New Fox Valley pastor reflects on her calling

I always enjoy talking with the new pastors in town and learning a little about the journey that brought them to a pulpit in the Fox River Valley.

More and more, it seems, our men and women of the cloth are not career ministers who entered seminary fresh out of college, but second-career professionals who sensed a higher calling for their lives.

The Rev. Diana Otterbacher, newly welcomed to Zion United Methodist Church in Hampshire, used to be a social worker, a journalist, a teacher and a village trustee, and she said all of it played a part in preparing her for the work she does today.

As a caseworker for Catholic Charities in Ohio, she helped start all-day services for the Head Start program. She established a crisis pregnancy center in Florida in 1973, when abortion opponents were reeling from the Roe v. Wade ruling at the U. S. Supreme Court and trying to figure out how to serve the young women it affected.

“We made it OK to say ‘We’ll help you and surround you and support you,’” Otterbacher said. “It was very fulfilling.”

Before moving recently to Hampshire, Otterbacher lived 31 years in Hebron, where she taught in the schools as a substitute, covered local stories as a freelancer for the a local newspaper, and served two terms as a village trustee.

“After that, my youngest was getting ready to go to college, and I thought, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’” Otterbacher said. “I had always been active in church. I love teaching the Bible. By that time I had observed enough female pastors that I thought, ‘OK, women can do this.’

“I had flirted with the idea of ministry my whole life, but it seemed unthinkable for various reasons,” she said. “It just evolved. I didn’t realize I was on the track to anything, but a door opened up, and I walked through it.”

Friends and family also recognized a call on her life, she said. She headed for Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston.

By then she also had experienced as many church denominations as she had careers. Raised Roman Catholic, Otterbacher became part of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal, then fed for several years on teachings in nondenominational charismatic churches before migrating to the United Methodists.

“I got a broader experience of what’s out there in Christianity,” Otterbacher said. “There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I was able to move from room to room and see how other churches express their faith.”

After earning her Master of Divinity degree, she pastored United Methodist congregations in Alden, Ringwood and Greenwood. The opportunity in Hampshire opened up when the Rev. James Ketzel wanted to go part-time and left to take a position elsewhere.

Having arrived July 1, Otterbacher is focused on getting settled, getting to know people, and getting ready for the new Sunday school year.

“I have a really great group of people to work with. I want to be able to help them achieve their goals, and we’re just going to keep going on and help people through the transitions of life,” said Otterbacher, who is widowed.

“I am very blessed. Tuesday mornings I sit down, and I open the Scriptures for the week, and I think, ‘I am getting paid to read the Scriptures!’” she said. “That is so beautiful for me because that’s my first love, the Word of God, and making it come alive for people.”

Remembering Sept. 11: The terrorist attacks 10 years ago left an indelible impression on our nation, and two upcoming local events aim to help us honor those who died.Ÿ Hosanna! Lutheran Church, 36W925 Red Gate Road, St. Charles, hosts #147;Never Forget ... Hope,#148; a service of remembrance for Sept. 11, at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 11. Everyone is invited to attend. For more information, contact the church office at (630) 584-6434.Ÿ Women of Grace and Dignity, a local Christian organization, will remember Sept. 11 by celebrating the memory of first responders at an 11 a.m. luncheon on Friday, Sept. 9, at the Elgin Centre Ballroom, 100 Symphony Way.Dr. Clare Ollayos will emcee the event, which honors policewomen, fire women, and female paramedics, chaplains, clergy, EMTs, doctors, nurses, and veterans. Peggy Joyce Ruth, a nationally known speaker and author of #147;Psalm 91: Real Life Stories of God#146;s Shield of Protection,#148; will be the featured speaker.Special awards celebrating local women will be a part of this event, and nominations are still being accepted. For information, visit You can send your nominations to P.O. Box 5395, Elgin, IL 60123.Tickets for the event are $22 and can be purchased at the door or in advance by contacting Liz Hopp at (847) 888-2648 or Ÿ#147;In the Spirit#148; covers churches and synagogues in the Fox Valley area; contact to submit information or ideas for upcoming columns.