ESCANABA - While Central United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church of Escanaba were excited to welcome their new pastors, the new clergy have more than being Methodist pastors in common. Rev. Carman Minarik and Rev. Donna Minarik are married - to each other. The pair were appointed to their new pastorate this past summer. Pastor Carman is serving First UMC while Donna is the new pastor at Central UMC.
The move is the first time the two "downstaters" have served in ministry in the Upper Peninsula and they are enjoying exploring the area as well as getting to know the people of Escanaba.
Pastor Carman remarked, "The people here are authentic and hard-working. I get the feeling that we're all in this together; we're a community."
Revs. Carmen and Donna Minarik have spent their first few months at pastors in Escanaba enjoying the sites of their new town and other interesting places across the Upper Peninsula. Carmen pastors First United Methodist Church and his wife is pastor of Central United Methodist.
The couple has spent the summer exploring the U.P., including lighthouses, Copper Harbor, Mackinac Island. They joke that their 13-foot camper could be a "toolshed for the other campers" in the campground, but they're happy with it. Since Carman is an avid photographer and Donna grew up on a dairy farm where her family was unable to travel, they have enjoyed extensive travel in the United States and abroad, but find the U.P. a great place for sightseeing and photography. The only thing they don't like about the U.P. is the distance from their son, Warren, and his wife, Emily, who live and work in and around Detroit.
Donna and Carman met in a refrigerator. Both pastors grew up in small towns in Lower Michigan, 25 miles apart, near Cadillac. They attended competing high schools, but never met until after they graduated and took summer jobs at the same restaurant. One day, Donna, a waitress, went looking for the chocolate milk in the kitchen. Carman was there to help and the rest is history.
Both attended Ferris State University where Carman earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. Donna finished her business degree at Ohio Dominican University. After college they worked as computer consultants for Dow Chemical Company in Midland during the time when businesses were making the transition from typewriters to computers. They joke that they were involved with pastoral care long before they became pastors, comforting and empowering people who were afraid to make the switch to the electronic world.
Their calls to ministry came at the same time for both of them. For Donna the revelation came as she was teaching vacation Bible school (VBS) one year when her son was in the fourth grade. VBS had always held a special meaning to Donna. She had been a VBS teacher since she was 14 and she would take off work as an adult to be part of it. It occurred to her that she felt fulfilled in VBS in a way that she hadn't felt as a computer consultant.
At the same time, Carman felt that something was missing in his life. The more involved in church work that he became, the less meaningful his other work was to him.
The only problem was, neither one knew how to break the news to the other one. Donna broached the subject one morning before work. It was a relief to them that the other felt the call as well, but at the same time it seemed "absolutely impossible." There were so many obstacles - they had the responsibility of their son, a house, and stable income. Donna said it was tempting to put it off so that they could save up money, but "once you know your call, you're not happy unless you answer it immediately."
The reactions of those around them varied. Their pastor said that it was about time they realized their call, while a co-worker said, "What do you want to do that for?" Other voices indicated that "pastoral leadership is not for women."
Donna is a life-long Methodist, while Carman came to faith as an adult. They share that their second date was teaching VBS at Donna's church, and after their marriage, as they attended worship together, Carman's faith deepened as he listened to the sermons. Donna was excited to see her faith afresh through someone else's eyes.
After seminary the Revs. Minarik pastored separate churches in Ohio, then co-pastored three churches in succession in the Lower Peninsula. The Escanaba churches are the first churches that they have pastored separately since the early days. One thing that Carman liked about co-pastoring was that "every other week I got to hear a great preacher."
Both Donna and Carman enjoy preaching, teaching small groups and the chance to be with people during the milestones of their lives. They understand the perception that church has a negative association for some people who see it as a place of judgment. They want to make the church a more accessible place for everyone. They expressed the desire to go beyond labels (liberal, conservative, etc.) and be open to all those looking to make a connection to God.
Donna says, "If God says on Judgment Day that I gave too many breaks, I can live with that. Far better than to be told I was a barrier to one group or another."
The message of both pastors about their churches is simple: "If you're looking for a connection, maybe you can find it here."