Pastor who preached acceptance to leave Parkside Church

Drake’s difficult faith journey taught her lessons embraced by congregation that is sad to see ‘remarkable’ leader go

PARKSIDE COMMUNITY CHURCH PASTOR Susan Drake posed with members of the Saukville congregation after a service on Sunday. Drake is stepping down from her post to care for her mother. Photo by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

Every Sunday morning, Parkside Community Church Pastor Susan Drake puts on her robes and walks down the aisle to give her sermon. However, her tenure will come to an end on July 24.

Drake is stepping down to care for her mother, and that is a loss for a Saukville church that embraced her message of inclusiveness, Heather Rogge, president of the Parkside Church Council, said.

“We’re all just terribly sad, but we also understand life is pulling her in a lot of different directions so we love and support her,” Rogge said. “When you have someone so remarkable, it’s hard not to feel a sense of grief.

“She’s incredible, just a fabulous pastor,”

Drake chuckles when talking about her faith journey, calling it anything but straightforward. She was raised as a Southern Baptist and after attending Sunday school as a curious soul  found herself off to a rough start.

“I really enjoyed science and in Sunday school I would ask questions like, ‘What about the stomach acid in the whale’s stomach? Jonah wouldn’t have made it,’” Drake said during a fireside chat with Parkside members.

In high school, Drake’s struggle with religion developed on a more personal level.

“I went to a youth director and told her that I was really worried I might be gay,”  Drake said. “She was kind, but at the same time basically said I’d be going to hell and that God couldn’t love me in that particular situation.”

“I prayed for years to remove this horrible thing from my person.”

After high school, she headed to the University of Texas to pursue her studies. Drake felt conflicted about her sexuality and God but soon found a solution — alcohol.

“Tequila hit that wound in a special way,” Drake said. “I found something that would take care of that wound.”

Drake spent two years at university and jokes she “even got some credits out of that.”

“The biggest part was I could not reconcile who I knew God to be with what I was feeling in my gut,” Drake said. “(There was) this total upheaval of feeling no self worth because of who I had become. Anyway, I didn’t make it through that final semester at UT.”

After dropping out of school, Drake joined the Army. She excelled in her service, eventually becoming soldier of the month. The long hours and camaraderie helped her.

“(The service) helped me meet people that said, ‘No, you’re not broken. It’s gonna be OK. God loves you,’” Drake said. “I still didn’t quite believe them because they didn’t seem too godly to me, but just that place where I could be myself” was very important.

While the military helped Drake cope with her struggle between God and her sexuality, it enforced her belief that she  was different. Drake was in the military before gay people were allowed to serve.

Drake said being gay was ultimately OK “as long as nobody was looking.” Eventually things started to happen like “the nervous guy that went to the commander and complained that all the girls were dating each other and he couldn’t get a date,” she said.

Drake eventually fell in love. She and her partner wrote each other letters, but one day Drake received a call from her. Drake’s love called her from jail explaining their letters were found and investigated by military officials.

“She said I had two choices. I could go turn myself in and get an honorable discharge,” Drake said. “If I didn’t, and if it was something that the Army pursued and I didn’t admit (to it), then I would get a dishonorable discharge. I just couldn’t do that. I ended up being driven out of the Army.”

Drake again found comfort in alcohol,  and she hit “rock bottom.” This led Drake to take her last drink on Jan. 27, 1991, and as a result Drake’s relationship with God blossomed.

“My first sponsor took me aside and we talked,” Drake said. “I told her my whole story of woe and she just said, ‘Write down who you think God is.’”

  “(I realized) God is love. That was a very powerful moment for me, and that was the beginning of my healing,” Drake said. “That went on for a couple years. I just enjoyed reconnecting with God on a spiritual level. No church involved.”

She found her way back to the church, and that church was of United Church of Christ. There Drake met a preacher she will never forget. She describes him as a “lovely man, one of those real burly guys that’s also a feminist.”

His use of inclusive language bridged the gap that made Drake feel never “fully welcomed in a church,” she said.

After her journey through “really hard moments in a pretty good life,” Drake attended Kansas State University and earned her master’ degree in divinity from Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis.

The lessons Drake Learned during her circuitous faith journey and brought with her to Parkside Community Church will be missed, Rogge said. 

“She raised awareness for the importance of inclusivity in worship language,” Rogge said. “She really embraced everyone. She truly, genuinely means it.”

Parkside’s search for a new pastor will continue through the next year, but for now they are enjoying Pastor Drake’s last few weeks and wish her the best. .

Drake will continue her work as chaplain at Froedtert Hospital in West Bend.



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