Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 27, 2014

Anne Hébert and Beulah's church on the hill

BY LORAINE ANDERSON landerson@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — BEULAH — St. Andrews Presbyterian Church stands like a Celtic sentinel, swathed in whirling veils of lake-effect snow, high on a hill just west of Beulah.

The usual stunning view north off U.S. 31 to Sleeping Bear Dunes and Lake Michigan is invisible. It’s one of those stay-at-home-if-you-can whiteout days in Benzie County.

Even so, 10 cars are parked one recent morning in the church parking lot. Inside the massive stone and glass structure, the Rev. Anne Hébert and several members of the weekly Disciple Bible Study class sat around a table, big Bibles opened to the short books of Esther or Jonah near the end of the Old Testament.

“You Michiganders keep showing up for everything,” Hébert said, a quick weather joke before she returned to Esther and Jonah. “What does this story tell us about the transition period between the Old and New Testaments?”

A Texan by birth, Hébert completed her first year as St. Andrews pastor in November. St. Andrews is Benzie County’s first Presbyterian Church.

The congregation was founded in 1995 and chartered with 63 members who meet in the home of Ned and Bobbie Edwards. Ned, a retired Presbyterian minister, conducted services until 2002 at St. Phillips Episcopal Church, not far down U.S. 31 from the 19 acres where St. Andrews stands today. The first service was held in the new building on June 18, 2002.

The membership today totals about 100 to 150 in the winter and doubles in the summer as Benzie area retirees return from warmer places.

Hébert worked in churches in New York, Oklahoma and Texas over her 26 years as an ordained Presbyterian minister. Her last church was a 350-member Presbyterian Church in Garland, Texas, near Dallas.

She said she never dreamed of becoming a minister as she grew up in Texas because she never had seen a woman minister. In fact, she didn’t know women could become ministers until her junior year at Stephen F. Austin State University, where she earned a bachelor of business administration degree in finance in 1983.

“I was headed toward the business world, condo and BMW,” she said.

Not for long, though.

The summer before her senior year at college she worked as a counselor at a Presbyterian church camp north of Houston. A director there encouraged her to consider the ministry as a career because she was good at it.

Her next steps, from 1983-1987, took her through Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. From there, she went to First Presbyterian Church in Oklahoma City where she was ordained in January 1988.

But she still didn’t see many women ministers until the 1990s, when she served in Rochester, N.Y. She was in her 30s.

“Having grown up in the South, it was helpful to see these powerful women ministers in churches and also see the possibilities, she said. “When I went back to Texas in the 2000 I saw lots of women ministers, but we were still paving the ways. The treatment of women is different in the North than the South.”

Hébert, who turned 53 last week, will start work on a Doctor of Ministry degree at McCormick Theological Seminary, a Presbyterian Seminary in Chicago. She will go to classes on campus three to four weeks year and do extensive reading and a ministry project at St. Andrews, plus a paper between classes. She will graduate in May 2016.

She sees the mission of the church to be the “hands and feet of Christ” in the congregation and community. The phase is neither a Presbyterian motto nor her own.

"It's a way of talking about living as Christ would in regard to others, as well as seeing Christ in others," she said.

Several words and phrases come up often when you ask church members to describe Hébert: energy, enthusiasm, leadership, positive communication and interaction skills in all areas of the ministry, counseling, visiting the sick, memorial and other services. She attends church committee meetings and is big on mission work.

She and her husband, David, also are involved in the church’s adult-education classes. David, a therapist who specializes in play therapy for children, closed his 25-year practice to accompany Anne to Michigan

“She works hard and is really committed,” said John Witt, a member of the selection committee who spent 10 months poring over 200 resumes and watching sermon videos on the Internet to select and interview seven candidates before recommending her to the congregation. “A lot of pastors aren’t interested in finances, but she is.”

Steve Grace, who heads up the church’s Mission Committee, described Hébert as “very accessible, super good at communicating back, open and encouraging lay leaders.”

“She’s very open-minded,” said Ray Nichols, who organizes the St. Andrews' summer Concert on the Hill fundraisers.

The concerts bring in about $10,000 every summer to help support various community helping groups like Habitat for Humanity, Benzie Area Christian Neighbors, and St. Andrew’s home repair and winterization program called STAMP.

“Being open-minded is critical for someone running a faith community with a diverse congregation," Nichols said. “And she’s a good listener.”

Who was St. Andrew? St. Andrew has been recognized the patron saint of Scotland since 1320. He was a Galilean fishermen working in the Black Sea and became a disciple of Christ. He was crucified in Greece by the Romans on an X-shaped cross, which is why the Presbyterian symbol for the cross is an X. Legend has it that a few of his bones and relics were taken later to Scotland by a Greek monk for safekeeping.