I was a 21-year-old college graduate when I first learned of Circleville, OH. In the summer of 1985 I was working at a YMCA camp near Jackson, MI and praying for a full-time job to come through before the end of summer.
My Alma College degree prepared me for teaching high school speech, theatre, and French, but I had also been wondering about church-work, so I applied for the Christian Education Associate position at the Presbyterian church. As I prepared for my interview, I wondered if I knew enough to be a Christian educator; after all, I hadn’t taken any formal religion classes in college. I did come with a lot of practical experience: Sunday and Wednesday school, choral and handbell choirs, and youth group. Add to that many summers a camp counselor and then program director. Would that be enough?
I met the Rev. Bill Campbell and the search committee at Frisch’s Big Boy restaurant on Rte. 23 in my hometown of Sylvania, OH. Over supper, they peppered me with questions about my background, experience with children, and faith-story. We seemed to be hitting it off pretty well---until one of them asked, “What do you think about the new denominational curriculum?”
I froze for a moment like a deer in the headlights. With a quivering voice, certain I was about to blow the interview, I confessed, “I don’t know anything about Presbyterian curriculum.”
After a pause, Rev. Campbell leaned across the table, looked me square in the eye and said, “You don’t know??? ---You’ll learn.” They offered me the job the next week, and I moved to Circleville. Bill was right. In my three years on staff I learned about church curriculum and so much more.
You don’t know?? ---You’ll learn! are some of the most valuable words ever spoken to me. Bill offered me permission to be an ongoing learner, which means I don’t have to start with all the answers.
I study, speak with experts, line up mentors, ask questions, take continuing education classes, wrestle with answers and always, always try to stay open for whatever new tidbit I might digest from the knowledge and experience offered at wisdom’s table. Bill’s advice has followed me throughout my life. It’s taken the panic out of new and challenging situations:
• “I don’t know anything about Hebrew or Greek!” (seminary course requirements to become a Presbyterian pastor.) You don’t know?? ---You’ll learn!
• “I don’t know anything about caring for an infant!” as I held my newborn son in my shaky hands. You don’t know?? ---You’ll learn!
• “I don’t know anything about pastoring through a pandemic!” You don’t know?? ---You’ll learn!
And I did learn! Perhaps not perfectly every time…but faithfully, with an open spirit.
You don’t know?? ---You’ll learn! is applicable to each age and stage of life. It simultaneously comforts and challenges. It encourages curiosity and inspires confidence. It calls for humility and expects growth. It might be old advice, but it becomes fresh in each situation.
I am a seasoned pastor now and after more than 30 years of ministry in Virginia, Illinois, and North Carolina, the Spirit has led me back to Circleville to serve the same congregation that taught me the value of being an ongoing learner. During my interview process this past spring, the search committee invited my husband Chris to one of our Zoom conversations.
As they were about to extend the call to me, Chris said to them, “You know, Nancy’s not the same person she was 30 years ago.” Someone on the committee responded, “We should hope not!”
Then someone else quipped, “And the church isn’t the same as it was, either!”
Nancy Jo Dederer, who is the new Presbyterian Pastor in Circleville, is a member of the Pickaway County Ministerial Association.