Rev Beverly Biehr Supports Garrett-Evangelical by Taking Out Two Annuities
When Rev. Beverly Biehr (GTS 1970, G-ETS 1997) and her husband, Harold, decided to take out two annuities at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, their motivation to do so was clear. "We wanted to give toward the future, so Garrett-Evangelical remains a strong institution for higher learning," Biehr said. "And, we wanted others to benefit from the wonderful education the seminary provides."
Attending Garrett-Evangelical was transformational, said Biehr, who attended Garrett-Evangelical twice, twenty-five years apart. "It was like a miracle," she said. "Garrett-Evangelical took a little farm girl from Iowa and transformed her into a pastor in Chicago and Indiana."
Biehr grew up on a farm in Charles City, Iowa. Her family's church, West St. Charles Methodist Church, was located about a quarter mile from their farm and was integral to their lives. "I could look out the window and see the church," Biehr remembered. "There was youth group and picnics, and of course, church," she remembered.
Her original call to follow Christ came while she was at church camp in Clear Lake, Iowa. Toward the end of the session, the camp administrators invited those who wanted to give their lives to Christ to come forward during a worship service. Although she felt called, she did not go forward. "I was in high school about to go to college, and I was thinking, I am just barely getting to the age where I can make my own decisions in life, and they want me to give my life to Christ," she said.
"I said to myself, 'no, I am not going to do that,'" she continued. "But, of course, I never forgot the call, and God never forgot me either."
She went to Iowa State College in Ames, Iowa and studied home economics. "Girls in the 1950's only had a couple of college choices; they could become either a teacher or a nurse," she said. "I didn't like the idea of being a nurse, so I went to Iowa State for home economics education."
When it came time for her to graduate in June 1961, she agonized as she decided what she wanted to do next. Many of her classmates were thinking about serving in the Peace Corps, inspired by President John F. Kennedy's inaugural address where he beseeched people to "Ask not what your country can do for you – Ask what you can do for your country."
Confused about which path to follow, Biehr started to go to the chapel at the Collegiate Methodist Church and pray. One day, she had an answer. "I really heard Jesus say, 'Follow me,'" she said. That's when she decided to apply to a short-term mission program through The Methodist Church. She was accepted, and because she had studied Spanish in college, she was sent to a hospital in Mexico to serve as a dietitian. "That was my first full-time job working for the church," she said.
Biehr stayed in Mexico for almost four years, starting up a school for dietetic technicians and writing a diet manual, among other things.
When she returned to the United States in 1965, she decided to enroll at Garrett Theological Seminary, where she majored in biblical studies. Several of her friends from her short-term mission program were also at Garrett, so she settled in easily, loving the curriculum and her professors. "Those years at Garrett were really special," she remembered. "It was everything I could have dreamed of."
While at Garrett, she took a vocational test that suggested she consider teaching, so when she graduated in 1970, she applied to teach Christian education. "I had an open mind about being a pastor, but I was advised that churches at that time were not ready for single women pastors," she said.
Although she was offered a job in Arlington Heights, Illinois, she turned it down because her dream was to live in Chicago. Instead, she applied to teach home economics in the Chicago Public School System and was hired to teach at Waller High School, now Lincoln Park High School.
Biehr spent 10 years in the classroom. Meanwhile, she completed a master's degree in marriage and family living at Northern Illinois University. In 1978, Biehr became an administrator for the Chicago Public Schools, specializing in family life education teacher training. She stayed in administration for 17 years, retiring from the Chicago Public School System in 1995.
During that time, Biehr married and adopted two boys from Chile. In 1992, the family moved to Valparaiso, Indiana, where they bought a home and joined the downtown First United Methodist Church, where Hosea Drake, a Garrett alum, was the pastor. Unbeknown to Biehr, her husband talked to Drake, telling him about her background.
"My husband had always been amazed about how much I seemed to know about religion," she said, "and he kept asking me over the years, 'Why don't you become a pastor?"
Drake called Biehr and encouraged her to join a United Methodist Candidacy Program that helps potential pastors understand what it means to be called to ministry. "In that process, I began to realize that my original call was still there and that God had never given up on me," she said. "I young enough and healthy enough, so it was still an option."
In 1995, 25 years after she received her first degree, Biehr returned to
Garrett-Evangelical, where she began working toward her master of divinity
degree. "They weren't supposed to give you credit for classes you had taken
30 years before, but they decided because of the high quality of professors
I studied under in the 1960's that they would give me credit for a year's
worth of classes," she remembered. "All I had left to take were the
practical courses like preaching and education."
While at Garrett-Evangelical, she served as a student pastor at the Christian Fellowship United Methodist Church in the Ravenswood community of Chicago. Once she graduated in 1997, she became ordained as elder in the then North Indiana Conference, while serving as associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Crown Point, Indiana. She served there for eight years and retired in 2005.
Currently, she and her husband live in Ocala, Florida. She has written a memoir, Casualties of Peacemaking, which describes her career as a short-term Methodist missionary, a teacher in the Chicago Public School System, and a lifelong advocate for the co-existence of peace and justice.
In addition to taking out the annuity at Garrett-Evangelical, Biehr and her husband continue to support the seminary and have made a generous provision for it in their trust. "Garrett-Evangelical was just such a big part of my life," she said, explaining why they continue to give. "It seemed like any time I needed some guidance or anything whatsoever, there was a Garrett-Evangelical alum or a program at the seminary to help me. The seminary really enriched my life and continues to do so, even today."
If you would be interested in exploring how you too could name the seminary as the beneficiary of an annuity, insurance policy, IRA, or a 401(k) or 403(b) plan, contact David Heetland, senior vice president for planned giving, for further information. He can be reached at 847.866.3970 or [email protected].