Family is a central theme in Rev. Swartz's work as a minister

Some people call her ``Reverend.'' Frances and Heather call her ``Mom.''

A fellow minister refers to her as ``my wife.''

Frances P. Swartz's combination of those three roles has made family a central theme of the preaching and counseling at the United Methodist Church in Orleans, Mass., on Cape Cod.

``Family comes first - at least ideally,'' says the Rev. Mrs. Swartz.

Her decision to enter the ministry was motivated by a desire to make ``family life more balanced,'' she says. Swartz, her husband, Jim (also a Methodist minister), and their two daughters were ``in the midst of a family turmoil'' when she ``got the call.'' They hoped her decision to preach would enable Jim and her to ``share the ministry and the child-care.''

But this decision didn't come without some challenges.

``I have had to overcome the obstacle of being a woman in the ministry,'' she says, ``and at times that has been difficult - but not often. What has been more of an obstacle to overcome has been my speech impediment.''

After training to overcome her stuttering, Swartz's careful, deliberate way of speaking now tends to emphasize what she is saying, rather than detract from it.

In facing opposition from parishioners, Swartz has found that the obstacles facing a woman minister take different forms.

``Prejudice against women in the ministry is subtle,'' she says. ``People feel it, but they are not apt to admit it.''

One form of discrimination mentioned by Swartz and other clergywomen is unequal salaries. ``People feel that a man needs the money to provide for a family, but for a woman, the salary is supplementary,'' she observes.''

The Methodist Church sets a minimum salary level. Any amount above the minimum is appropriated from individual churches. Swartz has been preaching for over five years at Orleans, but, when last interviewed, she was still receiving the minimum salary.

Other trials have been more direct.

``When I first came to Orleans,'' she says, ``two members withdrew their membership. They didn't tell me that their withdrawal was because I was a woman. In fact, they denied it, but I think that was the reason.''

In another instance, Swartz was to marry a couple whose parents belonged to her church.

``The groom,'' she says, ``couldn't handle being married by a woman, so they asked my husband to perform the service. That was overt, and the groom said it openly.''

The emphasis Swartz places on family is as much a part of her preaching as her personal life. Like many other Methodist services, Sunday mornings at Orleans United Methodist Church include a few moments with the nursery-to-4th-grade children in the congregation. After disappearing behind the pulpit, Swartz re-emerges with ``Bebe'' a fuzzy pink muppet - beach hat on its head, arms around Swartz. She uses Bebe to communicate a message about obeying parents and saying ``no'' to mischievous impulses.

Swartz gives examples from her experiences as a wife and mother to illustrate her sermons and to counsel members of her congregation. She says family experiences enable her to ``ask good questions.'' One parishioner says, ``She's very open about her experience. She never holds anything back.''

Another style Swartz uses to bring her sermons closer to the lives of her parishioners is to act out Bible stories. ``In one sermon,'' she says, ``I acted out the woman who touched the hem of Jesus' garment. I took the stole from my shoulders and put it over my head. I stepped out onto the main floor. I `was' that woman, bent and weak, trying to push through the crowd and touch him.

``I did this without words. It was something that the Holy Spirit led me through, because I didn't know how it would turn out exactly.... It just happened. That's the kind of non-verbal thing that embodies the Word.''

Her dramatic presentation of Bible stories, as well as her concern for family issues and other contemporary social concerns, were the deciding factors that made Swartz the 1987 winner of the prestigious Ziegler award for outstanding preaching from the Northeastern Methodist Conference.

One woman parishioner remarks that since Swartz came, many younger families with children have returned to the congregation.

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