Well-traveled Munson to be following in the footsteps of early women preachers at festival

Elder Carrie Munson, a traveling preacher who’s been filling in at Huntington’s First Presbyterian Church for the past year, will be following in the footsteps of early women preachers when she delivers the message during the Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival worship service on Sunday, Sept. 24.
Elder Carrie Munson, a traveling preacher who’s been filling in at Huntington’s First Presbyterian Church for the past year, will be following in the footsteps of early women preachers when she delivers the message during the Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival worship service on Sunday, Sept. 24. Photo by Cindy Klepper.

Originally publihsed Sept. 18, 2017.

Carrie Munson likes being on the move.

Maybe it’s in her genes.

Her great-great-grandparents immigrated from Germany in the mid-1800s, crossing the country in a Conestoga wagon on their way to homesteading in Nebraska.

“So I kind of have that pioneering spirit,” Munson says.

Munson was born in New York and lived in Illinois and Wisconsin before making her way to Indiana. She now lives near Logansport, but can legitimately claim a large chunk of northern Indiana as her home base.

As a commissioned ruling elder in the Presbytery of Wabash Valley, the body governing Presbyterian churches in the region, Munson travels to individual churches in the area to fill in when the regular minister is absent.

She’s spent the past year preaching at the First Presbyterian Church in Huntington. She’ll preach her last sermon in Huntington on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival worship service. Then she’ll move on, to churches in Kendallville, Winamac and Delphi.

“I’m a modern itinerant preacher,” she says.

Although some would question the authenticity of a woman portraying a circuit riding evangelist of the 1800s,  Munson says female preachers were not unusual in that era.

“In the late 1800s, there were probably close to a thousand women doing itinerant preaching,” she says. “Some were even ordained.”

Munson came across a book written in 1888 by Frances Willard, who examined the suitability of women for the preaching profession. Munson found a multitude of forebears in her line of work.

“There were a lot of women preachers and teachers and missionaries,” she says. “A lot more than I realized.”

Sometimes female preachers were welcomed, sometimes they were tolerated and sometimes they were turned away.

Some thought a female preaching the word of God was thought to be usurping men’s authority.

Some churches welcomed women preachers — as long as they didn’t stand in the pulpit.

Support for female preachers, Munson says, “ebbed and flowed with the needs and the times.”

She’s read about one man who was  a great supporter of female preachers, a fact reflected in the man’s self-written biography.

When the man died, Munson says, his widow removed all mention of that thinking from the man’s biography.

The widow’s view of women preachers is unknown, Munson says, but her overriding intent was to remove anything that might “sully” her husband’s good name.

Munson followed in the footsteps of those early women preachers when she began serving as a lay speaker at women’s retreats in the mid-1990s. Friends and pastors encouraged her to go farther, so she went through a two-year course that led to her commissioning as a ruling elder.

That was 18 years ago. She’s been going from church to church ever since.

“I love doing this,” she says. “I get to be an encourager. I get to share the joy of Jesus.”

While Munson didn’t grow up in a family full of preachers, she did grow up in the church and in a family full of faith, playing and singing hymns at home with her dad.

“It’s always been a big part of my life,” she says.

Becoming an ordained minister, she says, is “not in my plans.”

But her husband, recently retired from the family farm, is now studying to join Munson as  a roving preacher, although they’ll be assigned to different churches.

She says she’s enjoyed her year at Huntington’s First Presbyterian Church, an assignment that has helped her be “focused, rooted, grounded” as she dealt with the death of her father and illness of her mother.

And, she says, she’s glad the local congregation has been assigned an interim pastor.

“I’m really excited for them,” she says. “They need somebody who can be here all the time, who can love them more time during the week.”

Munson’s farewell will come at the Pioneer Festival, when she and the congregation of the First Presbyterian Church lead the nondenominational worship service.

Munson says there are no written records of the messages the women preachers of the 1800s gave, other than small snippets in newspaper reports. Her own message at the Pioneer Festival worship service, she says, will be “rooted and grounded in faith.”

The public is invited to attend the non-denominational, pioneer-style worship service that will be held as part of the Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival on Sunday, Sept. 24, at the Huntington County Fairgrounds and Hier’s Park.

The 50 minute worship service will begin at 9 a.m. at the festival’s Saloon and will feature a message by Munson and period music and hymns led by Stephanie Shultz. There will be no services at the First Presbyterian congregation’s home church this Sunday.

Those attending the worship service must pay the festival admission fee. However, if they stay only for the worship service and leave the park before 10:30 a.m. they can request a refund of the admission fee.  

Any Huntington County church wishing to participate in future Pioneer Festival Worship Services should contact Worship Service Chairman Phyllis Renz at the Huntington County Visitor Bureau, 359-8687.

Visit www.PioneerFestival.org for a full schedule of events for this year’s Forks of the Wabash Pioneer Festival.