Gigi Siekkenen, the new part-time intern pastor at First United Methodist Church in The Dalles, came to seminary as a second career — an ever more common path to the pulpit.
She worked as a landscape architect, and then became a stay at home mom. She and her husband, Jim, and their three kids moved to Hood River eight years ago from Minnesota. She is a native of Tennessee.
She is in her second year of seminary at Claremont School of Theology in Southern California. She just got back from a week down there, where she took class for eight hours a day. The rest of the term she studies autonomously. She begins each term with a weeklong stay on campus.
“It’s great to be at First United Methodist Church in The Dalles,” she said. “People have been very hospitable and gracious and I’m really looking forward to this time.”
Siekkenen was aware of the intern pastor program at First United — in which seminary students serve as pastors at the church for a year — and was delighted when it worked out as an option for her. She is a part-time pastor since she is also still in seminary.
When she was in college, a retired minister encouraged her to go into the ministry. “I just couldn’t picture myself preaching. I’m kind of shy, couldn’t see that happening.”
But she’s always been involved in her church in many capacities. She had “some opportunities to see people who were really committed to their faith — that was really impactful in my life.”
In her work with her church, “I just met so many people who were doing this as a second career. I had thought about ministry, and seeing others do it after their first career broke down that barrier in my mind and I started to see this was really a possibility.”
She’s been on the job since July 1, and she’s been meeting people and learning about them and what they’re passionate about.
“They’re very invested in the backpack program [for homeless youth]. Certainly that’s a community effort, but their involvement in that is very important to this congregation.”
She also helped out at the Community Meal site recently, where an evening meal is served every Friday, Saturday and Sunday. “I’m really impressed with the community of The Dalles. It takes lot of commitment to serve three hot meals every week.”
She said, “I think this group tends to like ecumenical projects, which I fully support, and part of my job is to discern with them how we’re in ministry, and we’re still in that process.”
She said, “It was a great experience working with people, and the people there to eat were gracious and appreciative. It was an enjoyable meal.”
She was asked if anything was a surprise to her in her first months at the church. “I don’t say surprise, but it was a nice affirmation that I think people want to share their lives with other people, and a sense of community. I think there is a genuine need for community and it’s nice to see that in action.”
Siekkenen joked that the pastor at her church in Hood River agreed that her kids could be “dual citizens” at the church in The Dalles.
Her work at First United Methodist was not her first time preaching. She’s already preached a few sermons at her church in Hood River, Spirit of Grace, a Methodist-Lutheran cooperative Church.
Her kids have come to hear her preach, she said. “They never lack for feedback, I can assure you.”