Clergy Corner, Aug. 17, 2018

Clergy Corner, Aug. 17, 2018

For 35 years, the Revs. THOMAS NEUFER EMSWILER, 77, and SHARON NEUFER EMSWILER, 74, shared careers, serving as United Methodist ministers in Kansas and Illinois. They retired in July 2003 from Wesley United Methodist Church and Foundation at the UI, where they were co-pastors of the church and co-directors of the campus ministry.

On Saturday, the clergy couple will reach another milestone: 50 years of marriage. Staff writer Tim  Mitchell sat down with the couple as they shared memories of ministries and a life together.

How did the two of you meet?

Sharon: Thomas was encouraged to come to Garrett Theology Seminary on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston. It was my first year at seminary, and he had just finished seminary. We were in an orientation session for new students, and I noticed him. I came down with mono, and a mutual friend arranged for him to take me to the infirmary.

Thomas: For our first date, we went to a concert. It was an organ concert at the University of Chicago.

You were married 50 years ago this Saturday. What do you remember about that day?

Sharon: We were married by my brother-in-law, who was also a United Methodist pastor. He had been my youth pastor when I was in high school. It was a Sunday, and Thomas and I went to church together.

The wedding was in the afternoon. By the time the wedding was over, it began to rain, and everybody told me, "Blessed is the bride the rain falls on." They wanted me to feel good because it was raining on my wedding day.

What is your earliest memory of being in church?

Sharon: I can remember standing at the top of the stairs holding one of my sister's hands, and we were going to go down to the nursery. I must have been 2 years old.

Thomas: I grew up in Kansas, and we went to various churches. I remember being in second grade going to Vacation Bible School. The kids were having fun popping the collection plate. I was a little more vigorous, and when I popped it, the money went up in the air and all over the place.

Sharon: When I was in school, they were passing the collection plate, and I wanted to put money in, but I didn't want to put in that much money. So I put in a dollar and took out 50 cents in change.

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Sharon: When I was a little girl, women weren't really ministers. I thought I would be a teacher. When I was at Belvidere High School, I was the president of the Future Teachers Association. One day, I was walking to high school, and my path took me past my church. As I walked by, I thought: If I were a man, I think I would like to be a minister. The thought kinda popped in my head. Then I thought I was glad I was not a man, because I didn't want to preach every Sunday.

Thomas: I fiddled around with wanting to be a fireman, but what I really wanted to be was a professional baseball player. I pitched and played other positions, too. We had a very small school in Lenexa, Kansas, and I had eight students in my graduating class. Later on, I was going to be a professional pianist. We have a piano right here in the house.

I liked the concerns that ministry had: searching for ultimate truth and trying to make a difference in the world. When I was ready to go to college, I was lucky enough to win a Rockefeller Scholarship for a trial year. The whole idea was to encourage people who were sort of interested in ministry but not sure yet to consider it. I chose Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University.

On your fifth wedding anniversary, you, Thomas, chose Sharon's maiden name as your middle name. How did that come about?

Thomas: I long supported feminist concepts and ideas. She pointed out she didn't feel good about how people listed her name.

Sharon: For a very short time, I was Mrs. Thomas Emswiler.

Thomas: So we decided, why don't I take her name just like she took my name? That would show more sharing.

Sharon: I was becoming a part of his family, and he was becoming a part of my family.

Do you remember your first sermon?

Sharon: I was leading a funeral for the mother of one of the staff people. She asked me to do the funeral. Then I don't think I did another funeral for a long time.

Thomas: The United Church of Christ invited me to come to preach, so I did. I was enamoured by the noble concepts of religion. I tried to emphasize some of those noble concepts.

What have you been doing since you both retired?

Thomas: I have been teaching in the continuing education program for lifelong learning at the UI. I started out with religion courses, and I now do film courses.

Sharon: I have done some study in the area of spirituality and theology. Since both of our grandchildren are here, I spend a lot of time taking them to different things.

What is the secret to a long marriage?

Thomas: I think honesty and trust is the secret.

Sharon: Especially for clergy couples, many of them find themselves in competition with one another. We have never experienced that. Tom is not competitive. He is supportive. We have a lot of fun together.

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