United in marriage and ministry


"What God has joined …" at First Presbyterian Church in Bowing Green is a married couple as
joint pastors.
While not unique, the husband-wife dual leadership of Mary Jane and Gary Saunders is certainly a rarity.

Beyond that, the couple have quickly become united with the congregation and the community.
The couple met when both were students at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago.
"You have to take Greek and study with someone," Gary said of the seminary requirements.
"Here was this cute girl down the hall and a year later we were married."
After graduation, they did serve and work together for 16 years. Then, for another 14 years, they each
guided different churches.
"We got tired of getting in separate cars on Sunday mornings and driving in opposite
directions," Mary Jane said, noting their thoughts, "Wouldn’t it be fun to work together,
"It was a turn the page of life time for us," Gary added as they sought a joint call.
At first, they were not successful, noting many churches were reluctant for various reasons.
Even BG’s search committee at first ignored their request.
According to Marcy St. John, a member of the search committee, "The Saunders found us."
A list had been provided of those seeking matching denominations and their names were not on that list.

"We were up to our eyeballs in candidates," St. John recalls.
However they called again.
"These are two people at the peak of their skills and with wonderful ideas," St. John said the
committee finally realized.
The church had recently become affiliated with More Light Presbyterians, a progressive part of the
Presbyterian denomination.
"The church has some very progressive social positions that were in line with our way of
thinking," Gary agreed.
The couple also liked the idea of a college atmosphere as well as the search committee’s ability to think
creatively and outside the box.
St. John says the congregation has been pleased with the decision.
"They have so much experience and wisdom they bring to our church," she said of the pastors.

Dick Martin, currently a deacon with the church, agreed.
"As a congregation, we are extremely pleased with them and the energy they bring," he affirmed.

"They have brought a whole new feel to the church," Martin said and singled out the
"excellent job" they do with the youth program.
"Their styles are different, but they compliment each other very well," Martin stated.
"The energy they brought has been very positive."
St. John similarly said, "They have an energy that is very contagious."
Adding though never really unhappy, "This congregation seems so very happy, now."
Gary and Mary Jane began in January and were installed at the church on March 29.
"It seems like a very good fit so far," Mary Jane said. "We are a bit creative in our
worship style and people have responded to that."
A bit of background on the couple finds Mary Jane was born and raised in Chicago and went to Loyola
University. After being out in the world for a few years, she realized her call to go to seminary. She
had always been active in the church.
"I went to seminary mostly to explore. Women at that time (1975) were not encouraged to be
ordained," she recalls.
Gary is originally from Marietta and attended Denison University. In the early 1970s, he was in an
exploration period in his life and that included church involvement. Interestingly, basketball and a
Methodist minister was the impetus for him to seek out the seminary training.
This minister invited Gary to play basketball, then paint the Sunday School, and eventually to assist at
a worship service, then to preach, and finally to attend the seminary.
Though the minister was Methodist, Gary followed his teaching and also attended McCormick.
Many times people are curious about the aspect of living and working together.
"It may sound corny, but it’s never been a problem," Mary Jane said.
"We have a lot of fun outside of church."
He noted their different gifts and abilities, but stressed, "We really do enjoy working
Most times they alternate weeks in the lead in the pulpit. They both lead every service, but Mary Jane
does take the lead with her music at the children’s service time.
"There is a new depth and dynamism to the worship service," St. John stated. "It’s pretty
Both St. John and Martin noted the pastors’ ability to reach the young and the elder members of the
"They have just been utterly inclusive to all age ranges of our congregation," St. John stated.

"They are two unique people. They are a clergy couple, but they are definitely, Mary Jane and Gary.
It’s not one and one equals two, its one and one gives you infinite possibilities."
Though pastors come and go, as for the union of this married couple as pastors with this congregation
"… let no one put asunder."

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