The third in a series, “For such a time as this.” Pastor Leslee Fritz talks about the joys of ministry as a second career.
JOHN E. HARNISH
Michigan Conference Communications
We don’t really know much about Lydia. Her story is told in two brief verses in Acts 16. We do know she was a businesswoman, a seller of purple cloth, who became Paul’s first convert in Europe and opened a house church in her home in Thyatira. Though she is officially named as a saint already, I’d like to name her as the “Patron Saint of the Second Career” because she represents clergy who come to ordained ministry as a second career rather than as young adults straight out of college and seminary. Lydia also represents the ranks of clergywomen who have served across the centuries and who today comprise a large part of our active United Methodist pastors. The Rev. Leslee Fritz would understand.
Like many second-career pastors, Leslee first felt God’s call when she was in high school. She says, “I knew I was called to serve, but I did not know where that service would occur.” After high school, she attended United Methodist-related Albion College thinking she would either go to seminary or to law school. As a participant in the Gerald Ford Institute for Public Service, Leslee was introduced to opportunities in the public arena and discovered a “..meaningful way to combine my interest in public policy with my call to service.”
Looking back, she has no regrets about the 20 years she spent in that field, believing that public service can be a noble calling that truly impacts the world, touching the lives of those who were hurting, lost or broken. However, she says she was left with “a certain hollowness” which she tried to fill through volunteer work including lay ministry and teaching in her local congregation, Okemos Community Church.
Eventually, that hollowness grew to the point she could no longer ignore it. Her first intention was to serve as a part-time local pastor while still maintaining her career in public service, but she quickly realized God was calling her to ordained ministry. Leslee went to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, graduated in June and was commissioned as a Provisional Elder at the Michigan Annual Conference this summer. She is now serving as the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Albion.
Rev. Fritz makes this move from a career in public service to ordained ministry at a time when the United Methodist Church is in turmoil and the future is uncertain. When asked about her hopes for the church she says, “My hope comes from God, not from human institutions, so as easy as it is to get caught up in the current tensions in our denomination and to let those tensions dominate my thoughts and sap my energy, I know that this church is not the only way God works in the world. If we as flawed humans cannot find a way to use this denominational structure to aide in building God’s kingdom, then God will find a way around our failings.” She takes the long-view. “As important as this issue (the church’s stance on LGBTQ inclusivity) is, if we cannot find consensus it will not stop God from doing God’s work in the world. All I know is I have been called to this ministry and my hope is that every day God will use whatever gifts I have to serve others so that they might see a glimpse of God.”
We don’t know what became of Lydia and her house church and at this point, there is no way to know how God will use Leslee and the other second career pastors who, like her, bring their experience and gifts to ordained ministry. All we know is Lydia was willing to follow God’s calling, willing to be used in the work of Christ in the world, willing to serve God’s people. In the spirit of St. Lydia, the Patron Saint of the Second Career, Leslee Fritz and others like her are willing to do the same.
Thanks be to God for the “Second Career.”