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Charles Meredith: Women are leading Upper Bucks churches


Dear Friends,

Good morning. An article in the Sunday Review section of the New York Times (Oct. 13) made me pause … not because the theme was wives of mega church pastors … but because of the obvious subject not discussed; women in church leadership.

I wondered about female pastors in Bucks County. So, I started in the Quakertown area.

I was surprised by the results of my unscientific search. Within five miles of Quakertown, there are at least seven women who lead their congregations. Three are heads of their churches in the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination; likewise, three lead three Lutheran churches; and one is with the Mennonites.

St. John’s Lutheran and St. John’s UCC in Richlandtown have female pastors. So does Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Trumbauersville. Quakertown’s two dominant churches, First Church UCC and Trinity Lutheran, have women at their helms. (Although First Church UCC has a shared husband and wife pastorate.) West Swamp Mennonite Church and Trinity Great Swamp Church (UCC) in Spinnerstown have women pastors as well. You readers from the rest of Upper Bucks, Central and Lower Bucks can fill in the blanks too. But I’ll bet that female clerics are becoming a major force on the entire scene.

Years ago, Quakertown had 26 churches, all Protestant plus one Roman Catholic Church (St. Isidore’s). With its 26 churches, I used to claim that Quakertown was either the most saintly or sinful town in America. The borough has a population of 10,000 souls.

Quakertown still has no synagogue. The closest synagogues are in Doylestown, New Hope, Allentown, Bethlehem, or Pottstown. In the early 20th century, Quakertown had a synagogue in the carriage house behind the home where Mighty Betsy and I live.

In the 1900 teen years and early 20s, the nearest synagogue to Quakertown was a day’s horse and buggy ride from the above mentioned towns. Jews, who ran many of Quakertown’s businesses hired traveling rabbis to come to Quakertown and conduct Friday night services. The Weiss family lived at the big house at Second and Juniper streets so the carriage house behind it served as a synagogue.

Turning to a more troubling topic, you undoubtedly read that negotiations in the Pennsylvania legislature crumbled on a bill that would have made it easier for child victims of sex abuse to later sue abusers and enablers. After weeks of closed-door talks and little progress, lawmakers went home without passing one of their highest-priority projects.

The sticking point?

A provision that would have opened a window for lawsuits on cases in which the statute of limitations has already expired. The state House of Representatives had passed a version of the bill with a two-year retroactivity window. House leaders on both sides of the aisle, victim advocates, Gov. Tom Wolf, and Attorney General Josh Shapiro favored passage.

But Senate Republicans have long expressed worry that the bill was unconstitutional and could bankrupt churches. For-profit insurers and the Catholic Church also opposed it.

Shapiro is the one who ordered a sweeping grand jury investigation into misconduct by Pennsylvania’s Catholic clergy. The release of that damning report last summer received national attention and breathed new life into the legislative effort to loosen statute of limitations on child sexual abuse.

So this question won’t be addressed again until next year … if it ever will be. Meanwhile, insurance companies, the church and education institutions can breath a little easier. It doesn’t exonerate them, of course. Alas.

Sincerely, Charles Meredith

PS. I read last week that our former neighbor died in Cottage Grove, Wis. Ruth Wickersham Papalia, formerly of Quakertown, became a famous harpist. The Wickershams lived on Quakertown’s Front Street near the train station. Ruth and I were the same age. She had an older sister from whom she borrowed her first harp. I often heard her practicing. Our homes faced each other.

She began harp lessons at age nine. At just 17, she entered the Oberlin Music Conservatory in Ohio. Ruth played in orchestras throughout her life and often gave harp concerts. She was a lovely person.