Hoge Memorial Presbyterian Church
Rev. Judith Birdsall ( 2000 – 2001 )
Rev. Birdsall was installed as the 8 pastor of Hoge on September 24, 2000. She took over the pulpit from Rev. G. Kenneth Shafer, interim pastor since 1998. She became the permanent replacement for Rev. Hans Klee, the Swiss-born pastor who retired two-and-a-half years earlier after spending 23 years at Hoge Memorial Presbyterian. The new minster, the first woman to hold the post in the 94-year history of the congregation, is a native of New York City who grew up on Long Island.
Rev. Judith Birdsall comes by a career in the ministry practically as a matter of genetic disposition. Her father’s family came to this country in 1637. In every generation since, at least one member of the family has been a minister. But such a career door appeared to be closed to her when it came time to go off to college, so Birdsall majored in English at Muhlenberg College, a Lutheran-affiliated school in Allentown, Pennsylvania.
After graduating, Birdsall went to work at the Knoll’s Atomic Power Laboratory in Schenectady, New York, as a technical writer. She was there for three years and during that time had the opportunity to write speeches on occasion for the late Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the Russian-born “Father of the Nuclear Navy.” During her time at Knoll’s, Birdsall met and married an engineer who worked for General Electric. They lived for a time in Iowa after he received a transfer, and she worked for a business magazine as a writer and editor. Another transfer took the couple to Kansas City where a son, Jeremy, was born. Yet another move took them to New Jersey, where daughter Joanna came into the world and Judith Birdsall first began attending a Presbyterian Church. “After being there a very short time, I realized I was home”, she said.
Birdsall was a stay-at-home mom who did a lot of volunteer work in the church, including teaching adult Sunday school and organizing Vacation Bible School for between 300 and 400 children. After a time, she began to feel a need to get some additional education to help her as a church volunteer. The prestigious Princeton Seminary was a mere 40 miles away, so Birdsall applied and was accepted into a Christian education program. The experience was so enjoyable, both in the classroom and as a student assistant in churches, that Birdsall decided to continue her education still further and got her master of divinity degree.
This was early in the 1980’s, when more and more women were entering the ministry. Birdsall remained at Princeton for an addition year of graduate work, including a term studying Hebrew with a rabbi. In 1985 she landed a job as associate pastor at a 500-member Presbyterian church in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. She was there 2 ½ years, during which time she decided she wanted to become an interim ministry specialist. This involves serving congregations during the transition from one pastor to another, a sometimes highly emotional period for such members as a result of either conflict over the departed minister or bereavement in situations involving deaths. In this capacity, Birdsall has served at various churches in New Jersey and Ohio, including St. Andrews Presbyterian in Columbus and a church in Pataskala.
Rev. Birdsall first visited Hoge Memorial Presbyterian a decade or so back in the early 1990’s. She was impressed with the building. “This is the most gorgeous church. Someday I would like to serve in a church like this,” Birdsall recalls saying to herself. She was hardly in line for the job when it first came open. In fact, when the Rev. Klee announced his retirement, she served for a time on the committee charged with finding his replacement. She eventually withdrew from the assignment, fearing her own interest in the church might represent a conflict of interest. “I felt this pull toward the church for a very long time. It has basically fulfilled the deepest prayer of my being, to be able to serve a congregation like this”, she said.
Eventually she submitted her dossier to the members of the committee on which she had once served and a delegation listened to her give a sermon at the church in Pataskala. She was offered the job. The installation worship service for Rev. Birdsall was held on Sunday, September 24, 2000. Her time At Hoge lasted less than one year when she had to resign for medical reasons.
We Remember: Rev. Judith Birdsall