Profiles Pastoral Care with a Feminine Touch

It took Rev. Jacqueline Ponder, pastor of Lucas United Methodist Church in Lucas, a long time to reach the pulpit. Especially when you consider that she was 41 years old, had been married for 23 years, had two grown children and one grandchild before she was called. But just try and change her now.

When you get His call, she says, you answer it. And nothing else matters.

Jackie Ponder’s inner struggle reads like a biblical search for faith. It led her to abandon organized religion for 10 years and into a personal search through theology and psychology books in the library. It led her at age 28 to an English degree from Lamar University where she “got no answers, only more questions.

“I was angry. I was asking questions no one could answer comfortably. I was wrestling with truth itself . . . why a God of love would allow such pain in the world.”

Even when she entered Perkins School of Theology at SMU, Jackie still hadn’t dreamed of being a preacher. It was just another step in her search.

Her third year she was a chaplain intern at Presbyterian Hospital to get counseling experience. “I did well. I grew, but it wasn’t where I could function best,” she admits. So she took a second internship. “While at Preston Hollow [Methodist Church] I knew God was calling me toward a regular ministry. I wanted to be a part of a worshiping community. I had no desire to be a preacher … I didn’t have visions and I didn’t hear voices I could hear. But it was a voice inasmuch as it was in my head. When God speaks to you you know it. It was my point of decision.”

Generally, church officials appoint a minister to a congregation and the congregation accepts him without question. But in the case of Lucas, a congregational committee was allowed to interview Jackie and think over the prospect of a skirt-wearing preacher.

Hers is definitely a ministry of love, not hellfire and brimstone. It’s a practical application of Christianity and a love relationship between minister and congregation.

“Love is the most powerful force in the world,” she says. “And I dearly love those people. There’s just something about those rural folks. They’re genuine and real. They can spot a phony. And they’ve been so supportive and so helpful. They’d do anything for you – like one man who offered a cemetery plot for a member who died. And I can’t tell you how it feels when I find their love gifts – baskets of peaches, tomatoes, jars of preserves.”

One problem that never materialized for the Ponders was the feeling of being treated differently because she’s a preacher. As her husband Bill (presi-dent of the Texas Association of Opto- metrists) puts it, all anyone has to do is talk to Jackie a minute. Her warmth and friendliness make it incidental that she wears a black robe.

But there were, are and will be problems in the making and survival of Rev. Jackie.

The time she announced her intention to attend Perkins is a good example. She wasn’t subtle, she sprang it on Bill in the car. “He literally got sick,” she now laughs. “Nothing could have been more revolting or shocking.” When the shock wore off, though, friends and relatives were her most ardent supporters.

Jackie says she had a lot of pre-minis-try habits that don’t exactly make her fit the stereotype of the Methodist minister. She smoked and still can’t break the habit. She still plays cards and continues to be as feminine as before, goes to beauty shops, and wears eye shadow and nail polish. She served champagne at her daughter’s wedding and has been playfully admonished by parishioners for her use of certain unlikely words. But Jackie is not apologetic about any of it. She wants people to remember she’s only human too.

Jackie and Bill turned down the church parsonage in Lucas, just south of McKinney, and continue to live in Richardson, presenting problems for them and the congregation. They admit that at this point they wouldn’t know how to handle it if Jackie were sent to a new church, requiring them to move. “It would be a tough decision unless they could move my economic situation too,” says Bill.

Meanwhile Jackie and Bill continue to enjoy the church ice cream socials, the softball games, and the services and join right in with the congregation to help members of the church or community when emergencies arise.

The congregation must be getting accustomed to the idea by now. Worship attendance hasn’t dropped. It’s averaging what her male predecessor scored.

And one man said that with her black robe on he forgot it was a woman in the pulpit.

Jackie’s tale on one farmer is the best example of her acceptance, however. “He said he wouldn’t go to church to hear a woman preach, and he told his wife if she made him go he’d turn off his hearing aid,” she laughs. “I was at his house one day before he was out of bed . . . beating a farmer up in the morning is something out there. We talked but he still wouldn’t come. Then one day our car broke down and he was there. He met Bill and found out Bill was a farm boy. They talked. The next week he showed up at church. Afterwards he said he only turned down his hearing aid.”

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