Women called to ministry as second career

The stories are similar for two Broken Bow women - they were well past 50 when they felt a calling on their lives to change directions and pursue a new career. Both listened. Mary Jane Gockley moved with her husband to Broken Bow in 1978. Her husband had accepted a position as priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church. A registered nurse by trade, Gockley went to work at Jennie Melham Medical Center, where she remained until her retirement in 1991. She also stayed very busy as a clergy wife and a mom to four daughters. The Pennsylvania native attended college and earned her nursing degree in Harrisburg, Penn. When Gockley felt a ministry calling in her life in 2006, she was 69 years old. She responded and engaged in a program called Shared Ministry. This program is specifically designed for smaller congregations who cannot support a full time resident priest. The first step in her process was to meet with the congregation to discuss her intentions. The congregation felt she was “fit material” and gave their blessing for her to pursue the program. She then went through various courses with the Diocese of Nebraska, which eventually led to her ordination. She was ordained a deacon in May 2010, and priest in December 2010, at the age of 73. “The way this program is set up, I will not have to move from here,” Gockley explains. “I will just stay with this local parish.” She has grown very fond of life in Broken Bow and has made many friends in the community. So the fact that she does not have to move or be called to serve somewhere else greatly appealed to her. “I had always been very involved as a lay person in the parish. There have been many times the parish has not had a priest and the lay persons have kept it going,” says Gockley. She says everyone in the church pitches in and works together to accomplish what needs done. “I feel like I’m still growing into this role,” Gockley says with a smile. “But through everything, it has always been the support of the people.” She says her favorite part of being priest is celebrating Eucharist (communion). Gockley will get a special treat this summer, when she will be performing the marriage ceremony for her granddaughter in June. Kathy Salts grew up in Cambridge and graduated from high school there. But she spent most of her summers during her youth with her grandparents in Custer County. In fact, she was here so much during the summers that she was a member of a local 4-H club and regular attendee of summer camps. After high school, Salts came to Broken Bow and lived for about a year before she decided to move to Lincoln and go to beauty school. It was while in Lincoln she met and married her husband, Jim. The couple lived a short time in Houston, Texas, after they were married - not one of her favorite experiences. The couple returned to Nebraska, and shortly after Jim was drafted. When her son, Tracy, was born Salts decided to move from Broken Bow back to Cambridge to be near her parents. When Jim was discharged from the Army, the family moved to Beatrice. Salts says church was not a part of their lives then, though she did grow up in the church. In 1974, they moved back to Broken Bow and started regularly attending a local church. “Pastor Gordon Miller was the pastor at Our Saviour Lutheran Church then, and he was the only pastor in town who called on us when we moved here,” Salts recalls. “So we just started going there and never left.” She says her nudge toward ministry actually started coming from others around her. “I think you have people around you who must sense when you have a call on your life. I was always involved in lots of areas of the church, and I just had people encourage me as I went along,” Salts explains. She says she also received a lot of encouragement from several area pastors, who started inviting her to workshops and such. But Salts remained a little hesitant. She thought she was too old to pursue a ministry. Then she met a woman who was 67 and newly ordained, and decided maybe her encouragers were right after all. Her journey toward ministry began 10 years ago, and started with a family meeting. “My son said, ‘Mom you’ve been preaching at us for years. It’s about time you preach to someone else.’” With the unending support of her husband and children, Salts decided to take the next step. She had to meet with the church council, and they decided they would support her and write a letter of recommendation for acceptance into the parish ministry program. Salts also had to write a letter outlining her personal faith journey, and had to go through an interview process with a steering committee. That committee then sent a recommendation to the Bishop, who in turn gave Salts his blessing to start taking classes. She spent the next four years taking classes, which entailed some traveling. Prior to pursuing a career in ministry, Salts had worked for Mid Nebraska Individual Services for 19 years. She was nearly 55 years old when she changed careers. While she was taking classes she assisted with worship services, taught confirmation classes and Sunday School, and helped with Vacation Bible School. She also became actively involved with the Broken Bow Ministerial Association at that time. “That association has been a very good thing for me,” says Salts. In June 2006, Salts was certified as a Parish Ministry Associate (PMA). She continued to serve as assistant worship leader at Our Saviour and filled in in other area churches. In August 2011, Salts was assigned to Our Saviour. Like Gockley, she will not have to move. And like Gockley, Eucharist is one of her favorite times. She says she also really enjoys baptisms, and has come to enjoy her jail ministry, which she really drug her feet about. Salts says she had gotten three or four calls to come to the jail to share with one of the inmates, but it was something she really didn’t want to do very bad. But her friend and mentor, Kathy LaRoque, convinced Salts that she was getting those calls for a reason and needed to respond. So she did, and that ministry has become a true blessing to her. Both Gockley and Salts say this wasn’t exactly the plan they envisioned for their past-60 years. “I didn’t just wake up one day and think, ‘Oh, I think I’ll go into the ministry.’ It is a process,” Salts explained. Though ministry may not have been what these women planned for themselves, they are both sure in their hearts it is what God planned for them. Both immensely enjoy what they do, and neither shows any sign of slowing down any time soon - unless, of course, God asks them to.