KENOSHA NEWS CORRESPONDENT
PLEASANT PRAIRIE — When it was all over, the Rev. Joyce Rinehart was exhilaratingly tired. Longtime friends and parishioners packed Pleasant Prairie United Methodist Church the past several Sundays to pay tribute to her during her last services as the congregation’s pastor.
On May 17, the congregation commandeered the morning service, turning it into a day of celebration, followed by a retirement party.
“As worship began, they passed out bulletins prepared just for that day,” said Rinehart. “A well-planned worship followed that and included beautiful prayers written to celebrate God’s many blessings in our ministry together, favorite hymns, beautiful music and kind words and stories. They gave me gifts, including a lovely blanket with a picture of the church woven into it. That was followed by a delicious meal together complete with a beautiful cake.”
Her retirement celebration was a crowning moment in Rinehart’s career; she has led Pleasant Prairie UMC since 1994 and celebrated her final service on June 26. Her influence reached beyond the small congregation, as she was one of just 18 female clergywomen in the state of Wisconsin when she began serving the Methodist church in 1983.
“We all knew each other and were a very supportive group for each other,” she said. “At that time, few churches had experienced a woman pastor and so my first two appointments were groundbreaking. It was often challenging for my congregants to see me as their pastor at first, and they would turn to my husband at times. He would gently refer them back to me and that helped.
“The key for me was building relationships with folks and that helped them to see me as their pastor. Some of my clergy sisters had very mean spirited and hurtful experiences, and I have been blessed to have served congregations that were open to me as their pastor with only a few exceptions.”
Longtime member Linda Dowell admitted that June 26 was one of the saddest days she could recall as they said goodbye to Rinehart and her husband, Bob.
“Her last service was very moving and brought many of us to tears; we didn’t want it to end. She will be deeply missed,” said Dowell. “She has always been so personable, friendly and took an interest in the lives of everyone and their families. I loved talking to her and her husband about sailing, which is one of her favorite hobbies.”
Dowell has fond memories of Rinehart baptizing her youngest daughter, performing her son’s marriage ceremony and baptizing their grandson. Ten years after their son was married, Rinehart traveled to Sturgeon Bay to celebrate a renewal of their wedding vows.
“Pastor Joyce and Bob graciously gave up two days and drove up there for this special day,” said Dowell.
Ann Bradshaw, Parish Relations Committee chairwoman, said she will miss Rinehart’s kindness and gentle personality.
“She was always there if I needed her, through my surgery and the death of my husband,” she said. “She is that way with everyone, just a great person.”
Rinehart felt the call to help others with their problems and to grow their faith at her eighth-grade summer camp, and the call never waivered.
“I tried to deny it for a while,” she said. “I am also a psychotherapist and that was my first career. As I worked with people and shared their struggles, I was always aware of their spiritual needs as well and the need to be there for them continued to nag at me. I finally opened myself up to God and that call and after my clinical psychology graduate work, I went into the seminary.”
Through her 20 years at Pleasant Prairie UMC, Rinehart helped to make the building accessible though the first phase of a building project that added an accessible lift addition on the church.
As a 30-year-member of the congregation, Florence Bohn hates to have her friend and confidant leave what she affectionately calls her extended family.
“We are a small church and so very close, and Pastor Joyce has helped me through many difficult times,” said Bohn. “She will be missed. She lives in the area and so hopefully, we will run into her. Her husband has also been a big part of the church as a handyman and my house sitter.”
While she is retiring from ministry, Rinehart plans to keep busy with her Reiki, pastoral psychotherapy and spiritual guidance non-profit clinic.