Image taken by Janet R. Stafford. First United Methodist Church, Somerville, NJ.
Like her older sister, Frankie’s interest in a vocation shows up early in the Saint Maggie series, but it takes her a while to finally decide the direction she wants to take. Frankie does not seem to be the type who becomes a minister. She is tomboyish, outspoken, and impulsive. She even announces: “Church is dull.”
Despite Frankie’s excesses and immaturity (she is only fourteen when the series starts), she is good-hearted and has been trained well by her mother to love God and neighbor.
Frankie’s distaste for religion fades when she meets the Methodist church’s handsome young minister, but she is crushed when she learns that Madison is interested in her older cousin Leah. In tears, she confesses to Maggie that she had visions of helping Madison in his ministry. “We’d be partners. I’d go visit the sick with him, and teach, and preach.”
Maggie writes in her journal about their conversation. She is supportive of her daughter, if Frankie is called. However, she has serious reservations.
If God truly is calling my daughter, what then? She would have to leave our church, for the M.E.C. will not ordain women. But who among the churches will ordain a woman? To which church would she go? She would be a laughing stock, reviled, or both. My God, could I stand by and watch that, even if You called her? But Your Son had to endure that and much more. And I know this, my Frankie is strong – and Your Holy Ghost will make her even stronger.
Maggie soon finds out the road blocks that would lie in her daughter’s path when Frankie’s short, impromptu sermon at camp meeting causes a stir.
By the time she is fifteen, Frankie has a growing interest in ministry. In Walk by Faith, her family has relocated to Gettysburg. Desiring desires a theological education, Frankie walks to the Lutheran Theological Seminary, where she meets the Rev. Samuel Schmucker. Schmucker was a real person, a German-Lutheran pastor, the president of the theological school. However, the conversation is fiction, although I tried to make their conversation true to what I know about him.
Frankie begins her pitch by saying that she knows Schmucker supports female education. She then adds that if “women have a right to learn… can we not also pursue more rigorous intellectual pursuits such as theology?” After impressing him with the list theological books she has read, Frankie tells the older man that she would be happy to sit at the back of the classroom or even outside the door and listen. When she mentions preaching, though, the following conversation ensues.
“Preaching is a bit radical for a woman, don’t you think?”
“The first people to learn of Jesus’ resurrection were women. And is not the first sermon simply the words, ‘He has risen?’ Could not we say they were preaching?”
Rev. Schmucker considered her argument. “We certainly could. But there are other passages which define woman’s role differently.”
Frankie could hold back no longer. “But, sir, the world is changing! You yourself have worked to bring that about. My family and I are helping slaves and freemen escape the war and go north, and I have been told you do the same. You have offered a theological education to men of color. You have founded schools for girls. Do you see what is happening? People who once had no voice are beginning to speak. God’s Holy Spirit is moving. As the prophet Joel said, ‘And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit.’”
“And are these the days about which Joel spoke?”
Frankie demurred. “I do not know. I only believe that it seems to be so.”
“You are a very persistent young woman,” Rev. Schmucker said again with a smile. “I like your spirit.”
And that is how Frankie ends up auditing classes at the theological school. She also becomes her family’s pastor and leads a funeral service held in the Smith house. The battle in July, though, soon disrupts the entire town, including the seminary and Frankie’s book-learning, but her education in practical ministry continues. When she finds herself separated from her family, Frankie rolls up her sleeves and goes to work at the field hospital at the Spangler Farm. She continues to help the wounded when she returns to the Smith house in the third book, A Time to Heal.
Frances Blaine is searching for something to fit her unique gifts and inclinations, and throughout the series tries on different vocations. She teaches at the Blaineton School for a while. After the wounded in Gettysburg are moved to Letterman General Hospital, Lydia and midwife Adela Edler start a hospital for women and children in the old Smith house, and Frankie works there.
In Seeing the Elephant, though, seventeen-year-old Frankie goes to work in a different hospital – the Western New Jersey Hospital for the Insane. At first, she volunteers by offering prayer sessions and Bible studies for women in the convalescent ward. But eventually she is offered a paying position as an attendant in the same ward. Frankie umps at the chance, but this still is not a perfect fit for her
Finally, in the closing chapter of Seeing the Elephant, Frankie confesses her feelings to her stepfather, Eli:
“…I don’t want to work in a hospital, nor do I want to be a teacher.”
“Well then, what do you want to do?”
She hesitated a moment and then blurted, “I want to be a minister! There, I said it!”
Eli beamed. “So, be a minister.”
“I can’t! It’s impossible.”
“That right? Who says?”
“Everyone, huh? What about God?”
“I don’t know what God says.”
“You don’t? Who do you think put that notion in your heart in the first place?”
We already know from history that Frankie will not have an easy time answering her call. She might have to change denominations, which would grieve her Methodist mother. She also might have to move west, where cultural controls are more relaxed, and women have greater opportunities. If she marries Patrick, then a move west becomes even more likely, because a young doctor also will find opportunity there.
A woman being called to ministry in the mid-1860s is not something for the faint of heart. But, as Frankie says to sister Lydia at the beginning of A Time to Heal, “We’re far from fragile flowers!”
Somehow, I think she’s going to answer the call.