Pastor’s hospitality will be missed

Published 9:13 pm Friday, February 9, 2018

Suffolk is mourning the loss of a generous woman who lived to serve others.

The Rev. Myrtle Frances Hatcher, 72, passed away on Thursday. Hatcher had been the beloved pastor of Main Street United Methodist Church for seven years, where she was often referred to as “dear Pastor Myrtle.”

“She was a very gentle soul,” said church member Sandra Birdsong.

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Hatcher earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Mary Baldwin College and later earned her Master of Divinity at Duke University in North Carolina. She left the education field after friends encouraged her to turn her strong faith into a career.

Hatcher

“She loved being a minister,” said John Hatcher Jr., her husband of 28 years and the executive director of Wesley Community Service Center in Portsmouth. “She saw ministry as hospitality, and any opportunity to deliver and promote hospitality was right up her alley.”

Hatcher had served the Virginia Conference of the UMC for 33 years. Prior to Main Street, she was the district superintendent of the conference’s Peninsula District. She also served at Norfolk UMC, Galilee UMC in Edwardsville and St. James UMC in Hampton.

She was both the first female pastor and first black pastor at Main Street United Methodist Church, according to member Barbara McPhail.

“She taught us to see the world from a different perspective,” McPhail said.

Wearing one of her stoles — long scarves — of bright colors she was gifted by members, Hatcher would share personal stories that showed how grace could be found in all kinds of places, from grocery store checkout lines to drive-through windows, member Sharon Slate said.

Her diminutive height required shortened scarves and a box behind the pulpit.

“She was a little lady with a big message,” said member Chris Ward.

The pastor was avid in her church service. Meetings became events with elaborate agendas. Her car was a sanctuary space for her to plan during long drives.

Visitors would often be surprised to find out that the woman doing chores around the church was actually the pastor, Ward said.

“You were just as likely to see her working in the kitchen or anything else around here,” she said. “She was not pretentious at all. She was just herself.”

Cooking was one of her greatest instruments for hospitality.

“She was the only pastor we ever had who made pies, and wonderful sweet potato ham biscuits,” McPhail said.

Hatcher and her sister, Angel Cooper, would spend more than a week each December making thousands of cookies for their “cookie factory.” Hungry visitors at the church were given little boxes to fill with as many cookies as they’d like.

The annual tradition was their family’s Christmas gift to the community, her husband said.

“She really enjoyed doing that,” he said. “It was part of that spirit of hospitality she so graciously delivered to any and all.”

She was one of the founding board members of the Coalition Against Poverty in Suffolk, a network of approximately 24 Suffolk churches that has worked with local agencies to provide crisis assistance to more than 900 people since its 2012 founding.

The organization grew to introduce the Night Stay Program, in which more than a dozen churches open their doors to provide food and shelter to the homeless in winter.

She convinced other churches to be part of CAPS so they could serve Suffolk better as a unit rather than as individuals.

“Everyone respected her, loved her and listened to her,” McPhail said.

Hatcher was planning to retire this year, along with her husband. She wrote a message for the church newsletter about saying goodbye.

“As I continue praying my goodbyes, I am so grateful for this experience in ministry,” she wrote. “The nature of goodbyes has an element of pain and sadness which confirms the importance of the relationship. Because it was a valued relationship, we will miss each other.”

Hatcher was the daughter of June and Rufus Cooper. She is survived by her husband, sister, daughter-in-law, Marie Johnson, and five grandchildren. She was predeceased by her son, John Johnson.

A celebration of life will be held by the Rev. Rob Colwell at 11 a.m. Feb. 16 at Main Street United Methodist Church, 202 N. Main St. Viewing will be available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday at R.W. Baker & Co. Funeral Home and Crematory, 509 W. Washington St.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to CAPS at 157 N. Main St. or to a charity of the donor’s choice. Condolences may be registered at www.rwbakerfh.com.