Longtime pastor of Lutheran church in Harrison retires
Editor’s note: This is part of an occasional series that features Alle-Kiski Valley residents and the notable things that they do.
Barbara Ravenstahl felt a calling to become a preacher when women weren’t allowed behind the pulpit.
The Lutheran Church in America ordained its first female minister in November 1970.
Ravenstahl graduated with a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Mercyhurst College, now Mercyhurst University, in 1962.
“I was always Lutheran, but I learned many things from being in the Roman Catholic world,” she said. “I think I knew from early on, probably high school, that there was a strong calling to the church. They did not ordain women (at the time). They did not allow women in seminary, so I did not go.”
Ravenstahl never formally became ordained, but instead was synodically authorized to preach and appointed by bishops.
After nearly two decades of leading churches and even more years teaching and playing the organ, she feels called to travel and spend more time with family.
Ravenstahl, 78, of Crafton recently retired from leading Faith Lutheran Church in Natrona Heights, Harrison, after nearly 15 years of service.
The new temporary pastor is Bob Keplinger from Trinity Evangelical Lutheran.
Ravenstahl was first asked to lead the church by former Bishop Donald McCoid, executive for ecumenical and inter-religious relations of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
“He asked me to come here for one year, and I’ve been here 14,” she said.
Ravenstahl said she stayed for the people.
“I felt that God had called me to this place, and it was a very welcoming and loving congregation,” she said. “It presented many challenges, as churches go smaller, to maintain it and help it to grow and survive through hard times. Our attendance is better, and we’re holding our own here.
“Most churches are struggling attendance-wise, and we’ve been able to maintain even through the loss of many of our members through death.”
She said about 70 people on average attend service, including new members.
Ravenstahl grew up in Erie and graduated from Lawrence Park High School in 1958.
The church became a place of comfort for her at a young age. She was 10 years old when her parents, Ann and Richard Boyd, divorced.
Her grandmother, Bertha Schuld, would help raise her and bring her to Christ-Redeemer Lutheran Church.
“It was a small-town, close-knit community,” Ravenstahl said. “The church was always the center of life then. All our social lives were in the church, mostly. It helped me through without criticizing any parent.”
She would help with various tasks within the church and made a connection with then-Pastor Fredrick Bermon and the congregation.
“The congregation was very patient with me,” Ravenstahl said. “If I would act out they would say, ‘That’s all right. We love you, and Jesus loves you, and we will help you through.’ They were more than willing to put up with whatever reactions I had.”
She said that love helped give her a better understanding of compassion and how to be more sensitive to children and youth going through problems.
“The church as a whole needs to not criticize or shun, but receive them and say, ‘We understand. We’ll help you through it,’ ” she said.
Those lessons served her well as an elementary educator and a pastor.
Ravenstahl worked as an elementary teacher in Millcreek Township School District and the former Third Ward School in Glassport prior to preaching in Natrona Heights.
She met her husband, the Rev. Howard Ravenstahl, at Christ-Lutheran. He was the pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Crafton.
They were together for 49 years until he died in 2011 at age 72.
“He was a soft-spoken man, a good pastor, one who encouraged me to become involved in ministry,” she said. “He encouraged me after many years of teaching that I should do this, so I did.”
The two had three sons and several foster children.
After eight years, she is ready to remarry.
Ravenstahl will wed Mark Thompson, a retired chef from Brackenridge, on Sept. 21.
Michael DiVittorio is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-871-2367, [email protected] or via Twitter .