Shari Coote
Plopped in the Pulpit

I often get asked, "Where did you go to seminary?" and I usually answer, "I didn't. They just picked me off the street and plopped me in the pulpit." Of course, that is somewhat of an exaggeration, but not much. Let's start at the beginning.

Church was not an option in our family back in Wellsburg, W. Va. Although I often put up a little resistance, I knew it wouldn't do much good. We were all going to Sunday School and church, and that was that. Once I got there, all was fine. Most of my friends from the neighborhood and school went to the Methodist Church as well. (This was back in the Dark Ages before it became the United Methodist Church.) As a matter of fact, one of my best friends' mothers, Dorothy Burdette, was both my Sunday School teacher and my Girl Scout leader from fifth through twelfth grades. She made everything fun, but I really don't know how she did it. On Sundays she had about twenty boys and girls, and then on Thursdays she had about 20 girls in our troop. We had an active youth group at the church on Sunday evenings, and for the life of me, I can't remember the leaders. I think we ran through a string of them, further testimony to Dorothy's stamina and charisma.

I think it was when I was in the seventh grade that our church had a revival. During one of the services, I felt compelled to answer the altar call and dedicate myself to Jesus Christ. I was as good as I could be for about four days, but from then on I really did feel that Jesus had me covered. I know I've disappointed Him a million times since, but I have never regretted committing my life to Christ, even though for a while that commitment wasn't evident to others and was buried deep within me.

When I went off to college, West Virginia Wesleyan, one of my jobs was chapel checking. Chapel attendance was mandatory every Tuesday, and I was one of the checkers who sat up in the balcony with a seating chart, checking the assigned seats for attendance. I got paid $25 a semester, and I'm ashamed to say I could be bribed. The best thing about being a checker, however, was that after taking attendance, we could sit back in our balcony seats and not be seen. This made it very easy to duck down behind the balcony railing and sneak out.

When I transferred to West Liberty State College my sophomore year, I quit going to church altogether, but occasionally I'd attend the coffee house sessions held in the chapel on campus by the campus pastor, a Methodist preacher, who later married me the first time! Also, when I was home for the summer or on a break, it was back to church--no questions asked.

When I graduated and went off on my own, I pretty much left church behind, much to the dismay of my mom. Then I married (in the church, of course), and my husband, raised in the Methodist Church as well, refused to go to church, and I used him as an excuse. We were living near Mom and Dad, and I knew I was hurting their feelings by not attending church. I have to say I really did feel guilty.

Eventually we moved about three miles north, and I decided that I would go back to church. I can't remember why I didn't go back to my home church, but for some reason, I started attending the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in my new home town. I think it was because several of my teaching friends went there. Unfortunately, I never really clicked with that church, and I finally just threw up my hands or threw in the towel or just gave up my little revolt and returned to the church of my youth, where I'd been perfectly happy and was happy once again. All I can figure out regarding my staying away from church was it was my rebellion against authority. I think I just didn't like my parents making me go to church. Of course I wouldn't have gone on my own and would have missed out on a lot of great experiences including church camp and a great Biblical foundation.

From that time on I have been active in the church. I became a certified lay speaker and preached at several local churches around Wellsburg. For thirteen years after my divorce when I was a single parent, I presented the children's sermon at church each week.

When I remarried and moved first to San Jose, then to Memphis, and finally to Little Rock, I always sought and found a United Methodist Church for our family. The children were active in youth activities and went on mission trips. I occasionally gave a children's sermon, but I hadn't preached in a long while. I taught four different Sunday School classes on a rotating basis, and often directed the Christmas pageant. I was active in the women's mission society, worked on Vacation Bible School, and served on the church council. I was an active church member.

In 2000, I was asked to give the sermon at Asbury U.M.C. on Women's Sunday, and I realized how much I had missed that experience. At the time Richard, my husband, suggested I might want to look into entering the ministry. I told him that was the last thing on my mind. When Women's Sunday rolled around the next year, someone else was asked to preach (I can't remember anyone ever repeating), but I really wished that I had been asked again. Richard again brought up the topic of entering the ministry.

"I just don't want you to look back on your life, sometime down the road, and say, 'Gee, I wish I had at least looked into the ministry.'" I thought about it for quite a while and decided he was right. I went and talked to one of my former pastors, The Rev. Lewis See, who thought it was a great idea.

The United Methodist Church has a program called Licensed Local Pastor for people who are called to the ministry enabling them to complete a course of study while serving a congregation. I decided to pursue a license. I was assigned a mentor, and I went through a course of self-examination with him. Then the process began to bog down. I started preaching at several area United Methodist Churches, filling in for vacationing pastors, then the Pulaski Heights Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) somehow got my name and asked me to preach for them one Sunday in June 2003.

I preached that Sunday, and they asked me back for the next week. They had been without a pastor since January and were involved in the Search and Call process. I'd never preached two successive weeks at the same church, but I accepted the challenge. Following the service that second Sunday, their board moderator asked me if I would consider applying to be their pastor.

I about fainted. I'd been complaining about the slow, methodical pace of the Methodists, and it was as if God had said, "Too slow for you, huh? Well, how about your own church right now?" I asked the moderator if they had other candidates, and he said they were considering two others. Our family was about to leave for a beach vacation, and I told them I really needed to think this over and pray about it. I took the thick application and left the church that day stunned.

At the beach Richard and I did a lot of talking and praying, and eventually we decided I should go for it. When we returned to Little Rock, I got to work on my application and started the interview process. Almost before I knew it, I was hired and started preaching right away, a couple of months even before being officially installed as the pastor.

So now it's over five years later. I've left Pulaski Heights and I'm serving Sherwood First Christian. With God's help and people's patience, I've figured out how to be a pastor without going to seminary. God has provided me with numerous ideas and insights to provide leadership and has made this faith journey an exciting adventure for me, full of Christ's love.