THEDFORD - - Some call her Rev. Martin, some call her Pastor Linda, most call her Linda, and that is how Linda Martin, Pastor of the First Congregational United Church of Christ (UCC) in Halsey, Thedford, and Seneca prefers to be called.
“Titles are pretentious, I am Linda.”
March 17, St. Patrick’s Day, saw the triple parish communities come together for one last joint service conducted by Linda (Pastor Martin). Approximately 75 past and present parishioners were on hand for her sermon and the potluck dinner that followed, compliments of the Women’s Fellowship of the three churches.
A reception in her honor saw 100 plus come and wish her well from as far away as Scottsbluff, Morrill, Broken Bow, as well as Mullen, and her three church communities.
After 28 years, Linda will conduct her last services on Easter, (and over the last 28 years, sometimes they’ve been in parkas and toe warmers.)
This Sunday she and her ‘flock’ will congregate for sunrise service at the three crosses on the hill by Hillcrest Cemetery at Thedford. The service is followed by breakfast at the Thedford church then the usual time of service in all three communities.
“I eat and run or take it with me to make Halsey in time.” When asked the timing of her retirement, “It would be hard to expect a brand new minister to prepare for one of the busiest times in the church so that will be the last services I conduct here.”
Linda did not start out to be a minister. Her dream after graduating from Hyannis High School was to be a physical therapist, but the Lord closed that window to open another.
She went to Chadron State College where she earned a degree in elementary education. Her first teaching job was at Ogallala. She also taught country schools by Crawford and Chadron, and then the Lord called her to attend Iliff School of Theology in Denver.
She returned home, taught school again to earn enough money to go back to Iliff and receive her Masters of Theology. She then went back to Crawford, teaching another three years, the last as a substitute teacher and full time pastor. She then was called to serve the Thomas County UCC churches in Halsey, Thedford, and Seneca, commonly referred to as the Triple Parish.
She began her duties Oct. 1, 1984, just days ahead of the first woman walking in space and a month before President Ronald Reagan won a second term in office by a landslide of 49 states to Mondale’s one.
When asked for highlights of her tenure, “The Triple Parish Newsletter was the first. The churches did not do joint service then, so those in Halsey did not know what was happening in Seneca, or vice versa. I felt a newsletter of some sort to connect the three congregations was needed.”
The first edition, done with electric typewriter and old copier debuted in July 1985. She turned the newsletter duties over just recently to Tammy Purdum.
Her next highlight was the Paraments on the altars. Gene Horst of Halsey, an accomplished carpenter, built the Thedford pulpit out of solid oak for $100 before Linda came.
“It is beautiful, but was devoid of color, as was the altar and other pulpit.”
Linda went to the Women’s Fellowship and asked for help, as she knew it was “the Women’s groups in the churches that got things done.” Kay Wilson had the plan. Gail Drinkwalter, a wizard with cloth, was asked to create the Paraments, as they were called in the Thedford Church Centennial book. Church member and artist, Pat Johnston drew the designs with help from fellow artists Martha Peters and Florence Goehring, all women active in the church’s Women Fellow-ship. Gail made four sets, 12 in all for Thedford, and one each for Seneca and Halsey. They were a multi-year labor of love. (To learn more about them, read the history in the cookbook or the UCC centennial book.) They are unique and very special to our church, so much so that the ladies explained them one year at the state UCC Conference. They have been emulated, but never duplicated.
Other highlights Linda mentioned was the church renovation and kitchen remodeling done at Seneca. and the new Fellowship Hall in Thedford (Dec., 1997 completed, Ida Paxton’s funeral the next month proved it was a timely addition indeed).
“One of the regrets was that Halsey did not get renovated. The architect hired to redesign the church, used up all the funds.”
She spoke with pride when she mentioned the Steven’s Ministry Program the church approved to participate in with the first group of triple parish members becoming certified in 1990.
“It is an expensive program to participate in. I am only one person, they are extensions of the church, assisting others in time of need, and mentoring if need be.”
The E.L.M. program began several years ago and goes above the Steven’s ministry in educating lay members to serve congregations in need of ministers.
It is now utilized not only in the UCC, and the Disciples of Christ churches where it began, but also the Presbyterian and Baptist congregations. Brewster and Purdum are just two communities benefitting from E.L.M. ministers
Linda’s typical Sunday included rising early and driving 17 miles east to Halsey for service at 9 a.m., then back to Thedford for service at 10:30, finishing at Seneca, 15 miles west of Thedford at 11 a.m. mountain time .
“I liked ending at Seneca, because Nina and Larry Hardy have their Sunday buffet at The Cattlelmen’s so if pot luck was not at one of the churches, I would eat there with friends before coming home. Doing the math, that is 64 miles. She is on her third vehicle, which has more than 200,000 miles. It was only in recent years that attempts at one Sunday a month joint service in one of the churches was held.
If you put in two weeks’ vacation every year, an estimate of more than 4,000 sermons were prepared and given by Linda in her 28 years in Thomas County.
The miles on her vehicle were added to weekly by visits to the rest homes in Mullen, North Platte, and Broken Bow. She would also travel to Valentine if need be but has not for several months.
“My body is tired and traveling all over has worn me out, it is time to retire.” She plans to move to Ogallala and help her brother.
She rarely missed communion services, which in all three churches amounted to more than 4,360 times of breaking the bread and serving the wine.
She conducted 285 funerals, many of them through the years she considered good friends.
Her favorite verse, 1 John 4:7, KJ – “Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God”. That is the legacy she hopes to leave ‘her flock’ with – that all will continue to love one another, be forgiving when someone annoys us and help when there is a need. For you Linda, we will try. Go with God, – enjoy your retirement!