With the sun shining outside, a six-woman crew inside the Homer United Methodist Church’s kitchen were busy last Friday putting together sack lunches to be offered to Homer teens needing a helping hand. See related story.
In the midst of the group was Reverend Lisa Talbott, one of Homer’s newest residents. Talbott also is the church’s new pastor, having begun that role June 15.
Talbott grew up in Anchorage in a denomination in which women were barred from taking a lead.
“Because my denomination did not allow for females in the leadership, it led to a call into teaching,” she said. “It was a form of ministry for me.”
For almost a decade, Talbott taught in the Anchorage School District.
“I worked in schools in generally low income areas of Anchorage,” she said. “I knew I had to keep a stock of food and water in my classroom, collect winter coats and shoes because so many students came unprepared for weather or were just plain hungry. That was part of my job. I taught them, but also tried to meet some of the basic needs not being met at home.”
Life changed when her husband Joe’s daughter was diagnosed with a severe form of brain cancer and died in 2006. In the aftermath, Talbot and her husband “saw we really needed a stronger connection with God in our lives and marriage,” she said. That awareness led them to the United Methodist Church.
Talbott also began to feel God calling her to serve people spiritually full-time.
“It wasn’t just about teaching anymore. I needed to go beyond that and serve people in a spiritual way,” she said.
When she voiced the direction she felt her life was heading, she was surprised by others’ reactions.
“I told my husband tearfully and a little fearfully, maybe, that I thought God was calling me into ministry. His response was laughter and he said, ‘It is about time you saw that,’” said Talbott, who began a seven-year process that has led, in the fifth year, to Homer.
“It’s a long journey. It’s well laid out and includes lots of interviews, psychological testing, of course a seminary degree, a masters of divinity that I just completed, and two probationary years, with multi-interviews along the way,” she said.
The interviews are a way to assess emotional ability to go into the ministry and include conversations about setting boundaries, leading healthy lifestyles and being dedicated to ministry but not neglecting self.
While Talbott’s schooling didn’t include her husband, the two of them made it a shared experience, especially while her husband remained at their home in Palmer and she attended Duke Divinity School at Duke University in North Carolina. He read and edited all her papers and, on visits to see her, met her professors and attended lectures with her.
“He really is a partner in ministry with me even though he is not interested in being ordained,” said Talbott. “He’s a very talented man in his own right, a deeply religious man and a wonderful partner for me.”
Now considered a “probationary elder,” Talbott will continue to work with a mentor for two years.
“That way, if I have questions or issues I’m not sure how to deal with, I have someone to talk to,” she said.
At the end of two years, Talbott will undergo another series of interviews and then be fully ordained.
Homer is an assignment made to fit on multiple levels.
“The Methodist Church in Alaska is considered a missionary church. Most pastors come up from the Lower 48 and sign on for a five-year commitment to Alaska,” said Talbott. “So, it is unusual to have someone raised in Alaska serving in Alaska.”
It means being close to other family members in the state. In addition, when Joe first came to Alaska in the late 1970s, he was on a NOAA vessel, surveying Kachemak Bay “so he knows Homer very well and has been all over Kachemak Bay,” said Talbott.
Avid bicyclists, in 2006 the Talbotts rode from Anchorage to Homer in memory of the daughter Joe lost to cancer.
“We feel like we have been appointed to the place of our dreams,” said Talbott.
“It has been an absolute blessing for us to come down here. … To have the honor of serving here is very touching for both of us.”