The Rev. Dr. Mary Hendricks, the first woman priest in St. Alban's 125 year history, was installed into her first pastorate, having earned her degree at Yale Divinity School and her Anglican diploma at Berkeley Divinity School of Yale.
Priests, deacons, lay ministers and the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska, the Right Rev. Joe Goodwin Burnett, were participants in the service, wearing robes of white or red for the special worship service. Mary replaces the Rev. Sam Williams who retired at the end of December.
Mary graduated from Bellevue High School and attended Hastings College where she earned her bachelor degree in education. She taught in Grand Island for six years, and earned a degree in school psychology from Kearney State College. She moved to Florida in 1977, where she taught school and served as a school psychologist. With a background in special education, she eventually pursued a doctorate in special education with an emphasis in early intervention. Upon completion of her degree, she moved to Arkansas.
A professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock for 14 years, she implemented a master's program for early childhood special education. During her time in Arkansas, she became more active in her church, and began to feel a call to ministry.
"At first, I didn't know where in the ministry," she admitted, "I just knew that my passion for ministry was so much greater than the passion I had for teaching, even though I loved teaching."
She became involved in a family and child advocacy program and entered the deacon formation program of the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas in 1999. Spending three years in the deacon program, she was at last compelled to ask herself, "Am I a deacon or am I a priest?"
Seeking spiritual advice, she spoke with her bishop and others, and the consensus was that whatever she was being called to, she would need a seminary education.
"Trying to figure it all out was exhausting," she admitted. "But the force compelling me in this direction was obviously originating from outside of me."
She offered one last protest to her bishop before applying to seminary. "But I'll be 60 when I'm finished!"
He noted that she'd be 60 if she didn't.
A wide variety of seminaries were available and she, having spent time in Virginia, was looking at one located in that state when her bishop again advised her, this time strongly suggesting that she apply at Yale.
"As I made my way around campus, I realized just how blessed I was to be there," she said. "I never imagined myself in a place like that, but it was wonderful."
Following her graduation, she returned to Arkansas and entered the hospital chaplaincy program at the University of Arkansas for Medical Science Medical Center and was certified as a clinical chaplain.
"But my heart was in parish ministry," she said. During her interview in McCook, parishioner Dan Stramel took Mary on a tour of the community and the surrounding area.
"I looked over the vista of the Republican River Valley and knew this was where I belonged," she said. Although she came to officiate for Holy Week observances last March, she didn't make a permanent move until April. Mary has implemented a daily service of Morning Prayer at 8:30 a.m. and has continued many of the programs and practices that have been a part of St. Alban's Episcopal Church for many years. A Christian education program is being implemented between the two worship services each Sunday and plans to continue the year-long celebration of St. Alban's 125th anniversary also keep her busy. Mary is active in the Red Willow County Ministerial Association.
Participants in the installation service included the Right Rev. Joe Goodwin Burnett, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska; the Rev. John Strecker-Baseler, Our Savior's Lutheran Church and secretary for the Red Willow County Ministerial Association; James Visger, arch deacon with the Episcopal Diocese of Nebraska; and Colleen Lewis, deacon, St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Kearney. They were joined by several other clergy from across the state, including Jerry Ness of Kearney, Jami Anderson of Holdrege/Arapahoe, Chuck Peeke of Grand Island, Ellie Thober of North Platte, Randy Goeke of Bassett, John Schaefer of Omaha, Phillip Chapman of Plattsmouth, Kay Knudsen of Cozad and Elizabeth Montes of Lexington.
A brass quartet provided sacred music with Joanne Wendelin and Lonnie Weyeneth on the flugelhorn, Donnie McCorkle on the alto horn and Paul Wood playing the tuba and the euphonium. The St. Alban's Choir was under the direction of Sheryl Havens.
Members of the congregation assisting in the installation included Maury Green and Mark Friehe, Wardens; Merrill Ream, Lector; Rachel Bradley, Renee Swancutt, Rhiann Swancutt, Anna West, Katie West, acolytes; Bryant Brooks and Linda Clark, Lay Eucharist Ministers, and Mark and Dee Freihe, Ushers. Representing various ministries at St. Alban's were parishioners Flora Lundberg, Daughters of the King, Felicia Tapia, Junior Daughters of the King, Rhoda Ream, Prayer Chain, Bettie Gull, Lay Eucharist Visitor (oil stock), Dennis and Fran Allacher, Oblationers (bread and wine), Toni Gerver and Cathy Tapia, Catechists, Nancy Gumb, Altar Guild, Sherrel Adams, St. Anne's Guild, Marilyn Brandt, The Pantry, Nancy Towne, WIC, Dan Stramel, Brotherhood of St. Andrew, and Deb Cole, Choir.