised a family and worked several jobs, including 13 years in the Excela Health billing office.
Then, in 2013, she had a conversation with her pastor that dramatically changed
Her pastor, the Rev. Cindy Parker, noticed a certain look in Musick’s eyes every time she preached at Christ United Church of Christ, Latrobe. Parker asked her the reason for the look.
“I said, ‘Because my parents tell me that females don’t belong in the pulpit,’ ” Musick recalled. “She said, ‘But I bet they also told you that when God calls you, you need to answer,’ and I said, ‘They have.’ ”
“ ‘Well, if God’s calling you, you need to answer,’ ” Parker told her.
That year, Musick, 59, enrolled in the Penn West Academy , a special school of the United Church of Christ’s Penn West Conference that prepares lay people for ordained ministry. The Greensburg school provides an alternate path to ordination that bypasses the normal route of seminary and a master of divinity degree.
Seminary was not an option for Musick for family reasons, so the Academy made it possible for her to pursue her dream of ordained ministry later in life.
“She’s so excited to be realizing that path that God called her to,” said Parker, 49, now pastor at The Church of the Red Rocks (UCC) in Sedona, Ariz. “She felt this strong desire to be ordained, and we prayed about it and prayed about it.”
Musick finished the Academy in four years, attending classes four times a year at First Reformed UCC in downtown Greensburg. Once a year, she also attended Living Waters Camp in Schellsburg, Bedford County, for special courses. Among her instructors was Parker, who taught classes on worship and preaching.
During her last year at the Academy, Musick accepted a position as student pastor at Trinity UCC in downtown Greensburg. Until her ordination, she received on-the-job training from the Rev. Edwin Fromm, a retired UCC minister from Greensburg.
“I just learned by doing and by being guided. For me, that worked very well,” Musick said.
Prior to her ordination, Musick had to be interviewed by a special committee and receive a formal call from a church. The timing was right for Trinity UCC, which drew up a call agreement and held a congregational vote on hiring Musick as pastor.
Musick was ordained Sept. 16 at Christ Church, her home church in Latrobe. Parker came back from Arizona to participate in the ordination service.
She is scheduled to be installed as Trinity UCC pastor Nov. 4.
Musick points to the 2001 hiring of Parker as Christ Church’s first female pastor as a turning point in her own spiritual journey.
“That really shocked me because that church was more conservative,” she said. “So when they hired this female pastor, it gave me an opportunity to look at things a little differently. I could hear my parents’ voices in the background.”
Musick is the fourth person in the UCC’s Penn West Conference to bypass seminary and follow an alternate path to ordination through the Academy, said the Rev. David Ackerman, conference minister.
Although the Penn West Conference has had a lay academy for decades, the UCC General Synod in 2005 expressed the full denomination’s support for multiple paths to ordained ministry, he said.
“We’re living in very different times,” Ackerman said. “The committees on ministry have a much greater role in the assessment (of pastoral candidates) than they used to. … People may have different life experiences, different educational experiences, that don’t necessarily fall into that (older) pattern.”
The Cleveland-based UCC was formed out of the 1957 merger of the Congregational Christian Churches and the Evangelical and Reformed Church, although many Congregational churches did not participate in the union.
UCC has been losing members and churches for decades. From 2006 to 2016, the denomination had a net loss of 518 congregations and 316,091 members, according to the UCC’s 2018 statistical profile .
The number of ministers, however, has stayed relatively stable. Women make up about half of all UCC ordained ministers, not all of whom are pastors of local churches. Four in 10 senior/solo pastors of UCC churches last year were women, compared to 30 percent in 2005, according to the report.
Despite what her parents said when she was growing up, Musick serves in a denomination that, along with other mainline Protestant bodies, has mainstreamed the idea of women in pastoral ministry — and was responsible for the first female ordination in the United States in 1853.
Ackerman called Musick a “gifted and qualified” pastor who will do an “excellent” job at Trinity Church, while Parker said she brings “joy, compassion and enthusiasm” to the job.
Musick described Trinity Church as an older congregation that is open to trying new things to attract new, younger members. The church currently is home to three Alcoholics Anonymous groups, a PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) group, a drug court alumni group, a ladies’ knitting circle and a club for metal detector enthusiasts.
“Right now our eyes are set on trying to find ways to make those younger people feel welcome when they come here and they see the older congregation,” Musick said.
“I try to be open to hear the voice of anyone who is speaking because I believe that God has created each one of us as uniquely special and different for a reason. If we can’t see that in one another, we can’t see Christ walking amongst us,” she said.
Stephen Huba is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Stephen at 724-850-1280, [email protected] or via Twitter @shuba_trib.