An Irrepressible Woman Preacher

Gertrude Pettibon’s favorite hymn was “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord.” This she lived by and this she preached.

In 1933 Kansas farmers, once supplying the world with wheat, were, because of drought, dust storms and the Great Depression, unable to feed their own people. The United Brethren Church in Republic, Kansas, was on the verge of closing. The pastor had quit to work on the Public Works Administration, a government relief program. The official board refused to accept a woman preacher.

Gertrude McNeill Pettibon, certain of her calling to the ministry, refused to accept the board’s decision and moved with her children into a back room of the church. Her first Sunday she preached and announced a full week’s schedule to a cold and almost empty church. The days and weeks that followed she chugged her ’28 Chevrolet over dusty country roads, more often than not, driving on prayer and the fumes from an empty gas tank.

She stopped at every house inviting folks to church, and the bone-weary farmers came. Soon the board saw something special in this woman’s zeal for God and love for people, and moved her into the parsonage.

Gertrude Pettibon pastored the Republic church ten years, 1933 to 1943, and was ordained in 1936. These were years of great financial problems. Pastor and laity sacrificed together to pay conference quotas, and the pastor’s small salary was supplemented by whatever produce was available.

Four young men of the congregation answered the call to Christian ministry and went on to be ordained.

The church became a stronghold of the community, and remains so today. Most of the town’s six hundred people are gone, businesses have moved, the school is closed and its roof has fallen in. But the UB church (now United Methodist), stands like a beacon on a corner near the center of town. Its brown brick exterior is in good repair, its doors open, its sanctuary warm and welcoming, while a young woman preacher affirms, “The Church’s One Foundation Is Jesus Christ Her Lord.”

In 1943 Gertrude married Clarence Millen, her lay delegate to annual conference and long-time friend, and preached at the Methodist Church in Byron, Nebraska. Eventually they moved to the Otterbein Home at Lebanon, Ohio, as house-parents to teenage boys. Leukemia cut her life short at age fifty. But today her life still shines through many whom she brought to Christ.

(adapted from the Telescope-Messenger, United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Winter, 1998) Found on GBGM-UMC here.


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