From housewife to reverend

Published 10:37 am Friday, April 13, 2012

Pastor Shari Mason has taken over pastoral duties at First Congregational Church in Austin. -- Eric Johnson/

Shari Mason was a stay-at-home mother of two when the inkling first set in that she should become a pastor.

“It took me 10 years to get used to the idea,” she said.

The choice to get ordained in 2002 was a good fit from the start, she said. Ten years later, Mason is the new pastor of First Congregational Church in Austin. Her first day at the church was March 25.

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The calling to become pastor followed Mason through time and distance. She had lived in Washington and California, and in both places she encountered pastors who encouraged her to get ordained. But while the people around her were supportive, Mason said, it was God’s urging that convinced her to follow the path she did.

“For 10 years, God kept saying, ‘Shari, you should be a pastor,’” she said. “I don’t even know how to describe it.”

Going to seminary at the age of 40 was like a second career path, she said. Mason was ordained in 2002.

Mason said she left her part-time role at First United Methodist in Austin, which she held prior to joining First Congregational, because she wanted something closer to full time. Before coming back to Austin, she was a pastor at Little Cedar and Marshall Lutheran churches in Adams.

Mason was originally chosen by First Congregational as a fill-in pastor, said Stan Stutzman, moderator at the church. After the previous pastor left in January, the congregation knew it couldn’t find a permanent pastor immediately.

“Those things take a little bit of time,” said Stutzman, who was involved in selecting Mason for the role of pastor. An average of seven years pass between new pastors, he said.

The church did, however, need someone to lead the service and handle other matters requiring immediate attention. Mason was one of those who helped out.

“We wanted her to visit a number of people and provide communion to them if they wish,” he said.

Mason served as a hospice chaplain for a while, tending to people who had diagnoses of six months left to live.

“I would provide spiritual support on that journey,” she said.

Stutzman said Mason mentioned she was looking for a church. He found her personality to be heartwarming and down-to-earth. She was energetic and followed through with what they asked her to do, he said.

Ultimately, a committee appointed her to fill the position. Mason became the acting pastor, meaning that she would serve as pastor for one year, then the church would have the option of making her position permanent or searching for a new pastor.

First Congregational Church is a United Church of Christ, which Mason said fit well with her personal beliefs.

“Their understanding of God is a good match for my understanding of God,” she said.

Her experience at First Congregational has been great so far, and the position has not been a big adjustment, she said. The church is a very welcoming environment to Mason.

“When I walk to the front door there’s a sign that says, ‘God is still talking,’” she said. “That sign speaks to my heart.”

Mason found a number of ways to get involved outside the church, too. She teaches a community yoga class on Mondays, and volunteers at the jail teaching a separate yoga class for inmates. She also meets with a teenager once a week as part of the Mower County mentoring program.

“It’s helping a young person know that there’s someone there to listen to them,” she said. Mentors spend time with their teenagers in an informal setting. Some go out to eat, go bowling or just talk, she said.

Mason said she’s also going to school right now to become a spiritual director. She attends Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, Wis. four weekends a year. It’s a three-year program that will allow her to focus on her next goal.

“I’d like to offer spiritual practice at the church,” she said. “Centering prayer, healing services and group spiritual direction.”

For now, Mason has the opportunity to get to know the people of her knew congregation and continue her path as a pastor.

“It’s what I’m supposed to do,” she said.