The Rev. Dr. Nancy J. Farrell felt her call to ministry after a first career as a buyer in retail. As a second-career student, Farrell dove into her studies never dreaming that they would take her from the Chicago area, across the country, to service in the parish, at the Presbytery, and Synod levels. Ordained in August 1983, she began her ministry in White Bear Lake, MN. Farrell currently serves as the pastor of Western Presbyterian Church in Palmyra, NY.
Farrell considers herself a minister in the rabbinic tradition saying, “Teaching, or coaching, is my greatest joy: in formal classroom settings, informal bible study, leadership training events, team building, workshops, retreats, mission fairs or in casual conversation.” She receives great joy from creating worship and liturgy that feed her congregations spiritually. And she sees her sense of humor as an important part of keeping her grounded. As a pastor, she believes compassion is the key to ministry, recognizing that faithful people grow in God even in the midst of trauma. Farrell’s own personal pain included estrangement from her father. With the support of her faith community in Minnesota, she relocated and reunited with him.
Having served as both pastor and interim, Farrell recognizes the role transition plays in congregational growth. She has not only taken certified training as an interim minister but has also participated in a peer support group for ministers also serving as interim and transitional ministers. Her focus on leadership skills has allowed her to work effectively at the Synod of the Pacific, guiding 126 congregations to consider improving their mission focus and “connectionalism,” especially given the rapid growth in multi-ethnic ministries. While not ministering in a parish setting during that time, she nevertheless found opportunities for professional growth and built relationships by co-producing a 16-minute mission video, participating in Mission Partnership negotiations, and working with the Bicentennial Committee. She also enjoyed teaching and preaching throughout the area.
As a member the Presbyteries in which she served, Farrell has been involved in a variety of denominational and committee work from task forces to personnel searches; she was also elected as the Presbytery’s commissioner to the national General Assembly when it was in Dallas, TX.
Extending her reach and experience beyond the Presbyterian Church (USA), Farrell has also served as a board member and secretary for the The International Bonhoeffer Society, English Language Speaking Section. In addition, she attends the annual and regional meetings of The American Academy of Religion / the Society of Biblical Literature.
Farrell maintains that church persons share responsibility to look for Christ in others while maintaining a unique stance in faith. A member of a congregation where Farrell served as an interim says this about her: “Nancy loved us where we were, challenged us to be better where we were, to explore and participate beyond our current boundaries. She encourages us to examine ourselves, grow beyond ourselves, explore and participate in the community around us – locally, regionally, nationally.”
Farrell received both her Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees from McCormick Theological Seminary. Farrell’s home church was Fourth Presbyterian and she developed close relationships with many of the pastors, including Elam Davies, David Robertson, and Dave Handley (McCormick grads), as well as Martha Payne, who for many years was secretary to the President, at that time, Jack Stotts. Farrell says, “They didn’t know what to do with me,” because of the challenging questions she would ask about faith, life, and feminism. As a master’s student, Farrell felt deep gratitude for these mentors and friends that helped her through. She also appreciated McCormick and Fourth Presbyterian Church for preparing her to continue to ask and creatively explore important human and divine questions. As a doctoral student in the ministry program, she worked closely with Dr. Bob Worley to form two cohorts and credits him with setting forth systems that continue to undergird the program today.
Farrell’s recent term as an Alumni/ae Council representative to the Board of Trustees has re-engaged her in the life of McCormick. She says it is her dream for McCormick to go, in the words of Fred Rogers, “deep and simple which is more essential than shallow and complex.” Farrell’s advice for students is to “never be complacent” and always “ask deep and simple questions with your life.”