We call them The Pushers—women who are pushing themselves in new directions and toward new passions. We hope that through their inspiration in this regular feature, they’ll push you to take a leap of your own—or maybe just a small first step.
After years as a stay-at-home mom, Nancy Marroquin made not one, but two big leaps into the unknown. Nancy, who has an undergraduate degree in child development, went back to school to become a Presbyterian minister, even though she had a fear of public speaking and public speaking is kind of part of the job. Then, when others thought she was crazy to take on something so daunting with only a few years’ experience, she founded her own church in the town of Dripping Springs, outside of Austin, which now has 450 members. Through it all, Nancy, 63, says she has felt God’s guidance and the loving support of her family and church members
Becoming an ordained minister is not an easy decision. What prompted you to take on this new career?
Let’s say I had an itch I kept trying to figure out how to scratch. I had begun working in children’s ministry [on a volunteer basis]. That grew into a [paid job] developing programs for the spiritual growth of all ages, and I knew I wanted to do more, but I just couldn’t imagine myself as a pastor. For one thing, I was scared to death of public speaking.
I just couldn’t imagine myself as a pastor. For one thing, I was scared to death of public speaking.
I decided to enter into a master’s program in spiritual development at an Episcopal seminary. I enjoyed the courses in spirituality but still had the itch. So I sort of threw the gauntlet down before God and said, “Fine—I’ll take a serious course at the Presbyterian Seminary, and I’m sure I won’t do well and we’ll be done with this!” I’m so glad God has a good sense of humor. I kept my “day job” as director of spiritual formation and took one class in theology. I immediately loved it and aced it as well. It was at that point when I decided to take the leap and go full time into the seminary at the age of 45.
Then you took another leap, into starting a new church. What gave you the confidence to do that?
While I was in seminary, I did an internship at a Presbyterian church in south Austin where a friend was the pastor. He assigned me to do a feasibility study of starting a new church in Dripping Springs. The more I got to know the community and the more I learned about starting a new church, the more passionate I became about doing it. At the end of the summer, when the other three summer interns and I met for an ending interview, we were asked if we could imagine starting a church from scratch. I listened as the other three spoke—two men and one other woman—and all said they had no interest in starting a church. I was the last one to answer and I said, “Are you all crazy? This is the most exciting thing I can ever imagine doing!”
“Are you all crazy?” I said. “This is the most exciting thing I can ever imagine doing!”
It was three years before we actually began the process of starting the church. In the meantime, I was an associate pastor for 18 months at First Presbyterian in Austin, and then I filled in for the senior pastor for a while longer. During that time, I got approval to begin the process of founding a church. I put together a ministry plan (pretty much the same as a business plan) and presented it to several Austin churches in hopes of gaining their support. Three churches agreed to offer us support of prayers and people as well as financial support for three years.
You’ve said that someone told you a woman pastor couldn’t start a new church. Why didn’t you believe that person?
Yes! It was actually the other young female summer intern. When she said she had no interest in beginning a church, she added, “And I don’t believe a woman could start a church anyway!” I honestly couldn’t believe my ears. But it didn’t affect me because by then God had placed this vision in my heart and mind. And the people in my life that mattered, including family and friends, were very supportive. My friend Beverly and I were reminiscing recently about the day I told her I was going to start a church. She admitted that at the time she thought I was a little crazy, but she never let me know. But by far my greatest supporter was my husband, Jim. He certainly hadn’t married a pastor and yet he jumped in with all fours and became an integral part of making the vision of the church become a reality.
What was the hardest part of becoming an ordained minister and starting a new church?
There is always some fear when we choose to step out into new territory, and I knew that studies show something like 80 percent of new church startups fail so maybe I should have had more fearful than I was. But I honestly don’t remember thinking about the possibility of failure. A friend wrote a song around that time called, “What Would You do if You Weren’t Afraid?” There’s a line in the song that says “courage is just faith on top of fear” and that’s the best way I can explain it.
I knew that studies show something like 80 percent of new church startups fail so maybe I should have had more fearful than I was.
I was confident God’s grace was surrounding us and that this was God’s mission, not any one person’s mission. So we could trust God knew what he was doing even when we didn’t. By God’s grace an amazing group of people joined me in beginning Dripping Springs Presbyterian Church. God provided a place for us to meet and worship that was in our price range. And God began to gather such a wonderful and diverse group of people.
Did you face any particular difficulties becoming an ordained minister or starting a church because you’re a woman?
The Presbyterian world has had female pastors for a relatively long time so I can honestly say I didn’t face any difficulties. Many people who came in the beginning knew they’d hear a female pastor. One of the women I met in an exercise class at the gym visited one Sunday with her husband. As they were leaving her husband laughed and said, “Well, I’m sure glad my wife didn’t tell me the pastor was a woman because I might not have come. But I’ll be back.” And they’ve been a part of the DSPC family ever since!
“Well, I’m sure glad my wife didn’t tell me the pastor was a woman,” he said, “because I might not have come.”
When we began in 2005 the majority of the churches in our community didn’t have female pastors, so I wasn’t sure how the other pastors would view me. But early on I received a phone call from one of those pastors inviting me to come to a weekly pastors’ group—all men at that time—and they could not have been more welcoming.
What has been the most satisfying part of your work?
I have the best job in the world. I get to make new friends, hear their stories, and be a witness to God at work in their lives. It’s such an amazing thing to see a life transformed by God’s amazing grace! And what a sacred privilege it is to be with someone on their life journey whether they’re walking through a dark valley, celebrating a milestone or simply dealing with the everyday stuff of life.
What would you say to other women who are contemplating taking off into a new direction at midlife?
I’d say go for it—you’re not getting any younger! Dare to ask yourself the question from my friend’s song, “What would you do if you weren’t afraid?” Then share your dream with a trusted friend or partner. There’s something really powerful about speaking our dream out loud. If you believe in prayer, share it with God. From my perspective that can make all the difference.
Photos by Rebecca L. Bennett