Search PNC News for stories of people and churches in our UCC Conference:

Jan Van Pelt retires from multidimensional ministry

In the fall, Jan Van Pelt retired from a multidimensional ministry as a community organizer with farm workers, a court reporter, a conflict resolution consultant and an interim minister serving 12 congregations over nearly 20 years.

Jan VanPelt - photo courtesy of Jan VanPelt

In a recent interview from her new home in Panorama Retirement Community in Lacey, she will continue coaching clergy on conflict by phone and do occasional preaching.

A Lutheran preacher’s daughter, she was born in Seattle but grew up in the Chicago area, graduating in English in 1960 from Augustana College in Rock Island, Ill.  Influenced by a UCC uncle who taught at Union Theological Seminary, she took a year off and then went to Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, because her parents then lived in California.

After earning a master of divinity degree in 1966, Jan married a fellow student, who worked summers with her in migrant ministry.  They worked 10 years with the National Farm Worker Ministry of the National Council of Churches, organizing with César Chavez in Delano, Seattle and Los Angeles.

Because the farm worker ministry’s grape and lettuce boycotts were contentious issues in Protestant churches—more than her involvement in the anti-war movement—she did not participate in a church.

“It was incredibly rewarding to work and live with farm workers, seeing life through different eyes,” she said.

She moved to Seattle before her husband and in 1978 finished studies to be a court reporter at Edmonds Community College.  Jan opened her own business as a deposition reporter for civil cases, working with lawyers she knew from farm worker organizing.

While Jan continued that work as a single parent of two daughters to support her family, she became involved with social justice in Central America and the sanctuary movement.

“As a court reporter, I saw how conflicts were litigated, and that led to my next career: mediation,” Jan said.

While continuing to work as a court reporter, she learned mediation over a decade working with the Snohomish County Dispute Resolution Center, before Seattle had such a center.She also trained with the Alban Institute to do conflict resolution in faith communities.

“I wanted to be part of a reconciling ministry, to help people work together across their differences,” she said.

Selling the deposition business in the early 1990s, she became a full time mediation consultant, working with churches in conflict in many denominations and faith communities, some through the Church Council of Greater Seattle.

“There are so many different forms of conflict,” she said.

In 1988, Jan began attending Plymouth UCC in Seattle, drawn by its commitment to social justice.  She was involved in the Plymouth Housing Group and headed the Mission Committee.  That was her church home base until she recently sold her home of 40 years in Seattle. Jan now lives in Lacey and attends the United Churches of Olympia.

“Plymouth supported me through two long episodes with cancer in the 1990s and early 2000,” said Jan.  “I learned about how a church can be a circle of caring.”

In 2010, she was ordained at Plymouth UCC.

Aware that sometimes between ministers, churches experience difficult times, Jan took training with the Interim Ministry Network in 1998 at Vancouver, B.C.

In 1999, she went to her first call as an interim at the Cathlamet UCC, serving nearly two years. In 2017, she did the service to close the church.

Jan served 12 churches from 1999 to 2018 in six denominations, four United Methodist, two Presbyterian one Disciples of Christ, a Lutheran-Episcopal church in Quito, Ecuador, and four UCC churches, including filling in for Mark Dowdy at the United Churches of Olympia for four months during an illness.  Her last interim—nowcalled transitional ministry—was at St. John’s Chapel by the Sea in Moclips, Wash. Nine of the 12 churches were congregations with conflict.

“It was different working as a consultant to churches from the outside, compared with working as a pastor,” Jan said.

Conflicts included person-to-person and personality conflicts, boundary issues by pastors, and conflicts about change—the changing times and the church’s transition.

“If I worked with a church early in a conflict, it was easier than if a conflict had been going on for a while,” Jan said.

“I trained people in congregations to deal with conflicts, doing workshop and leadership training on dealing with conflict,” she said. “Often by example, I showed a different way.”

Jan plans to write more on the range of conflicts and her experiences addressing them.

When asked what reconciliation is, she said that in some churches people were unable to sit in the same room.  Some left.  Relations broke.  Some could hardly tolerate others.  They were still there, but were polarized and tensions were high.

Jan helped them be able to sit in the same room and speak their truths to each other to build trust. Eventually they heard each other and grew by working through the conflict.

“I have seen resurrection,” she said.  “When others see no hope, I believe there is hope.  It is possible to bring people together so a congregation can do its ministry.

Jan is aware there is some degree of conflict in many congregations, but when it’s toxic, it’s hard to do ministry.

“I hope I left churches healthier. It takes a while, so some interims were two years,” she said. “People don’t trust overnight, but in little steps.”

While most clergy understand the need for boundary training, Jan said many lay people don’t realize there needs to be boundary training for them.

Jan, who is on the PNC Ministry Resources Committee, plans to discern where Ito put her energy.

“I’m excited about new ministries I see in congregations. Despite diminishing numbers, I’m hopeful for the church,” she said, noting that working in conflict settings has often been challenging.

Jan appreciates the support of colleagues, family and friends, and “the persistence, dedication and faith of the people I served,” she said. “My faith has been deepened as I’ve been allowed to see with my own eyes God’s transforming, resurrecting power.  ”

For information, call 206-941-8631 or email


Pacific NW United Church News Copyright © January-March 2019


Share this article on your favorite social media Bookmark and Share