Charlotte Frantz’s life journey and her commitment to justice emerged from a crisis of faith. She was raised in a very conservative Lutheran family. After completing an undergraduate degree in theology, she entered Eden Theological Seminary, a UCC seminary in St Louis, Missouri—not with the intention of becoming a minister, but to try to resolve her own crisis. At the heart of that moral crisis was a question about faith, justice, and action. Civil Rights and the Vietnam War were both burning issues at the time. Charlotte was very aware of what was going on in this country, but she could not understand why there was no moral leadership around those issues coming from the denomination in which she’d grown up. One day, she was reflecting on John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son. . .” She realized that her church was not acting as if it loved God’s world. The denomination of which she was a part seemed more worried about salvation and the afterlife than it did about the present world. “I was in agony being in a church that didn’t act as if God loved the world.”
Once she recognized the source of her spiritual crisis, she was ready to drop out of seminary, but found herself questioning what she should do with her life. At the time, she was doing fieldwork with an urban United Church of Christ congregation. When they heard her question about her future, they responded clearly: “We know.” She was called into ministry—by those she was serving. She completed her seminary degree, and became one of only 40 UCC women ministers serving as solo congregational leaders. Over the years, she served congregations in Indiana, Montana, Iowa, and Minnesota. She retired in 2015, after serving Pilgrim Congregational Church in Duluth. She now is a welcome member of Peace Church.
Charlotte’s commitment to justice focuses on many issues: racial justice, the global community, particularly Latin America, our relationships with Native Americans, growing economic disparity. At the heart of her commitment is that core question: How do we act on the moral imperative that emerges from the belief that God truly loves the world?
The specific focus of Charlotte’s commitment at any one time emerged from the context within which she was working. In Indiana, she served a congregation of truck-drivers struggling with the impact of the oil embargo. In Montana, she saw first-hand the impact of the oil boom on the economic and social fabric of the communities she served. In southern Iowa, her congregations were deeply hurt by the farm crisis, foreclosures, and the massive exodus of family farmers.
She credits two people for having a significant impact on her life. One is an aunt, who graduated from Yale Divinity School when Charlotte was born, and who was ordained twenty-seven years later, six months after Charlotte’s ordination. This aunt was a ground-breaker, a subversive—a woman actively involved with ministry at a time when women were supposed to be home raising families. She wrote curriculum for Sunday school that went beyond Bible lessons, and addressed issues like world hunger and racism. She tested out lesson plans on Charlotte and her siblings. Charlotte has a vivid memory of her aunt gathering the oldest cousins together to listen to Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech on the radio. From her aunt Marjorie, Charlotte gained an early awareness of the world and a desire to care for it.
Charlotte’s father also shaped her life in significant ways. He was deeply conservative, but he was also a scientist who believed in evidence. He was firmly opposed to Charlotte’s going to seminary, and told friends that she was in graduate school rather than acknowledging her decision to attend seminary. But then he drove from Pittsburgh to St Louis, sat in on her classes, read some of her books, talked to her professors, and concluded that there was “no heresy” in what she was studying. He was willing to engage even when he was opposed to what she was doing. One of her moving memories is serving her first communion as an ordained minister, with her father assisting her. It was a moment of profound reconciliation.
For Charlotte, it has been the deep connection between faith and action that has shaped her life. “Faith is the root out of which I draw courage—courage to try new things, courage to face adversity, courage to fail. That is where forgiveness and grace are. If we always need to be right, we have no courage to change anything.”
Now that Charlotte has “retired,” she is “reinventing” her role here in Duluth. That process remains guided by her belief that God truly loves this world. Her household includes 18 year old Alex, a senior at East High school, and a cat named Rosa. Interviewed by Pamela Mittlefehldt