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Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,
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As the mother faces retirement from the pulpit, the daughter keeps the faith & spreads the word

Friday, June 20, 2014 - Updated: 10:21 AM

By CAROLINE MURRAY

caroline.murray@recordernews.com

The Rev. Nancy Pullen knew her daughter was destined to lead a church, well before she realized her own calling.

Pullen, who is retiring from Fonda-Fultonville and Salem United Methodists churches at the end of June, recalled bringing her daughter Judy to a Mass conducted by a woman, while she was in high school.

Pullen said she wanted her daughter to experience a service led by a female pastor and to make her aware of the possibility.

"I supported Judy and the call before Judy even knew she had a call," Pullen said.

And the Rev. Judy Humphrey-Fox found her calling after graduating from the College of Saint Rose in Albany and accepting a position as a kindergarten teacher.

She left her job to obtain a master's degree in divinity and was ordained in 1991, years before her mother became a local pastor.

"I was first," Humphrey-Fox said. "I started serving the church in 1989. I felt very called that I needed to be sharing the Gospel and God's word."

Her mom also started out with a career in teaching. She graduated from the former New York State College for Teachers with a degree in education. However, shortly after, she accepted a human resources position working for the state and remained there until she retired in 1991.

Pullen said, while working for the state, she started getting restless. She began preaching at the church as a layperson and grappled with the idea of becoming a pastor.

The pieces started to fall together when the state offered her a retirement package.

"I was starting to get the call and then the state gave me an offer I couldn't refuse," she said.

Her daughter was supportive from the beginning of Pullen's journey, and still is as she reaches retirement.

On Thursday, the mother-daughter duo sat across from each other at the St. Mary's Memorial Campus cafeteria in Amsterdam after enjoying a breakfast with a group of local clergymen.

The group gathers there once a week, and Humphrey-Fox said she was never able to join them until this year -- before her mother retires.

"Mom's been coming to this clergy group for years," she said. "It has been an extra nice experience to be in this group with her the last year it was possible."

Pullen is officially retiring June 30, after serving almost 11 years at the Fonda-Fultonville and Salem United Methodists churches.

Pullen's age and address play a huge role in her decision to leave. At age 77, she makes the commute from her home in Guilderland to Montgomery County, close to 50 miles away.

Sundays are especially hectic for Pullen. After preaching at one Mass she jumps in her car and makes her way over to Salem United Methodist in East Stone Arabia, which is about a 25-minute drive.

She said the drive gets particularly chaotic during the winter.

"I think, as I have gotten older, it has gotten harder and less pleasant to do, so this last year or so it has been part of the push to retire," Pullen said.

She was appointed to three different churches before finding a home in the two local parishes.

Each church has been a different experience, but she is especially honored to end her career at the church in which she grew up.

Pullen is originally from Fultonville, and said the Fonda-Fultonville United Methodist church helped mold her in many ways.

Although extremely grateful for the opportunity to preach at both churches, she said now is the right time to leave.

In addition to a draining commute, this September, she is undergoing knee surgery and will need time to recover.

"It is time for me to have somebody to come in who is younger and who has more young ideas. I am 77 years old. It is just time," Pullen said.

Humphrey-Fox said that over the years, the two have bonded over their experience as members of the clergy.

Pullen said they swap stories about Mass and confide in each other about the struggles they face.

"Clergy can feel very isolated, so it is nice to have this built-in support,' Humphrey-Fox said.

Currently, Humphrey-Fox copes with similar issues as her mother. She commutes from her home in Corinth to the United Methodist churches in Broadalbin and Edinburgh.

Both admitted living outside of the area was an issue for some of the past communities they served, but they do not have the same problems at their current parishes.

Humphrey-Fox said people care for them and are understanding when Mass is canceled due to inclement weather.

Throughout the years, both have noticed a decline in families attending church.

Humphrey-Fox said this is an issue all denominations have to face.

"Church is not at the center of the community or the center of the family as it once was," Humphrey-Fox said. "Church is much more optional."

She said the church is aging. In her opinion, she believes reaching out the community and becoming more relevant to the needs of people will help break the disparity.

Outside of preaching, Humphrey-Fox substitutes in a kindergarten class in Corinth.

She has a husband and two sons, one at Corinth High School and the other at Siena College.

Pullen said she looks forward to visiting more after retirement. A woman from Rochester will be taking her place.

As she says goodbye to the clergy, she leaves no advice for her daughter, only the experiences they have shared together.

"We both have seen people through their deaths and enjoyed weddings and young families," Pullen said. "One of my disappointments right now, is there is a brand new baby girl born this spring that I am not going to be able to baptize."

     

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