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Frances Shorrock: Caring minister, trailblazing woman

Caring minister, trailblazing woman

Frances Florence Shorrock joined us on earth as a real lightweight, but left as a spiritual heavyweight—and along the way made the world a little bit better for us, her family shared.

She was born on July 30, 1930 in Seattle, Washington, and due to pneumonia weighed just two and-a-half pounds. Frances wasn’t expected to live 24 hours, but she persisted until July 26, 2019, just shy of her 89th birthday.

Along the way, Frances lived a remarkable life. She never married, but found a sure purpose through her ministry. She was named after her two grandmothers: Frances Shorrock, who died very young shortly after giving birth to her fourth son; and Florence Maxfield, the wife of Rev. Charles Maxfield.

After graduating from high school, she attended college briefly in Oklahoma, but withdrew since she found it “too conservative.” She returned to Seattle and completed a sociology degree at the University of Washington.

In her twenties, Ms. Shorrock was very active in youth groups at West Seattle Christian Church. In her spiritual autobiography—written later in life—she said that while the regular church school and Sunday school were a “bore,” the youth functions were very important and that “the church meant everything to me—even to the exclusion of home responsibilities.”

Her older brother also had a spiritual calling. When World War II ended in 1945, Hallam (Hal) Shorrock decided to go to Japan as a missionary. In 1946, she and Hal both attended a summer conference, and he gave the final conference sermon. His preaching had a tremendous impact on Frances, and she then and there resolved to enter Christian service.

The autobiography mentioned earlier describes her spiritual struggles during the early 1950s. However, her involvement with Seattle’s University Christian Church helped set her course, providing a “great turning point” in her life, she said.

Subsequently, in 1954, she entered Berkeley, California’s Pacific School of Religion, and graduated two years later with a master's degree in Christian education. In a graduating class of 26, she was one of just three women. At that time, only 5.8 percent of women in the US earned a college degree.

After returning to Seattle, she relocated to San Diego, California, serving as director of education and youth at the University Christian Church. In 1961, she felt "a tap on the shoulder" to become ordained. This puzzled the all-male board of elders of that church, because traditionally it was men, not women who sought ordination.

Because these were the good old days, elders from district Christian churches of San Diego had to meet with executives of the Pacific Southwest Regional Christian Church about Ms. Shorrock’s plan. After much discussion about her work and credentials, they voted unanimously to sponsor her ordination, which took place in February 1962.

Thus began her years of devoted, peripatetic service and ministering. That same year, 1962, she became the minister of education and youth for the First Christian Church in Orange, California. After four years, she accepted a similar position at the United Church of Christ, in Palos Verdes, California.

Not many women were ordained clergy at the time, in the mid-1960s. A brief biography of Ms. Shorrock’s was included in Who's Who in American Women 1966. She had great company in that edition, including Betty Friedan, author of The Feminine Mystique and co-founder of the National Organization of Women, in the same year; Margaret Sanger, who opened the first birth control clinic in the United States and established organizations that became Planned Parenthood; the painter Georgia O’Keefe; singers Ella Fitzgerald, Joan Baez and Sarah Vaughan; and actresses Judy Garland, Lucille Ball and Dinah Shore. Ms. Shorrock and Ms. Shore share page 1,050 in Who’s Who.

In 1968, she went to the Central Christian Church in Phoenix, and became their associate minister and ultimately interim minister. In 1970, she returned to Orange’s First Christian Church, taking up vestments as their associate minister for the next six years.

Then, it was on to Corvallis, Oregon, where she served as associate minister of the Christian church. Later, in 1979, she returned to California, as senior pastor at the First Christian Church in Stockton. In 1984, she was asked to submit a profile again, this time for Who’s Who in Religion.

As a minister, she said she found her greatest joy in working with youth. She counseled them, and shared life and faith with them. Ms. Shorrock developed youth fellowships and retreat events, writing program materials for these, then trained teams of adults to do these same things. In the summertime she directed weeklong youth conferences. She led United Nations youth seminars to New York and Washington D.C., and directed work camps for both youth and adults in Mexico, Arizona and Los Angeles.

In 1986, it was Oakland calling. Frances moved to Alameda and took a position assisting the regional minister for the Regional Christian Church of Northern California and Nevada. In 1990, she took on additional duties as the church’s part-time interim pastor. The next year she became their full-time senior pastor, continuing there for 14 years, until her retirement on July 30, 1995—Ms. Shorrock’s 65th birthday.

She also had a remarkable family in the extended Shorrock clan. Her parents were Hallam Shorrock and Alice (Maxfield) Shorrock. She had two brothers, both now deceased. Charles (better known as Chuck) and family settled in Bremerton, Washington. He retired from the US Navy after serving for 28 years. Like her, her second brother, Hal Shorrock, was ordained in the Christian church, through the Disciples of Christ. After a range of experiences as a missionary, in higher education, and as a peace activist, he later became her next-door neighbor during retirement at Pilgrim Place, a vital senior community committed to justice and peace located in Claremont. Her relations of many nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews, are spread all over the east and west coasts.

At Ms. Shorrock’s request, her body will be donated to the Willed Body program at Western University in Pomona.

The family plans a memorial service at 4 p.m. Saturday, October 12, at Pilgrim Place’s Decker Hall, 625 Mayflower Rd., Claremont.

 In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to the memorial fund of the pension fund of the Disciples of Christ, at pensionfund.org/give; or to the Pilgrim Place Residents Memorial Fund, at pilgrimplace.org/giving.