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Farrell an advocate for social justice

UMC pastor retires

by: Photo by Susan Matheny - The Rev. Janet Farrell holds a bag of groceries given out through one of the United Methodist Church's six food ministries.


   After over 25 years in ministry, Madras United Methodist Church Pastor Janet Farrell retired June 30, preaching her last sermon in the church where she grew up.
   The daughter of Alys Belle and Phil Farrell, Janet Farrell said she loved going to church as a child. "I decided I should marry a minister -- then I could help at the church all the time," she said, noting women ministers were a rarity at the time.
   After graduating from Madras High School, she earned a degree in home economics from Oregon State University. Later, when she was a young mother and very active in her church in Chiloquin, the pastor encouraged her to go to seminary.
   She began exploring the possibility, and after they moved to Jackson County, the pastor in Talent, Ore., encouraged her to become licensed as a local pastor and serve that church.
   Farrell took summer courses to earn the license, then served the Talent Methodist Church from 1986-88.
   An experience during the annual United Methodist Conference led to her decision to become a minister. While watching the ordination of new pastors at the conference, she said, "I had an overwhelming feeling that I would be up there some day, and started crying profusely. My pastor, who was standing next to me said, `You're going to be ordained, aren't you?'" she related.
   "I've gone back to that experience during the ups and downs of my ministry, because it is very important in the United Methodist denomination to feel both an inner and an outer call," she said.
   Farrell entered San Francisco Theological Seminary, and earned a Master of Divinity degree in May 1991, and was ordained in June of that year. Her first appointment was at the Myrtle Point United Methodist Church from 1991-97.
   "John Wesley's theology of merging of personal holiness with social justice, reflects who I am," Farrell said, referring to the founder of the Methodist movement.
   "I've always had a heart for children and people who don't have a good way to voice what they need, and I tried to be an advocate for them," she said.
   In seminary, she also had spent time in Mexico City living with a poor family in a program to learn from the poor.
   Putting her feelings into action, she served on the Coos County Commission on Children and Families, was the secretary for Habitat for Humanity, and on several other committees to better the community.
   She felt disappointed, however, when the Myrtle Point church was willing to help Hispanics, but not let them use the church building.
   Her next appointment was to the Jason Lee Memorial Church in Blackfoot, Idaho, from 1997-2001. "The community was 70 percent Mormon, and I had the experience of being a minority, which was a good teaching for me," she said.
   There, Farrell was active on the hospital ethics committee, and ministerial association.
   She served as pastor of the LaGrande United Methodist Church from 2001-05. In the community, she served on boards for campus ministry at Idaho State and Eastern Oregon University, a women's shelter board, and with peace groups doing weekly peace vigils after Afghanistan was bombed.
   In addition to local groups, she also served on many Methodist conference groups, including the Commission on Status and Role of Women, Commission on Religion and Race, Methodist Federation of Social Action, and Hispanic Ministry Council.
   In 2005, Farrell returned to Madras as pastor of the church in which she grew up.
   Here, she continued to pursue social justice by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity, peace groups, hospice, the relief nursery board, tri-county crises response team, Partnership to End Poverty, domestic violence council, and doing adult mentoring.
   She was able to go on volunteer mission trips to Nicaragua and Kenya, which broadened her perspective.
   Farrell is also proud of all the work being done by members of the congregation. "We have six food ministries here now, and have offered migrant education in the past," she said, mentioning the handing out of food bags, Backpack Buddies for school kids, weekly distribution of fresh NeighborImpact foods, community kitchen, and Christmas food and gift baskets.
   "And we have a Hispanic congregation that meets here now," she said, noting the progress.
   The Madras congregation has also been accepting of gays and lesbians. "They recently voted to join the Reconciling Network, and I'm very pleased that happened on my watch," Farrell said.
   "It's been a joy to serve. I grew up here in Madras and finished my career here," she said.
   In retirement, Farrell, 63, is ready to take a short break from being in charge and on-call 24-hours a day. "I'll have weekend off, which I've never had before," she noted.
   She wants to spend some time with her four young grandsons and their parents, who will all be in Madras for the Fourth of July.
   After that, she will be looking for a part-time job in the community. "My mom is here, so I don't want to move away," she said.
   Instead of a job where she's in charge, Farrell would prefer a change -- something like a bank teller, file clerk or teacher's aide. "I'd be good support staff," she laughed.
   Reflecting over her years of ministry, Farrell said, "My ministry highlights are not a measure of baptisms, or members gained, or apportionment paid. Instead, what I have valued most are personal, spirit-filled connections through weddings and funerals, prayers and blessings, hugs and tears, heartfelt sharing and children who love me."
   "Those connections extend to the communities in which I have served, and the ways I have, perhaps, left a mark for social justice," she added.