SV graced with first female Methodist pastor
Tuesday, September 10, 2013 3:09 AM
Mary MacNicholl - a woman of distinction - Spring Valley's Methodist Church was graced with her ministry as the first woman pastor admitted to the Minnesota Methodist Conference. It was a long struggle for this determined woman, but she achieved her goal. Mary told that as early as kindergarten, she had decided to become a Methodist minister because she had four uncles who were members of the New York East Conference of the Methodist Church. She followed a strict regimen - no drinking, no dancing, no card-playing - all rules of her loving, supportive family.
From the files at the historical society, this photo was taken when Rev. Mary MacNicholl was accepted as the first woman pastor in the Methodist Conference in Minnesota.
As a young woman, she attended Temple University. Knowing her father could not afford to send her to Drew Theological Seminary, she added teacher college credits to her full schedule for a liberal arts degree. She graduated in 1938 but could not find a teaching job, so she volunteered in 1939 at a deaconess home in New Jersey, teaching sewing to young girls. Finally, in 1940, she was sent to a Navaho Methodist Mission School in New Mexico. It was 1942 when she was commissioned as a Home Missionary by the Women's Division of Christian Service and sent to Florida. Here she entered the black community, where she felt very comfortable and needed. The staff was biracial and she formed many lifelong friendships. She taught history and civics, and when no Latin teacher could be found, she taught that, as well.
Her dream of ministry began to come true when she requested and was granted a sabbatical to attend Drew Theological Seminary, eventually obtaining a full scholarship. From 1947, she worked with mentor Rev. Roger Squire, who allowed her to experience all phases of ministry except for weddings and funerals, but including youth work, preaching, home and hospital visits. In 1949, the Women's Division would again employ her. At conference in 1950, she was ordained a deacon and as an elder in 1952. She wrote to five district superintendents and had job offers from all of them. She accepted a three-point charge in southern Minnesota - Wykoff, Fountain and Fillmore. Her mother sold the family home and decided to accompany her as a housekeeper/manager for the next 22 years. Mary stated she regarded her ability to convince her mother to share her busy life as her greatest triumph. Mary had many happy memories of her years at this three-point parish. Fillmore was a small group but with very loyal members; Fountain was always conservative in spending money but did well; and Wykoff was open to new ideas and programs offered by the conference or their lady pastor. She became deeply involved in counseling former patients of the Rochester State Hospital since there was no regular social service available at the time for patients on their discharge following treatment.
In 1955, she was appointed to Spring Valley, with her great misgivings. She did not want a one-point charge; she was 40 years old. and there were other reasons. This was a church of 340 members and she would be following 18 years of ministry by the very popular Harry Evans and two years of Alquin Toews - very big shoes to fill. To her amazement, she liked it a lot. She began community service, too - helping to organize the first Community Chest, and serving on the hospital fundraising committee. In 1956, she was amazed and gratified when the Minnesota Conference voted to elect her to membership. She was the first Methodist woman pastor in Minnesota and the twelfth in the nation.
She was surprised one day to receive a phone call from the Congregational Church minister saying his board had agreed to merge with the Methodists; there would be room for only one minister, and she would have to go. Mary promptly contacted all the "powers that be" and there were long talks, joint committee meetings, and preaching from each other's pulpits. However, eventually the congregations voted to "stay the same." In later years, the Congregational group did merge with the E.U.B. (Evangelical United Brethren), and still later, with the Methodists, and the three became Faith United Methodist Church. At that point, the merged group built a new church on Maple Lane and the former Methodist Church was deeded to the historical society, named to the National Register, and became the fine museum it is today¸
Visitors are invited to view artifacts from many Spring Valley churches - chancel furnishings from the Congregational Church, an extensive collection from the Methodist Church, an altar from First English Lutheran's first chapel, the altar and pulpit from Dr. Martin Luther (Midway) Lutheran Church, the altar painting by Herbjorn Gausta from Trinity Lutheran Church, pulpit and communion pieces from Etna Union Church, and many, many other things of interest. Museums will be open weekends, l0 to 4, through October.
Mary MacNicholl left here in 1961, going to the Central Conference. She was appointed to the Board of Minnesota Council of Churches in 1964, which was 30 percent female, but she was the only one practicing her profession, and the only single woman. We do not know "the end of the story" but we do know that Spring Valley was blessed by this gracious woman, the first female Methodist minister in the State of Minnesota.