She was still in seminary and serving three congregations when her husband died.
And she earned a doctorate in education while working full time.
So many people probably understand why — at age 72 1/2 — the Rev. Dr. Nicki J. McIntyre might say she’s tired.
And ready to be retired.
Last Sunday, McIntyre retired as a pastor of Faith Ambassadors Lutheran Parish. She plans to move to Lee Summit, Mo., and pursue pastimes and volunteer work.
Leaving isn’t easy.
“I am very sad to leave the ministry here in Nebraska, but at almost age 73, I’m worn out,” she said. “And the funny thing is, when I’m with them (congregants), I pick up energy so it doesn’t seem like I’m tired, but I’m very weary.”
McIntyre’s retirement concludes a multifaceted career and ministry that’s included working with college students and serving rural parishes.
The road to McIntyre’s ministry began years ago.
Raised on a farm in Wolbach, McIntyre was just 15 years old when her mom died.
“I was walking home from school a month or two after my mother died, knowing I’d go home to an empty house on the farm, because my dad was in the field and I felt so terribly alone — and I was more than angry with God,” she said. “But at that same moment, I realized that God was with me and would be my comfort and would get me through it and could handle whatever anger a little 15-year-old girl could dish out.”
Looking back, she notes something.
“While I wasn’t thinking at all of being in the ministry, I think that had a huge impact on my life decision,” she said.
After her mother’s death, McIntyre’s father, Ted, sold the farm and they moved to Fremont. He went to Central Seminary, now the home of Fremont’s May Museum. When the seminary closed, he finished his education in Minneapolis.
By then, McIntyre was attending college and married. She’d earn bachelor’s and master’s degrees in agency/counseling from Wayne State College.
She was employed at what’s now called Midland University, developing the career planning and placement service. McIntyre later became assistant dean of students and then dean and vice president for student development.
During that time, she earned her doctorate in higher education, administration, curriculum and instruction. She was working at Midland when her father died.
She’d serve at Midland for about 23 years, before taking early retirement and — at age 57 — entering the Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM).
She started serving three rural congregations, Immanuel Lutheran Church in Snyder and St. John’s Ridgeley and United Evangelical Lutheran churches, both of Scribner. At the same time, she attended Pacific Lutheran Theological Seminary in Berkeley, Calif., in a new program with 16 other adults.
“We’d fly out to seminary at Berkeley, three or four times a year for an extended weekend or week, while we were serving the churches as student clergy, doing everything except weddings,” she said. “Then we would read and write our papers while serving, and then fly out (to Berkley) and have an intense weekend or extended week in the summer.”
McIntyre was still in seminary when her husband, Herb Kleensang, died and she became a 58-year-old widow.
She later learned that congregants wondered if she’d stop going into the ministry after his death.
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“But that never even occurred to me,” she said.
Besides serving three congregations, McIntyre was helping her stepmother, Densmer, whom she describes as wonderful.
McIntyre’s stepmother died one spring. That same year, McIntyre was diagnosed with colon cancer.
“I had surgery in the fall, but the churches were incredibly gracious, allowing me three months for a full recovery,” she said.
About six years ago, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregations in the Scribner, Hooper and Uehling areas began talking again about joining together. The goal would be to extend their existence because of mutual financial support and, more importantly, to collaborate for the purpose of serving their neighbors through Christ.
That relationship was formalized 2 ½ years ago and is known as Faith Ambassadors Lutheran Parish. The Rev. Joel Schroeder, McIntyre and Vicar Bob Ball served the five congregations that make up the parish.
Schroeder retired last spring. The Rev. Chip Borgstadt served as a short-term interim. Then retired clergy and active chaplains served as pulpit supply for more than six months.
Two months ago, the Rev. Inba J. Inbarasu came as a transitional pastor. McIntyre describes Inbarasu as someone with the chaplain attitude of gentleness, compassion and calmness, who also has a passion for a sense of direction in ministry.
As for her own ministry, McIntyre has found it most satisfying when she’s been teaching, preaching or presenting an idea about spirituality and theology that’s maybe a little outside the box – and having someone tell her they never thought of it that way.
“I feel like I’ve achieved some of what I was meant to do,” she said.
Throughout her 16 years of ministry, McIntyre has conducted numerous baptisms, weddings and funerals. She hasn’t kept track of all the hospital calls and visitations and times when she’s served people in emergencies, times when relationships are deepened.
“I think that’s the most beautiful part of ministry is when people let you in to their personal life and you just pray that you are doing some good and providing some comfort, and occasionally, direction,” she said.
She appreciates the Logan Creek cluster of area pastors, who’ve met almost weekly for years. Recently, that group has included some newer and retired pastors from the Valley, Schuyler and the Fremont area.
“I have a strong sense that these young pastors are quite extraordinary and the church is in really good hands,” she said.
McIntyre has been touched by the outpouring of hugs, tears and appreciation by parishioners.
She looks forward to pursuing pastimes — her favorite of which is creating greeting cards and scrapbooking, things she hasn’t had a chance to do in a long time. She’d like to sharpen her storytelling skills and hopes for the opportunity to help children learn to read.
McIntyre anticipates being drawn to provide some pulpit supply.
She has a daughter, Sharon Edwards who lives in Texas, two stepsons, two stepgrandchildren and four great-stepgrandchildren. She has her daughter’s dog and a cat, who are learning to travel.
McIntyre is returning to Lee’s Summit, where she lived for 5 ½ years about four decades ago. She has family and friends who live there.
As she reflects on her ministry, McIntyre recalls herself as that angry 15-year-old girl.
And she thinks about the love of God.
“I’ve always felt very strongly that God never causes bad things to happen to us,” she said. “There’s sometimes just natural consequences of living on this earth and somehow the Sunday school teachers and the pastors and my family got through to me how much God loves us and wants good for us and does not punish us.”