By AMBER POMPA
COMMERCE — Mary Alice Lyman is an ordained minister with a purpose.
Lyman recently took over as ordained minister for the First Presbyterian Church of Commerce.
There was no great epiphany that brought Lyman to the realization that she wanted to become ordained. It was more a gradual culmination.
“When I was fifteen I went to a youth conference at Trinity University in San Antonio,” said Lyman. “It was there that I realized that there were more Presbyterians in the world than just the few that I saw in Waco.”
After attending the conference, she realized she wanted to work in the church, but being 15 years old, she didn’t fully understand all that entailed.
“At that age, you don’t really know what all that means, being called to ministry,” she said. “You just don’t have a concept of that yet, even though, at the time, I thought I did.”
Lyman grew up in Waco, where she followed in her family’s footsteps to attend Baylor University. There she received her bachelor’s of science degree in education, with history and English being her chosen teaching fields.
According to Lyman, during her time at Baylor, between 1976 to 1980, there were very few women interested in ministry.
“That helped me think through my desire to be a minister and what it meant being a woman called to ministry,” she said.
When she finalized her decision to go to seminary, she decided she would leave the south.
“Back then, in the olden days before the Internet, I got out the Presbyterian seminary catalog and choose McCormick in Chicago,” she said. “When I started there my class was the first one to be 50 percent male and 50 percent female. I was there from 1981 to 1985.”
This may seem like a hasty move, moving so far away from everything she’d known, but Lyman’s mother had grown up in Wisconsin, so she had family nearby for support.
“I liked that it was in the city and knew I would get a completely different experience than I’d ever had before in my life,” she said. “It was near inner city Chicago, with all the good and bad of living in the big city. I really liked their philosophy and focus on ministry. It was something of a shock, though, both in regard to weather and culture.”
In Chicago, Lyman received a good grounding in theology, the Bible and the Presbyterian system of government, as well as Greek and Hebrew.
“I definitely wouldn’t consider myself fluent, though” she said with a laugh.
Lyman stayed in Chicago for six years, which included three years of seminary and one year of internship in a church in Moorland, Iowa. She then returned to the Northshore area of Lake Forest, Ill., where she was the director of Christian education at the local Presbyterian Church.
In 1985, when Lyman first began ministry, there were not a whole lot of women who were solo pastors or heads of staff in large churches.
“They mainly went in as associate pastors or became chaplains,” she said. “In the 22 years that I’ve been ordained that has really changed. In seminary there was a great acceptance of women in ministry, but it was a little more difficult breaking into that after seminary.”
Regardless of the difficulties, Lyman found her way.
“My first ordained call was back at my old church in Waco, where I served as associate pastor for four years,” she said. “Then I went to Midland where I was associate pastor for three. Then I made my way to Swarthmore, Penn., where I served as associate pastor for 10 years.”
After serving 10 years in Pennsylvania, she spent three years in Florida and two in New Jersey before she decided to come back to Texas to be closer to her family.
“That how I came to be in Commerce and the First Presbyterian Church,” said Lyman. “I like it here. It’s a small town, but with the university, it’s different than a lot of small towns in Texas. There’s a lot of university people connected with the church so it’s a highly educated group with a strong connection with education within the church. That gives us good Sunday school classes and educational programs going on. It’s important to them and it’s important to me, too.”
Lyman, who took over the position of minister in December, sits in on sessions with the Board of Elders at the First Presbyterian Church, where the development of programs and policy take place.
“Right now, I’m still getting to know the congregation,” she said. “We’ve got a great group of people here.”
Lyman believes she may have found what she has been searching for, if it can be said that we ever find such a thing.
“Do we ever really find what we’re looking for, though,” asked Lyman “I think that’s part of the faith journey. Every once in a while we’ll catch glimpses, but I think we’re always on that quest.”