The Austin Sacred Sisters

Come with me, for the journey is long

By Shelby S. Miller

Members of the Austin Sacred Sisters gathered on the campus of Austin Seminary for a retreat.When the College of Pastoral Leaders at Austin Seminary first pulled all of the cohort groups together in February, 2004, a participant I had just met looked around the assembled gathering and said to me, “Where are the nuns? I don’t see the sisters.” I had to inform him I was one of the Sisters and no, we were not nuns, but in fact were Presbyterian clergywomen, graduates of Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary who had been meeting for continuing education since 1998. Nameless in the beginning, somewhere along the way we were (affectionately, I hope) labeled the Sacred Sisters by a former professor, Stan Hall. Now we take the name Austin Sacred Sisters with pride and are ready to smile when people remind us of its acronym.


I believe it describes us well, for I find these colleagues of mine capable, talented pastors guided by a strong faith and, yes, ability to find laughter and delight in one of the most demanding of professions. Our strength lies partly in our diversity. Not only are we in a diverse range of ministries, bringing a variety of skills, but there is a healthy, wide range of age of 36 years between the youngest and oldest!


Our group began at the seminary. Most of us lived in an apartment building two blocks from the campus, and at some point we began coming together for dinner twice a week – and in the process became community. When it came time to graduate in 1997, we realized that our time together had become a major support system that needed to continue. As one experienced pastor of twenty years had told me, “As a minister I feel terribly isolated. We have friends here in town, and I belong to the ministerial alliance. I go to presbytery meetings and work on committees. But I don’t have anyone with whom I can really share. I miss the deep bond, the camaraderie I remember from my student days. Keep in touch with your classmates.”


So even before leaving seminary, we began making plans to form an ongoing continuing education group. We selected the dates and topic of our first week, reserved Smoot Center, and contracted with our first leader before leaving for ministry.


That was fifteen years ago. Although two of our original ten have had to drop out, we have continued as a support group meeting once a year in study. We ask our leaders to share their passion, or the latest project of their research, and have become a sounding board, a trial group, for material to be presented to the whole Church. It has become our practice to go where the leader is. Our week-long meetings have found us in such places as New York (Barbara Wheeler) and Chicago (Cynthia Campbell), but it can also find us in the small country town of Willington, S.C.(Sara Covin Juengst’s farm), and in the delightful town of Santa Fe (Sheila Gustafson).   Periodically, we return to APTS. Just this past summer we returned to the campus to celebrate our 15 years together, study themes in the book of Romans under Moyna Stubbs, and to lay plans for the future. In 2013 we will be back at APTS again, studying under Kristen Saldine.


A few years into our yearly gatherings, with a Lily grant APTS began the College of Pastoral Leaders and we applied to be one of the first groups. “Think out of the ordinary. Where would you like to go?” asked Dr. Michael Jenkins. Without hesitation we all replied “Iona!” So 2005 found us bound for this remote island off the coast of Scotland known for its Celtic foundations as well as its more recent communal work for justice under George F. MacLeod. This experience, together with a year of preparation, study, and absorption of Celtic spirituality, brought a new dimension to our ministries.


But it also helped us to shape our community around a central focus of worship and prayer. We had already been in constant contact through e-mail. If we e-mailed one of our group, even for a routine question, we sent the e-mail to all. After Iona, we have developed the practice of Thursday devotions and intercessory prayer, prepared by each in turn, with prayer requests added by each Sacred Sister, as needed.  

Some of us have reached retirement age, and have stepped from the pulpit to other ministries. Others of us are returning to active ministry after a time out of raising children, or just now taking time out to enjoy a new marriage or time with grandchildren. But even as we move into new and different ministries, we renewed our covenant just this past summer at APTS. Throughout the years we have laughed together, cried together, aided each other with our skills, and held each other accountable for the gifts we bring to ministry. We will continue, for the journey is long.

Members of Austin Sacred Sisters


Lori Beer Nance

Member at Large, Mission Presbytery

Austin, TX


Eleanor Cozad Cherryholmes, Honorably Retired

Stated Supply

West Fork Presbyterian Church, Grand Prairie, Texas


Kristen Hamilton-Sutherland

Pastoral Visitor

Milwaukie Presbyterian Church

Portland, Oregon


Judith M. Henderson, Honorably Retired

Steering Committee, Malawi Mission Network PC(USA)

Works with University of Livingstonia, Malawi, Central Africa

Assoc. Pastor, Overtoun CCAP Church, Livingstonia, when in Malawi

Tulsa, Oklahoma


Pamela Smith Laing, Pastor

United Presbyterian Church

Wood River, Illinois


Erin McGee, Associate Pastor

Trinity Presbyterian Church

Atlanta, Georgia


Shelby S. Miller, Honorably Retired

Coordinator of Taize Services

Trinity Presbyterian Church

Denton, Texas


Trudy R. Morphew, Pastor

Rio Rancho Presbyterian Church

Rio Rancho, New Mexico


Gayle C. Perkins, Honorably Retired

Volunteer work for Woodlands Presbyterian Church

Supervisor (part time), St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church after school activities

The Woodlands, TX


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