I was thirteen years old…all bony knees, bad glasses and scathing self-consciousness. One ordinary Sunday morning at the First Presbyterian Church in my Minnesota hometown, I witnessed something earth-shaking, life-changing: a woman stepped into the pulpit. A woman! Just as if she belonged there. Confident, calm and clear-eyed, she stood up and spoke to the congregation with authority.

Laura was our new intern pastor and I was utterly smitten.

During her short time at our church, Laura led a number of events with the youth, including a canoe camping weekend on the St. Croix River near my town. I remember that trip vividly, especially my aching need to be noticed by Laura tugging against the wish to completely disappear. I also remember her gracious patience with my teenage goofiness.

I decided around that time that I wanted to be – like her – a Presbyterian minister. That ambition didn’t last very long. My life took me in other directions and I never attended seminary.

Despite my lack of official training I find that I am doing a kind of ministry – increasingly so. Just in the past weeks, I have been invited to:

  • offer song as part of a healing story presentation by my friend, Michael Bischoff, who is living well with terminal brain cancer. (You can watch his wise and heartfelt talk here….)
  • create a ritual and lead singing for another friend’s upcoming 70thbirthday. Ditto for a friend turning 65 this summer.
  • co-create and lead a ritual for friends celebrating 50 years of marriage.
  • co-lead several “singing through grief” rituals in Minnesota and Iowa.
  • lead singing to open a conference for people bringing the human aspect of healing into healthcare.
  • sing for the residents of an elder care/memory care center with other members of the Morning Star Singers comfort choir.
  • offer a session on community singing at a retreat for health care professionals.

Over the past decade, I’ve been involved in leading and/or planning many memorial services for people ranging in age from birth to 93. Many of these were unique undertakings and included things like puppet shows, storytelling, harp music, poetry reading and wild dancing.

I have helped create many wedding ceremonies as well. Two of my wedding songs have been sung at numerous nuptials, sometimes led by me and sometimes by others.

I’ve helped make ceremonies for healing, entering hospice, blessing a child, preparing for dying and sanctifying a new home. It is a profound honor to be entrusted with these sacred moments in the life of my community.

Wherever you are, Pastor Laura, I bless and thank you for showing my thirteen-year-old self that a woman can be an inspiring spiritual leader.


About Barbara McAfee

Barbara is a voice coach, singer/songwriter, keynote speaker, and author who merges lessons from 12 years in organization development with the transformational power of sound. Her book, Full Voice: The Art & Practice of Vocal Presence (Berrett-Koehler Publishers) was a #1 Amazon bestseller in Business Communication. The book is based on her 25 years as a voice coach, supporting people from many professions in learning how to access the full power and expression of the voice in service to their work and relationships. Barbara’s musical keynotes blend practical content, sophisticated humor, and thought-provoking questions on topics including voice, leadership, and engagement. She was “the band” for Margaret Wheatley’s Women’s Leadership Revival Tour, which visited 15 North American cities. She also appears with authors Parker Palmer and Peter Block. Barbara has produced seven CD's of mostly original music and is founder of the Morning Star Singers, a volunteer hospice choir in the Twin Cities. She lives across the street from the Mississippi River in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.
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7 Responses to Ministry

  1. Avril says:

    If I ever get married, I want you to write my wedding song!

  2. Connie Spear says:

    Tears in my eyes as I read this lovely post. You are truly ministering love to the world.

  3. Mary Morrow says:

    Wonderful, Barbara! Your very presence is ministry, and through all you do, you minister to many hearts. Mine included! Your singing at my mothers funeral remains my favorite part of that service. ( Plus when you found the Irish blessing sheet in the hymnal! ). Keep spreading your light through Music.

  4. I have long thought of you as a spiritual guide and leader, darlin’. I will never forget how you helped with my son Joel’s memorial service. Printed in our “program” (is that what it’s called?) was you poem “On Being a Carrot in God’s Garden”.

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