Carol Reynolds worked in book publishing for two decades, and every few years during those two decades she had some kind of existential crisis, feeling like she was meant to be in a role that helped people more directly.

“I feel like nothing I do matters,” she recalled telling a friend.

“So what Is matters to you? this friend asked.

Reynolds couldn’t get that question out of her head, and eventually she realized it was her calling in the ministry.

“I made all the same old excuses I’d made in the past when looking at other career paths, but it wouldn’t go away,” she said.

So Reynolds went to seminary, graduated in 2008, and was ordained in 2010. She is now the first female pastor at Hope United Church of Christ in Sturgeon Bay.

“It’s exciting, but it can also be a bit daunting,” she said.

That’s because Reynolds knows that when many people hear the word “pastor,” the image that comes to mind is of a man. Many major religions such as Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism only allow male church leaders, but others have recently expanded the role to women, according to the Pew Research Center.

Because of this, Reynolds is used to surprised looks when introducing herself as a pastor.

“Sometimes it’s a bit of an adjustment for congregations,” she said. “So far, I don’t experience that here.”

Shaun Tauber, co-chair of the pulpit search committee, said gender didn’t matter as committee members searched for a new pastor — and it didn’t matter to the congregation.

“Our church is very inclusive,” Tauber said. “We always say everyone’s welcome, and we thought, ‘Okay, as the chair search committee, we have to be open to a candidate even if they’re not traditional. “”

Although Reynolds was raised in the United Church of Christ (UCC), she left the denomination in college and later became a Unitarian Universalist. It’s been “very healing” for her, she said, helping her realize the value of different beliefs. Still, she felt something was missing, so when a friend introduced her to progressive Christianity, she found herself at UCC, years after she left.

Reynolds’ family was thrilled to have her back in the denomination, but even more excited when she shared her plans to become a pastor. His father had gone to seminary for a few years, but he didn’t end up becoming a pastor.

“It’s kind of like I’m filling that path for him,” she said.

End of August, Reynolds moved from Scottsdale, Arizona, where she had served at another UCC church. Born in New England, she missed the cold weather, distinct seasons and water. So she wanted to move to an area closer to the one she knew and loved.

“In a way, it’s like coming home,” she said.

Reynolds began preaching in Hope in mid-September. The church’s former pastor had left in the spring of 2021 after a mutual agreement that he was unsuitable for the church, so by the time Reynolds was brought in, the congregation was without a permanent or “established” pastor. , for 15 years. month. The church had instead relied on retired acting pastors and guest speakers from the community to lead services.

With the help of these lay leaders, Tauber said the search committee was able to take its time, which helped ensure that the next pastor would be the best possible candidate.

“The pastor who preceded Carol was not a good fit for our church, even though a similar screening process was used,” Tauber said. “So we felt very responsible to make sure that it was not only suitable for the committee, but for the whole community of the church.

UCC’s process of hiring new pastors is extensive, involving a 40-page church profile posted on UCC’s website, which Tauber described as a “help-seeking announcement.” Pastors looking to relocate can find openings on this website, contact the church, and go through the thorough interview process.

After going through this process with 12 applicants, Hope Church landed on Reynolds.

During her first sermon, she wanted to make sure her congregation understood that under any dress, she is imperfect, like everyone else. So instead of a typical sermon, Reynolds delivered a short biography, formatted as a troubleshooting guide.
“People put us on pedestals initially, and then they can get really disappointed when they find out we’re human,” she said. “So right off the bat, I was like, ‘I’m human’.”

When Reynolds isn’t preaching, she can visit congregants in the hospital or counsel them when they need someone to talk to. Her job also has a large administrative component, so she attends community meetings and helps the church run behind the scenes.

Once she becomes more established in the church, she will do more work within the larger community.

“I have to imagine there are more people who would like what we have here,” she said.

Reynolds realizes that Hope is already heavily involved in missionary work, but she hopes to inspire the faithful to tackle more social justice issues in the future.

“It’s always a balance of nurturing and comforting people,” she said.

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