Pastor Penny stayed with her first husband, the father of her two boys, Charlie and Sam, for 12 years. But that husband abused alcohol, which led to their divorce.
She had a good marriage with her second husband, Paul, and together they adopted Pastor Penny’s biological grandson, Kirk, making him their son. Tragically, her marriage with Paul lasted only 12 years before he died of heart disease. With sadness in her eyes, she spoke of falling in love again. But, after four years of marriage to that man, he passed away as well.
“When you have a strong faith, you get through these things,” Pastor Penny said. “That’s life. You have God to turn to.”
In the midst of all this personal trauma, Pastor Penny found herself drawn to her original dream of becoming a preacher. “I felt a call from God,” she said. She had a friend from the church she attended in Virginia who went to the Eastern Mennonite Seminary there. Pastor Penny asked her friend to take her to the seminary so she could check it out.
“When I went there, I just knew it was where I was supposed to be,” she recalled. She soon attended school there and said, “It was the most wonderful three years of my life.”
Her third husband died while she was attending seminary and friends and colleagues there “loved me through it,” Pastor Penny said. Her first job as a pastor was at a church in Millersburg, Pa, where she served five years.
While at Millersburg, Pastor Penny met her current husband, Archie, at a pastors’ conference. Archie retired from preaching in 2004. As a teenager in the 1960’s with her options to be a pastor herself limited, she had hoped to at least be a pastor’s wife. “Now I am,” she said, laughing.
But she’s not just a pastor’s wife, but a preacher herself who connects to members of her congregation on an emotional level. “I can relate to people who’ve lost,” she said. “… to those who’ve lost a spouse, those who’ve lost their parents. I can relate to people dealing with those on drugs…”
Her son, Sam, died in 2010 of an accidental drug overdose. For a long time, she said, the only loss she couldn’t relate to was that of losing a child, until Sam passed away.
“If I didn’t have faith, I don’t know what I’d do,” she said of recovering from these tragedies. She donated her son’s organs, not knowing at the time if she was doing the right thing. Later, she said, she heard from a person in Illinois who received his kidneys. “They had a new life from it,” she said. “So somehow, he lives on.”
Pastor Penny was at Emmanuel UCC when she lost Sam. Friends there helped her cope and she in turn, ever warm and optimistic, helped them deal with their own hardships.
She found the church in Dorrance in 2008, when she and Archie were looking for a place in driving distance from their weekend home in Sunbury. “The first time we came here, it was a beautiful setting with nice folks…my husband told me he prayed that we’d get called here,” she said. It was God, she related, that brought her to Dorrance.
Now, the plan is to live in the Sunbury home full time. “We’re going to sit by the water and watch the river flow,” Pastor Penny said, laughing, adding that she’s sure after relaxing a few days into her retirement, she’ll look for hobbies and volunteer work to fill her time. She joked that, since she’ll miss giving weekly sermons, she’ll have to preach to her husband every Sunday now.
In Sunbury, she’ll be closer to her son Kirk, who now lives in Lancaster. She added how excited she is for the Boston Marathon, as her son Charlie, who lives in Virginia, will be running. Pastor Penny and her daughter-in-law will be at the finish line waiting for Charlie, she said.
“I’ll really miss the people here,” she concluded of leaving Emmanuel UCC. “They’re just good people here and I enjoyed preaching so much.”