For thirty-five years, Pat Engel has faithfully served Epworth United Methodist Church in Indianapolis. Her retirement this summer marks a historic moment for the Conference: she is the last diaconal minister in the Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Diaconal ministers are United Methodist laypeople who lead in service ministries. Marcy Patrick, Chair of the Order of Deacons, said, “Diaconal Ministers started in 1976. Then, in 1996, we established the Order of Deacon and no longer consecrated Diaconals.”
Pat’s education was in social work and public relations. “Both of those degrees, along with the longevity of my time at Epworth, have enabled me to care for members especially during critical times in their lives, facilitate small groups, lead retreats, participate in worship, and help folks engage in spiritual disciplines and meaningful service to others,” she said.
Pat’s recalls her journey to diaconal ministry, beginning with the way she felt called to find a way for her church, Cambridge City UMC, to get involved in the community. “My pastor John Thomas said to me, ‘I think you need to be a diaconal minister.’ So we explored what that meant. It’s a call to service, not a call to Word and Order, which felt like a really good fit,” said Pat.
After accepting that call to diaconal ministry, Pat paid her way through seminary working part-time in Christian Education at Epworth UMC beginning in 1987. Five years later, she became a full-time employee, and she has served as the Director of Discipleship ever since. She is responsible for Christian Education, Spiritual Formation, Member Care and Mission.
When Pat and her husband, Craig, first came to Epworth UMC, she recalls an early experience that rooted them in the congregation. “One of the first Sundays there, we saw the children of three families all mixed in together. We didn’t have children yet, but I knew that this church is where I wanted to raise my family. They are present for one another in a meaningful way.”
Reflecting back on what it has meant to Pat to be a diaconal minister, she said, “I’ve always said in my ministry I would never ask the laypeople to do something I wouldn’t do myself. We’re in ministry together. I’ve always felt like I wasn’t just called to diaconal ministry but also called to this congregation. This was where I was called to serve with this community.”
Pat’s love for the Epworth congregation and community is evident. She speaks fondly of their strong small group ministry and caring ministry. “It’s what not only held them together but allowed them to grow during the pandemic.”
In her discipleship ministry, Pat first began working with children. As that expanded to all ages, she made it a goal for the adults to have as much fun as the kids. A goal she carried out during her tenure through leading “innumerable retreats,” which is one of her favorite parts about her work. These have included retreats for women, couples, camping, spiritual formation, and more.
In each aspect of ministry, Pat has loved being a part of people coming together and learning from one another. “That’s what it’s all about—to learn from each other and step into each other’s stories,” said Pat.
Senior pastor of Epworth UMC, Rodney Frieden, reflected on Pat’s tenure and said, “After 35 years at Epworth, Pat has often been described as the glue that held the church together. I have come to understand Pat more as a bridge builder. Through changing pastoral appointments, staff changes, building campaigns, cultural shifts, and life changes for our members, Pat has been a consistent voice to help people discover God at work in every shift and that has been one of the greatest blessings to Epworth.”
In retirement, Pat will have the blessing of continuing to hear and be a part of the stories of the Epworth UMC congregation. She will transition to being the Visitation Pastor, spiritually caring for the older folks of the congregation, a demographic in which she is particularly fond. She also plans to participate in mission work around food ministry, as well as spend time with her two grandchildren.
“I give thanks to God for being a part of other people’s stories, for seeing God at work in their lives,” said Pat.
For Pat and for her faithful ministry as a diaconal minister over 35 years, the Indiana Conference gives thanks!