Honoring Women’s History Month: The First Woman Ordained in Franconia Conference
It’s not easy to imagine a career if you have never seen anyone like you in that role. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Marty Kolb-Wyckoff, the first woman to be ordained in Franconia Conference, never imagined it either.
For Kolb-Wyckoff, who grew up in Spring City, PA, pastoral ministry never entered her mind until she spent four years in Richmond, VA as the director of the discipleship program through Mennonite Board of Mission’s Voluntary Service (VS) program in the late 1970s/early 1980s. “In that context of my own growth and helping others to grow, I began to sense a call to ministry,” recalls Kolb-Wyckoff. “I didn’t know quite what to do with it. It didn’t fit into my own self-understanding.”
To test her interest, Kolb-Wyckoff took some classes at Union Theological Seminary in Richmond, VA. She thoroughly enjoyed her classes, eventually accumulating a year’s worth of credits towards a seminary degree. Eventually, she finished her degree at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, IN, where she remembers her years as “wonderful and very affirming.” During her final semester at AMBS in May 1985, she was called to candidate at Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, VA.
After a positive weekend of candidating (meeting congregational attendees, preaching, and exploring whether there was a shared sense of call), Kolb-Wyckoff returned to Indiana, optimistic that her first pastoral role would soon be solidified. A few days later, however, she received the unexpected news that the congregation did not have enough votes to affirm her call to Park View. Disappointed and very surprised, Kolb-Wyckoff soon accepted a 2-year role as campus pastor at Hesston (KS) College. After her first year, she knew that campus ministry was not for her, and she resigned, returning to Elkhart, IN for a year of Clinical Pastoral Education.
In May 1987, Kolb-Wyckoff was invited to candidate for a pastoral role at Blooming Glen (PA) Mennonite Church. Again, despite a positive weekend of interviews and candidating, the congregational vote was just shy of the number Blooming Glen had determined necessary for Kolb-Wyckoff to join the staff.
In a matter of two years, Kolb-Wyckoff had been voted down by two different congregations. (Kolb-Wyckoff would have been the first female pastor at either of those churches.) Despite the discouragement, she continued to pursue her call to pastoral ministry.
“I had a pretty clear sense of call. If I wasn’t going to do this, what would I do?” Kolb-Wyckoff reflected. “It’s sort of a mystery to me why I didn’t quit. I think it was the grace of God and supportive people from seminary.” She added, “I wasn’t the only woman who had those experiences. Sadly, they were more common than one would wish.”
In November of 1987, Kolb-Wyckoff was called to and began as pastor of Taftsville (VT) Chapel Mennonite Fellowship. That same fall, Franconia Conference’s Assembly was devoted to the issue of credentialing women. The Assembly vote passed, allowing the ordination of women in Franconia Conference.
In February 1990, Kolb-Wyckoff became the first woman to be ordained by Franconia Conference. (Sharon Williams, currently of Neuva Vida Norristown New Life, transferred her ordination credentials prior to Marty’s ordination.)
Kolb-Wykoff remembers her ordination as a positive experience but knows that there were probably some people in Franconia Conference who didn’t approve. “I didn’t need to know what was being talked about down here [in southeastern PA],” acknowledged Kolb-Wyckoff. “I realized in most churches in the Conference, it couldn’t happen. There were some benefits to being on the fringes in Vermont,” she said with a smile.
Thirty-five years after Franconia Conference approved the ordination of women, girls (and boys) in Mosaic Conference now have many more role models as they discern their own calls to ministry: 25 women are currently ordained in the conference and another nine are licensed. As these women respond to their call, Kolb-Wyckoff and other retired female pastors cheer them on, a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12).
To read some early women’s history in Eastern District Conference, please see last year’s article on Rev. Dr. Ann Jemima Allebach.