Margaret Laemmel Interview:
This is file # 17, cycle 3. Today’s date is Dec. 15, 2017. This is Jean McMillen. I am interviewing Rev. Margaret Laemmel of the Lakeville Methodist Church, which is the oldest continuing Methodist Church in New England. First we will start with the genealogical information.
JM:What is your name?
ML:Margaret Anne Laemmel.
JM:Your birth date?
ML:My birth date is Dec. 19, 1960.
JM:Your birth place?
ML:Plattsburgh Air force Base, Plattsburgh, New York
JM:Your parents’ names?
ML:William Dunloy Laemmel and my mother is Gloria Anne Johnson Laemmel.
JM:Do you have siblings?
ML:Yes, I do. I have three siblings. They are all younger brothers: William Robert, David Bruce, and Barton Jay.
JM:Your first career was an ESL teacher in Japan.
ML:Yes, my first career was teaching.
ML:I have always been fascinated by the Orient. I had always wanted to go to the Orient. I really wanted to go to China, but china being a Communist country at the time was very out of reach. They were starting to open up in the early 1980’s. I thought that Japan which also fascinated me would be a good place to go.
JM:Do you speak other languages, besides Japanese?
ML:I used to speak Spanish very badly, and that has all been pushed out by the Japanese. Now I speak Spanish even more badly.
JM:When did you first think about being a minister?
ML:My first experience of a “call” was in college. I was trying to figure out a career path to choose. I had started out as a theater major. I had decided that I did not have the absolute maniacal drive to be an actress. I was really trying to think of what else to do. I had started to play with teaching because I
had gotten several people through various classes, colleagues. I was really thinking that if I do not go into the theater, what should I do? I got this voice outside of me said “You should become a minister.” That was very surprising to me because in 1980, there were not a lot of women ministers. I have never met a female minister. I knew of no female minister. It was not a career that ever had presented itself as a possibility.
JM:But you had an aunt?
ML:She came to the ministry later. She became a minister later so that was not her first career either. I decided that I needed experience. So the voice came back and said, “Go get some experience.” I thought as I looked back that I had become the leader of these study groups and maybe teaching was where I was going to go. Junior and senior year I concentrated in getting my teaching credentials.
JM:You went to Japan for 16 years.
ML:Right and I should mention, oddly enough, that the school I went to the University of Denver is a Methodist Seminary. I was surrounded by Methodist and did not know it. I had been brought up as a Presbyterian.
JM:When did you graduate from the University of Denver?
ML:I graduated in June of 1982.
JM:What was you major?
ML:I had a double major in Theater and Philosophy. My ”minor” was (I put it in quotes because I was one class away from a triple major.) in education. Later on I completed more credits in the State of Washington so I had a triple major. When I returned from Japan in order to get my New York certificate, I had to round out my English credentials because they felt it was not round enough. I now have 4 majors total. It is very embarrassing.
JM:No it isn’t. Education is never wasted. When you came back you decided to go to seminary, but you didn’t go to Drew?
ML:No that was completely choice because Drew is in New Jersey. It would have required a commute of about one and one half hours of driving every day to the seminary either that or I would have had to live there. I didn’t possess the financial means; my parents were more than happy to have me continue to live at home which was incredibly generous of them if you consider the fact that I had a daughter that I was also raising at the time. Instead I went to Union Theological, simply because it was easier to commute and economically it made more sense. Two hours a day on a train is gold when you have to study. Instead of me spending three hours driving, I gained 2 hours a day of studying.
JM:When were you ordained?
ML:I am working my way through the ordination process. As the Methodists have multi layers of ordination.
JM:Is that the Elder Orders business?
ML:Yes that is it.
JM:We‘ll let that go for later.
JM:Is this your first church>
ML:No, Methodists go from July to July. From July 2009 to June of 2013 I was at Cold Spring and South Highland, N. Y. At the time they were two separate churches; they are no longer. They have merged. They are on the east side of the Hudson River right across from West Point. Each of them were a 1/8 time appointment; that means you work 1/8 of forty hours or 5 hours per week per church. You are basically a supply preacher, but I did more than that because I had to attend meetings and run Sunday school, Bible study and Workshops one Sunday a month. At the same time I was still working as an ESL teacher because that was what I was qualified for at English First International which is located in Tarrytown, N. Y. in the old Marymount College.
