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WMRA's Women of Interest series profiles just a few of the women in our region doing things... a little differently. These are women with unique perspectives, in new roles, or just approaching life along the road less traveled. Like many other women, they are changing the lives of people around them in positive ways.Listen for Women of Interest through September on WMRA.Support for this special news series comes from F & M Bank, a local, independent, community bank since 1908 with locations throughout the Shenandoah Valley.

New Pastor in Charlottesville, Born Under Communism

Over the next few months we’ll profile some women in our region doing things... a little differently.  These are women with unique perspectives, in new roles, or simply approaching life along the road less-traveled.  Like many other women, they are changing the lives of people around them in positive ways.  This is the first in the WMRA series 'Women of Interest'.

St. Mark Lutheran Church in Charlottesville welcomed a new pastor in May. Viktoria Parvin is only the second female pastor to serve the church, and as WMRA’s Sefe Emokpae reports, her hope is that she won’t be the last.

(Church singing)

It’s Sunday morning and service is just beginning.

(Pastor Parvin speaking)

Viktoria Parvin is pastor here at St. Mark Lutheran.

VIKTORIA PARVIN: This is a very open congregation, I would say. They are reconciling in Christ. They are openly saying that what holds us together is more powerful than what separates us.

What might separate Parvin from the average member of the congregation here… is a lot. Born in the seventies in Communist Hungary, Parvin’s path to religion to was neither easy nor conventional.

PARVIN: One of my grandmothers would take me to church especially at Christmas. We would sneak out and go to the local church at midnight, it was actually a midnight mass.

Parvin says though her grandmother was the first to introduce her to faith… it was her non-religious father who unwittingly led her to the church… with a Bible.

PARVIN: My father had a lot of books and I just happened to find it and read it. Something was very powerful about it and I reached out and started to ask people about God. My parents would say some people believe in God and I would say, 'Does God exist’ and they would say, 'Well, for some people.’

Parvin soon became immersed in the church, participating in youth programs, church camps, and Sunday School. She called it an exciting time.

PARVIN: It was almost feeling like being rebellious by sneaking out and not telling everyone that I'm going on Sunday morning to Sunday school in the Catholic Church and in the Lutheran Church.

But simmering under the surface was a call to something greater.

PARVIN: It is a feeling of something different than you ever heard before or experienced before.

Parvin enrolled in seminary school and embarked on the path to becoming the pastor she is today.

PARVIN: I think the biggest step was just finding a woman role model who would say to me, 'have you thought about being a pastor?’ It is just something that if you don't have a role model around you, you never even try to imagine it or come up with the idea yourself.

But the path, she says, wasn’t always easy.

PARVIN: When I first time applied to the seminary in Hungary, Budapest, I remember they advertised in the school as 'we prefer men.'  My bishop said to me, I'm not sure how long you would have to wait because congregations are not prepared, most of them, for female ministers, so, they are asking me for male ministers, so what can I do? And that really made me realize, well, education is not enough, having the call is not enough, there's more fight that had to be done.

And fight, she would. Parvin would eventually land her first role as an intern at a church in upstate New York followed by two congregations in southern Illinois. As the first female pastor there, she recalls the difficulty in her sense of isolation.

PARVIN: I felt really alone and people would say ‘you don't look like a pastor’ which I understood what they meant was I wasn't a man. I had to kind of push and prove myself. I used to wear my collar everywhere so that I would be identified.

(singing in church)

Now in Charlottesville, Parvin is the second female pastor St. Mark Lutheran has seen.

TOM HECMANCZUK : I find her to be very dedicated. Her faith is very strong and she has a good way of presenting her faith to others.

Congregation member and usher Tom Hecmanczuk has been with the church for the better part of 17 years and praises Parvin for bringing her own unique set of gifts and skills to the table.

HECMANCZUK: I think she's very inclusive. She wants to be a part of this community and make sure we stay involved and dedicated to the community as well as the church here itself.

Parvin says she hopes to set an example for the next generation of pastors, male and female alike, and views her role as a grand responsibility.

PARVIN: I see it as a very important opportunity. God is always surprising us with new things and I see those struggles that we have especially at this time that we are separated, as not only challenges but opportunities to prove our faith and to show who we are.

Sefe Emokpae was a freelance journalist for WMRA from 2014 - 2017.