Eighth generation says ‘yes' to ordained ministry
|The Rev. Carol Hill (second from right) gathers with (from left) the Rev. Mary Elise Daugherty Thomas, the Rev. Katherine Thomas Paisley, Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and the Rev. Don Thomas just prior to her ordination as an elder. Paisley is Hill's mother and the Thomases are her maternal grandparents
|ANNE MARIE GERHARDT/Northern Illinois
By Anne Marie Gerhardt
Choosing a career path, the Rev. Carol Hill intended to go into international politics and work in Washington, D.C. She was unaware that watching her United Methodist mother and grandmother serve as clergywomen was influencing and shaping her – until a Washington church called her to be a youth director.
"I loved it," Hill said. "It was like coming home." Abandoning politics, Hill enrolled first at Wesley Theological Seminary and graduated from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 2009.
Ordained an elder during the 2011 Northern Illinois Annual Conference, Hill is the eighth-generation Methodist pastor on her maternal grandmother's side of the family and the fifth-generation one on her grandfather's side.
Her mother, the Rev. Katherine Thomas Paisley, a member of the Tennessee Conference, is pastor at First United Methodist Church in Freeport, Ill.
Growing up, Hill saw her mother face sexism and painful experiences in the churches she served in the late 1980s.
"I was the first female pastor everywhere I served in Tennessee," Paisley said. "Most of the churches were in rural areas, and the resistance to a woman pastor was pretty high."
"She had a rough time," Hill said. "It's a different generation for me. People in my congregation don't hesitate or question the fact that I am a woman pastor."
Paisley wrestled with her daughter's pursuit of ordained ministry. "I didn't want her to go through what I went through," she said. "But I knew my reluctance was wrong. I just stood back and watched."
The Rev. Mary Elise Daugherty Thomas, Hill's grandmother, played church as a child. As a young adult, discovering few options for women in ordained ministry, she became a missionary and a teacher. After her husband, the Rev. Don Thomas, was ordained elder in 1959, she tagged along to continuing-education programs and later helped teach Disciple classes.
At age 59, Thomas became a licensed local pastor. Appointed to a congregation in Carpentersville, Ill., she opened the church to a Hispanic congregation, started a support group for abused women and assisted people struggling to pay their bills.
Thomas also didn't let challenges and stereotypes she faced as a female pastor stop her. "If I think it's right, I just keep on going," she said.
Hill, now associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Park Ridge, Ill., and youth director for the Chicago Northwestern District, said Thomas continues to inspire her to stand for what she believes. "I'm a lot more social justice-minded than anyone else in my family," she said.
As Hill began to explore her call, Paisley and her grandparents encouraged her to be true to herself, "They told me I'm moving into my own call. It's not a family call" She does wonder if her great-grandfathers would approve of her response.
Like her great-grandmother, 5-year-old Katie Hill plays church and pretends to serve Communion. "She invited people over, turned off the lights and had me light candles before giving everyone a piece of cookie," her mother said.
To her daughter who might be preparing to carry on the legacy, Hill likely will repeat her parents' words: "This is your life, and you can serve God in many different ways."
Anne Marie Gerhardt is director of communications for the Northern Illinois Conference.
Generations of Methodist service
On her grandmother's side, the Rev. Carol Hill's pastoral roots go back more than 150 years to her great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather. Many of the pastors served in Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
On her grandfather's side, her roots go back to her great-great-great-grandfather, the Rev. George Thomas. He was ordained in 1928 after serving for 25 years as a supply pastor in New Hampshire and New Jersey.