Woman Pastor Preaches in Simple Terms

MARCIA SANGEL finds she can dispense with many of the ``$20 words'' she learned at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill. Simple sermons and actions often speak most clearly to the parishioners of her two churches in this rural farming community. ``If I came out here with a lot of eschatological talk, the people would go, `Eh?''' she says. ``But if I talk about preparing for tomorrow, they know what I mean.''

She estimates that between 60 to 80 percent of the churchgoers in her joint Presbyterian-United Methodist parish lead lives directly related to the land. During the drought two years ago she spent a lot of time ministering to the farmers right on their thirsty soil.

``I could stand in the field with them and watch the corn burn up and know what they felt,'' she says. On the other hand, she assured them that ``God is present with us even in the drought.''

Sangel left a career in nursing to become an ordained pastor. This background has come into play in her holistic approach to a caring ministry. She is a volunteer on the local ambulance crew, on call via an electronic pager.

Though a United Methodist, Sangel has worked diligently to be even-handed in serving the Presbyterians in her ``yoked'' parish. A measure of her success came in 1988, when the First Presbyterian Church in Hopkinton was named the denomination's Church of the Year for northeast Iowa.

Because the theologies are similar, she manages to find a middle ground in her sermons. Her house, appropriately enough, practically sits between the two edifices, where services are held on a rotating system that allows each church to host Christmas and Easter services every two years. It also creates some parity in heating bills, since the churches maintain separate governing structures and finances.

The two congregations assume equal responsibility for paying Sangel what she calls a ``livable wage.''

The arrangement works well, she says, allowing the churches to get beyond just ``surviving'' to actually ``doing ministry, and doing it better. And I think you'd rather be sitting in a church with 150 people than one with 75.''

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