By Charlie Lehman

EVANSTON, Ill. - He came from Dort in the Netherlands. She came from Crown Point in Indiana. They came together while working on a Dutch cruise ship - he as a radio operator, she as a nurse.

Fifteen years later in Lowell, Ind., this husband and wife - this Ed and Mary - these parents of young children responded together to their separate calls to ministry. That is, you see, their style: together. And their answers, articulated before a loving United Methodist congregation during the same service in 2002, launched an adventure that would stretch across five years at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and, of course, at home.

Mary and Ed van Wijk (pronounced van Wike) graduated from Garrett-Evangelical May 11, each with a master of divinity degree.

Both were commissioned to ministry during the North Indiana Annual Conference session in June. This summer they began their new appointments from Bishop Mike Coyner and the North Indiana Conference. Mary, 48, serves as pastor at the UMC in Remington; Ed, 51, serves as pastor at Trinity UMC in Kentland. While the churches are separated by only a 15-minute drive, they're in different time zones.

If this grand adventure hasn't been confusing enough for the three van Wijk children so far, consider this: Their parents' Sunday morning services occur at the same time, even though this is in different time zones. No problem.

Cecilia van Wijk was 8-years-old when her parents explained their calls to become pastors and described their path to get there. Her brother, Johan, was 6. Almost a year after they began their studies in January 2003, Michael was born on Dec. 6.

"They (Cecilia and Johan) were very excited at first," Mary said. "Then Cecilia got very quiet. She knew it would mean moves - moves plural, and she didn't like that. It didn't phase Johan at the time. During five years, there have been gradual, incremental shifts. We've allowed them to voice their concerns, griefs and excitement as well. Ed and I have adventurous spirits. They also have adventurous spirits."

Ed said: "Doing it together made it possible. As family we have supported each other, exploring this new adventure, experiencing it together" "in ways," adds Mary, "that will deepen our family relationships."

Of course, answering their call has been costly financially. After leaving a life on the sea for Indiana, Ed earned a degree in computer science at Purdue University and became a Chicago-based consultant. Traveling every week to help companies implement human-resource software, Ed earned a substantial income.

That changed abruptly. They lived their first of five years as students off of their savings. Since then, their income has been Garrett-Evangelical Leadership Scholarships for both, a Faculty Honor Scholarship for Mary, part-time jobs at First UMC in Lowell, and student loans.

"We still have a mortgage payment due every month and children who like to eat," quipped Mary.

Ed's call to parish ministry came gradually from the time he was a young boy actively involved in the Christian Reformed Church in the Netherlands.

"Ed was born and raised in a pew," Mary said. "I was not. I was baptized, and that's about it. I had prayed for a Godly man to come into my life. And boom." They met on Sept. 1, 1987 aboard a Dutch cruise ship preparing for a voyage out of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Married and in Indiana, Mary and Ed visited a number of churches before joining Lowell First UMC in 1991. They immediately got very involved in church life. Eleven years later they began talking quietly to each other about their calls to ministry. It wasn't long before they stood together before the congregation and articulated their calls.

Two of their best friends, Tom and Kathie Stoner, had been talking together about their call to adopt a child or bring foster children into their home. Immediately after that service in August 2002, the Stoners said they would help care for the van Wijk children while Mary and Ed were in seminary.

"It was very powerful," Mary said, tearing up as she described the conversation. "It was a strong message of affirmation," said Ed.

Ed: "We are called to ministry together."

Mary: "It's not an easy call to discern and to face because it means massive change in your life. With God we are called to think outside the box and be creative."

Ed: "We have faith in God that we are following the path that God has called us to."

No doubt with God's blessings the inspiring van Wijk family adventure will continue - together.

Charlie Lehman serves as a public relations officer at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Ill.

Last updated on 25 Apr