JM:Were you put under a mentor with these 2 churches?
ML:Yes but I was running it as the local pastor. I was called the licensed local pastor.
JM:But you were not technically ordained.
ML:I am not ordained as an Elder, but as a licensed local pastor I am allowed to be the pastor of a church. I am allowed to perform all the services of a minister in that church. I can provide sacraments which in the Methodist tradition are Communion and Baptism at the church, but I can’t provide it for other churches. I could not walk into the church at Croton-on-Hudson which is my home church and do a sacrament there without the minister being present.
JM:But you could preach?
ML:Yes, I could preach. I can do the Bible studies. It also has something to do with voting rights within the church. The local pastors can vote on local issues, but we cannot vote on International issues and we also can’t vote on something pertaining to the Methodist conference. I belong to the New York conference. We can vote on district issues, but we can’t vote on something on the conference issues.
JM:You came here July of 2013. What is your goal for this church?
ML:I want to revitalize the church, but there are various ways of doing that. You might think that merging a church is not revitalizing it, but when you go through the merger process, you have to ask yourself where do we want to go with our church. What is the point of merging or not merging? If we merge what will happen and if we do not merge what will also happen? My goal right now is to start
asking where do we want to be in 10 or 15 years. What is the most effective way of being Methodist in our area?
JM:Do you have a Sunday school here?
ML:We don’t right now. Our Sunday school has been combined with the Sharon Sunday school. We are active here. Right now they just go down to Sharon because that is where the majority of children are. They have come up for the Hanging of the Greens, Shoebox Ministry, and they come to our Vacation Bible School which we also have with the Sharon church. St. John’s comes too. (See file # 11, cycle 3 Father David Sellery)
JM:How about a youth group of teenagers?
ML:No we have not. We have children that come from the city, but they don’t live here. Right now we are trying to see if we can create an alternative Sunday school for them when they are here.
JM:Will you be responsible for the Sun rise Service at the Grove this year for Easter?
ML:This year no, I was responsible last year. What I do with Sharon because I do have these two churches in order to be fair and balanced, the year I am here for Sun rise Service, and I am in Sharon for Memorial Day. The year that I am in Sharon for Sunrise Service, I am here for Memorial Day.
JM:What is your time portion?
ML:It is one quarter Lakeville and one half Sharon so I am ¾ time minister. There are advantages to that. That is more of a pay thing. What I try to do is to look at what needs to be concentrated on at each place. That is the most difficult thing for me is to have these odd separations. When I worked at the other churches at least they were both one eight time so they were even. This is not. I am just not going to think about the 1/4/ ½ time It is like having two kids, when you are a mother, sometimes you have to focus on one kid over the other and then more attention on the other kid later, but it does even out. I try not to get too hung up on the time issue. It can be a real problem. I tried it the first year to do that ¼ and ½ and I drove myself crazy. You can’t do that. Sometimes Sharon needs more attention than Lakeville and at other times, Lakeville needs more attention than Sharon. What I do try to do desperately is make sure I have a day off, Wednesday. My husband has his day off on Wednesday. He is trying to get that changed because he wants to have two days off in a row. His boss does not want that, but he does feel that it is inefficient for him to not have two days off in a row. I might change to Monday if he gets the day Monday off but right now it is all up in the air.
JM:What are some of the outreach program of the church?
ML:We do the Christmas breakfast, the Halloween party, and Vacation Bible School which is always in August. We try to schedule it the week after the school specials are done. They kids that have been to the school specials can come to the Bible School and we have a better handle on it. We are not competing with the school. The parents appreciate that there is one more thing they can send their children to, even if it is only three days.
JM:The teachers are so happy when it gets to be the end of school and the parents are so dismayed.
Tell me about the Elder Orders. This is the level of ordination that you are going through now.
ML:With the process of Ordination you start out as a learning candidate. This is just you talking with a mentor discussing what the job entails. Then you have to write a paper, get recommended by a home church and then you are commissioned. Commissioned means that you have been accepted by the not only your home church, but also the district committee has said yes we think you would be a good person to enter the ministry. When you go into commission, you spend more time working for a few years, you write a paper and you go through another committee. At this point you are either in seminary or you are working with a church depending on where you are in your process. Next you become commissioned as a local pastor. As a local pastor you go through another examination process and you become a provisional pastor. That is like an associate professor in a university. You have been accepted, you have been given a desk and a job. You then have this period of time where you work at a church to decide if this is what you really want to do. You take Elders Orders and take another exam and you become an Elder.
