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First female pastor set to take over at Clearwater's Grace Lutheran

Pam Smith, 55, tried her hand at being a real estate lawyer and working at a wireless company before deciding to become a pastor.

JIM DAMASKE | Times

Pam Smith, 55, tried her hand at being a real estate lawyer and working at a wireless company before deciding to become a pastor.

CLEARWATER — Pam Smith has had several careers that paid quite a lot of money.

She was a utility and real estate lawyer. But that wasn't satisfying.

She was a projects manager for a wireless company. But that wasn't satisfying.

She reviewed leases. But that wasn't satisfying.

Ultimately, she realized she never worshipped money and didn't care for the soulless business world.

"It wasn't who I was,'' she said.

Now she is about to embark on a job that doesn't pay much but promises more: to fulfill her soul.

Smith, 55, is about to become the first female pastor of Grace Lutheran Church in its 48-year history.

She will be ordained and installed at 3 p.m. today.

"I feel very honored to be called by the people of Grace,'' Smith said.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Smith attended Valparaiso University, a Lutheran school, where she met Earl, her husband of 33 years.

During those years, she tentatively asked a friend in the seminary about getting in herself.

"He said 'we have nothing to offer you,' '' because she is a woman, Smith said.

After graduating, the couple moved to Indiana where Smith earned a master's degree in social work from Indiana University.

In 1978, a blizzard moved across the northwest part of the state, covering it with 4 feet of snow. Smith, her husband and two sons, Jeff and Jay, were trapped inside their home for three days.

"It was awful,'' she said.

The Smiths knew they wanted to retire to Florida, and after the storm, they pushed the date up and arrived in 1983.

Pam enrolled at Stetson University College of Law and became a real estate and utilities lawyer, and Earl became a house flipper. Eventually, the couple moved to Virginia where she was a manager for a wireless company.

Unhappy with that, she quit and switched from the Missouri Synod, which did not allow women to become ministers, to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, which does.

Then she entered Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in South Carolina where she studied Greek and Hebrew.

Out of all the congregations in the country, she was assigned to the church at 1812 N Highland Ave. in Clearwater, not far from her former St. Petersburg home.

"It's fantastic having a lady pastor,'' said Rosemari Smith, 71, who has been a parishioner there for 30 years. "Jesus said we can all speak the Word, not just men.''

The church has struggled to find a new pastor since Rev. Phillip Whitener left two years ago after being there for a decade.

"What I like about this congregation is the faithfulness of the people there (even though they've gone through) a difficult time in their church life,'' said Smith. "I like their optimism and energy. It's an older congregation, and each person brings a story.''

And what about those twists and turns in her life?

"It's been a marvelous faith walk,'' she said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

First female pastor set to take over at Clearwater's Grace Lutheran 07/25/08 [Last modified: Thursday, July 31, 2008 3:43pm]
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