Her teaching took an unexpected turnFor 10 years Janet Ellinger was absorbed and motivated by the teaching profession. She taught physical education and health, and coached athletics, at a middle school and high school in the Kalamazoo area of her native Michigan.
By: Phil Pfuehler, River Falls Journal
For 10 years Janet Ellinger was absorbed and motivated by the teaching profession.
She taught physical education and health, and coached athletics, at a middle school and high school in the Kalamazoo area of her native Michigan.
But by year eleven something changed. Ellinger has no explanation.
“That’s when I had to begin making myself go to work,” she said. “It felt like anybody could do what I was doing. I wanted something more.”
So Ellinger quit and did odd jobs for a year.
While helping prepare for a Christmas Eve service at the church where her brother ministered, Ellinger was asked by two women if she was entering the seminary.
The women acted like the idea was a certainty, but attending seminary -- despite having brother and father ministers -- wasn’t part of Ellinger’s soul searching.
“It never entered my mind,” she said. “But then, after they brought up, it was if my insides kind of shifted.”
Soon after a few friends asked Ellinger the same question about the seminary, saying they could visualize her in that role.
“It was when I tried to stop figuring it out that the whole thing kind of fell into my lap,” Ellinger said.
In fall 1981 she was enrolled at Garrett-Theology Evangelical Seminary in Evanston, Ill.
Now, 31 years later -- including eleven as head pastor at River Falls United Methodist Church -- Ellinger is ready to retire. Her final church sermon is Sunday, June 24.
She’s never regretted the career detour to the ministry.
“Your surety gets tested, but I’m in the right place,” she said. “Have I had doubts? Yes, but never to the point where I thought about chucking it.”
Ellinger said the most rewarding part of being a pastor is “watching people blossom.”
“It’s seeing those who are at least fairly regular in worship come alive in their spiritual life and have that spirituality mature and deepen,” she said.
Despite the heartache involved, Ellinger finds it satisfying “to partner with those who manage to make their way from deep grief and tragedy and find joy in life once again.”
Ellinger said the hardest part of pastoring are “situations where people don’t play nice, where they intentionally misinform and spread rumors that are harmful or negative.”
She said it’s the deliberate nature of such provocation that she finds most challenging.
Ellinger said all you can do is keep having a dialog to address and eventually “clear up such behaviors and conflict.”
In retirement, Ellinger said the biggest adjustment will likely be “the absence of daily encounters in this community of faith.”
“It’s been a privilege and a gift being here,” she said. “I’ve been welcomed into many people’s lives for celebrations and tragedies, and to help people who are in need live through the Gospel.
“This has really been fun. The people here have been wonderful, just wonderful. They are so full of joy and compassion. I will miss being their pastor.”
For more on this story, please see the June 13 print edition of the River Falls Journal.