JM:Is this exam oral?
ML:There is a written component to it, there is a ministry project component and there is a bunch of other things you have to do. During this whole thing I have to take racial training and sexual boundaries training. They make sure you have all your ducks in a row. Then you take the oral exam.
JM;Then are you actually ordained?
ML:Then you are ordained at the annual conference. So you pass and then you are ordained at the annual conference.
JM:In this church how do you do Communion?
ML:We do communion with intinction. In this church we have two chalices on either side of the communion table. I serve the bread.
JM:You do not use wafers, you use bread.
ML:My husband makes the bread. Since he is a professional chef, when he first came here he said that he would like to make the Communion bread. We experimented with some different breads. We
got a recipe that he figured out that works. It is easy for me to tear and it holds together so it does not fall apart when it gets into the liquid.
JM:It has special requirements. How about Baptism?
ML:I have done one here. It is a cross on the forehead.
JM:I am asking to get the variety of the different denominations.
ML:There are some, not so much in New England, Methodist churches in the south that do adult immersion. We do sprinkling, the cross on the forehead or immersion. It depends on the tradition of the area and the church itself. In New England immersion is very impractical; it is very cold.
There is a movement in the Methodist church to provide real wine for Communion. I have mixed feelings about that. One of the things about the Methodist church is it took a stand very early on against alcohol. People do not understand that alcohol poisoning used to be a huge problem in this country. There was no regulation. Prohibition was a necessity because people were dying of alcohol poisoning. There was a force in New York City to go around and collect the dead bodies on New York City streets that had died of alcohol poisoning the night before and bringing them to a special morgue. That is where you went to identify someone you knew. It was happening because no one knew what was in the alcohol. People could go blind. I think the Methodist church took that stand that there would be no alcohol on their property. If a Methodist minister was discovered drinking, he was dismissed. Now we are a little more liberal. In our book of discipline it says “you will drink responsibly.” Addiction is a very horrible thing.
A lot of Methodist Minister’s addiction is probably not alcohol or pills but food. Our vices are probably food. We were rated as one of the unhealthiest clergy. We went from being one of the healthiest demographic groups in the 1950’s and 1960’s to one of the unhealthiest. Now we are correcting it on a full conference program. We have gotten so much healthier as a group that our insurance rates have gone down as a reward.
JM:When we talked before about future plans for the Lakeville Methodist Church, you talked about merging, but you used the term “parish Model”. Would you explain what that is?
ML:When you have a parish, it comes from the old idea from England, what is the territory of that church? The idea being that if you lived within the parish boundaries, you did not go to the next parish to church. That was frowned upon. Parish model is that IF Lakeville and Sharon merge, we have to decide what is our parish going to be. What is our umbrella going to be? What is our territory that we will be ministering? Sharon has a little more of an idea of this; Lakeville does too. Sharon has a lot of people from Amenia because we are on the border. We even have people from Dover Plains, N.Y. that come to Sharon. We also have some people come in from Millerton, N.Y. What does that mean? I have some parishioners that are now at Geer. So have to go visit them. The point is what is our parish model? We must not think in terms of the Lakeville Church, but the Northwest Corner. What do we call ourselves, the Northwest Corner church? How do we envision that? There is nothing wrong with being the Lakeville Church, but we have to secede what is going to be our parish? That is what I mean by the parish model. It is a different viewpoint.
JM:Do you have other future plans for the Methodist church? Or is the Parish Model the big one?
ML:I think that is the big one. When you start talking about that a lot of things are going to come out of it.
JM:You will have the 2 parish councils discuss tentative plans. Is there anything that you would like to add to this interview before we close?
ML:If there is any church as a whole, the larger church mentality as a whole, that can weather the changing paradigm of what is happening to religion in America is happening to the Methodist church. We are a church that was born out of practicality and necessity. There is life experience with our church, so what do we need to do now to be relevant now. It is a very practical church. I have great hope with our new Bishop because he is a very practical person. What we really need to do is think about is that our mission is a holy one. It is a sacred one. We are supposed to be connecting people to God. How do we do that in this community? How do we help people in this community? What are the practical steps we can do for the community? That is it>
JM:Thank you so much.