Fisher reflects on pastoral career as retirement nears

5/15/2017

As a young woman, the Rev. Evelyn Fisher was uncertain of her career path.

She had undergraduate degrees in journalism and political science, but her first job working in corporate public relations and public affairs for a Fortune 500 company in Kansas City led her to purveying what she called “propaganda.”

Her father had been a city manager for two towns in Texas, and she had begun taking classes to get her masters of public administration. She thought of enrolling in law school but realized, “I didn’t want to practice law.”

The Rev. Evelyn Fisher reminisces about her many years in ministry during a recent interview in her office in Wichita. Photo by David Burke

Her decision became clearer when she attended a job fair at Johnson County Community College in Kansas and attended a presentation on women in ministry by the Rev. Pat Ault-Duell and the Rev. Sharon Howell, both United Methodist pastors at the time.

“It was the first time in my life I had known that women could be in pastoral ministry,” recalled Fisher, raised a Southern Baptist. “It just clicked for me.”

The summer before she started at St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City, she was hired as associate pastor and youth director at a nearby Disciples of Christ church. Her second Sunday at the church was the beginning of the senior pastor’s five-week vacation and put the fledgling Fisher in the pulpit.

“I was in charge. I was terrified,” she remembers. “But for the first time, I had walked into the pulpit I thought, ‘I’m coming home.’ That’s the only way to describe it. This is what I need to do.”

And that’s just what she has done.

Fisher retires from a 40-year ministerial career at the end of June, fairly evenly splitting her tenure between pastoring local churches and administration. After working for six years as the former Kansas East Conference’s consultant for pastoral and congregational concerns, she served as Topeka District superintendent, Kansas director of clergy and congregational excellence and, for the past four years, as director of congregational excellence for the Great Plains Conference.

“I can’t believe it’s really here,” Fisher said of retirement, as her Wichita office slowly begins to empty. “In some ways it’s seemed like forever, and in other ways it feels like I’m just getting started.”

Pastoring at local churches – which she did at Bucyrus, Pomona-Richter, Burlington, Manhattan and Lenexa, all in Kansas – was her greatest joy, she said.

“I loved preaching. There’s nothing like being pastor to your own congregation. There’s nothing like those relationships,” Fisher said. “You share the good things and the bad things and the celebrations and the struggles. And you’re preaching to the same folks on Sunday morning. It’s unique, it really is.”

Fisher was appointed to the unique position in the former Kansas East Conference, which she said combined being a her training as a conflict consultant and marriage and family therapist with coaching those new in ministry, including working through transitions with churches in crisis after misconduct by clergy or laity.

“I used to laughingly describe the position as ‘things the D.S. didn’t want to do,’” she recalled. “I’m one of those weird people who thinks that kind of work is challenging and even fun at times.”

That led to her 2006 appointment in the Topeka District.

“I may have been the only D.S. for whom becoming a D.S. was less stressful than what I’d been doing before,” she added with a laugh.

Fisher said being on the front row of the unification that led to the Great Plains Conference was her greatest accomplishment.

“In general in these five years, I’ve worked with some amazing lay people. The pastors are amazing, too, but I had already worked with them rather than lay people,” Fisher said. “They’re just incredibly gifted with all kinds of ability and creativity and resources. The challenge has been trying to develop a way to engage those in the ministry of the church and the mission of the conference. We’ve made some steps in the right direction, I think.”

The Rev. Nathan Stanton, who will succeed Fisher on July 1 as director of congregational excellence, said he appreciates her wisdom and experience.

“It’s really been invaluable to me,” said Stanton, currently coordinator of new church development for the Great Plains. “She’s a really strong leader, and works at communicating well and keeping everyone apprised. I’ve appreciated her strong leadership in that way.”

Stanton said Fisher also has “been very encouraging and very trusting to allow for some experimentation, and not to get too wound up over failure – or perceived failure.

“That benefitted me as far as learning how to take things to a different level,” he added.

Fisher will remain in Wichita upon her retirement and will serve as a consultant and coach for churches “on a very limited basis.” She'll spend more time with her 11 grandchildren -- six of whom live in Wichita, and one for whom she is legal guardian. Fisher has three daughters that she has adopted through the foster care system, where she served as a foster parent for 10 years.

Being a single mother since 1986, Fisher said, “brought its own set of challenges.”

“I’ve been very fortunate in the local churches I’ve served were incredibly supportive and accommodating,” she said. “Colleagues, fellow staff members and even bishops have said to make my own life a priority.”

Fisher continues to be involved in First UMC in Wichita, frequently serving as liturgist
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“I just want to have the opportunity to be involved in my local church,” she said, then laughed. “It’s great to be involved in a local church where I don’t have to be in charge of anything.”
 
Contact David Burke, communications coordinator, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org.


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