PARIS, Pa. - It will be an afternoon of good food, prayer - and mystery.
Author and former pastor Susan Spencer-Smith will be featured at a Coffee With the Author event set for noon Wednesday at Paris Presbyterian's Gathering Place Coffee Shop located at 127 Steubenville Pike.
Spencer-Smith will read from her mystery novel "Death in the Parsonage." She will discuss her cookbook, "The Preacher Lady's Cookbook For the Hungry Heart," filled with church basement lady-tested and -approved recipes, Scripture and prayer; and her upcoming novel, "The Good Old Babes."
MYSTERY, FOOD AND PRAYER EQUAL GOOD TIME — The Rev. Christina Hosler, left, author Susan Spencer-Smith, center, and Outreach Director Margie Zellars, plan an upcoming Coffee With the Author set for noon Wednesday at the Gathering Place. - Summer Wallace-Minger
She also will be singing books, which will be available for sale at the event.
In addition, Paris Presbyterian's own "church basement ladies" will prepare several dishes from "The Preacher Lady's Cookbook." Those attending the event may sample the dishes and vote for their favorite by making a free-will donation. The dish garnering the largest amount of funds will be declared the winner, and the cook will receive a copy of "The Preacher Lady's Cookbook." All proceeds will be donated to a local food pantry.
Spencer-Smith first became interested in ministry while preparing materials for her Sunday school class in Philadelphia, where she was working as a business reporter at the Philadelphia Inquirer. The lessons were well-received, and she began taking classes at a local seminary during the day, while continuing to work nights at the newspaper.
"When I was called to pastoral ministry, I was 40, and - at the time - I thought that was too old," she said.
Spencer-Smith had become disenchanted with her work in the news field.
"I saw promotions I felt should have been mine go to men not as qualified," she said. "It was very much a 'good old boys' club."
She decided to pursue a pastorate through the United Methodist Church, because the church encourages women to become ministers. In 1990, she moved to Dayton - between her husband's family in Chicago, and her family in West Virginia - and began studying at the seminary in preparation to be ordained, while writing for the Dayton Daily News.
"I get a funny chill when I think about it, but all the right doors just flew open at the right time," she said. "My life was changing in all these amazing and unexpected ways. I just went through the doors that were open."
She graduated in 1994 and began her ministry.
"It was a wonderful experience, sometimes painful, but wonderfully painful," said Spencer-Smith. "Even on the worst day - and it could be a real bad day - it can be wonderful. Life is the things you're called to do by God."
Following her retirement due to health issues, Spencer-Smith felt called to use her writing talents again. She began to write a political column for the Columbus Dispatch.
"I felt a calling to write," she said. "God said, 'please honor me with your writing,' and I wasn't sure what to write. I didn't know what to do with this, I didn't think God was looking out for me and I felt a lot of self-pity."
Despite what she called her "thick-headedness," she began to write inspirational stories. Her background in pastoral care and journalism gave her a rich well of experience from which to draw inspiration.
"If you keep the faith, the faith will keep you," she said.
She was inspired by those women who ministered through cooking to write "The Preacher Lady's Cookbook," explaining their cooking, serving and cleaning were done in a spirit of love she wanted to honor and capture.
She gathered recipes from hundreds of church functions and added appropriate Scripture and prayer.
A six-month stint as an editor at McGraw-Hill in 2006 taught her the ins and outs of publishing and book design. She formed her own imprint, Hoopie Girl Press, and published the cookbook.
Following the publication of her cookbook, Spencer-Smith wrote "Death in the Parsonage," a mystery set in "Biddlebourne," a fictional version of her parents' hometown in Middlebourne, W.Va.
Newly re-located to minister in Biddlebourne, Pastor Annie is greeted with a parsonage desperately in need of repair and an ominous, mysterious warning. Meanwhile, she is dealing with her husband's deployment, a visit from her larger-than-life actress sister and a congregation resistant to a woman pastor.
Things only get worse for Annie as she begins to unravel some of Biddlebourne's long-held dark secrets.
Her second novel is "The Good Old Babes," a story of 12 women who challenge the "good old boys" for town leadership. The "babes" of the title are a group of lay pastors ministering to a congregation in Spencer-Smith's fictional Biddlebourne.
An opening in the group becomes available, and the finalists - women of faith, courage, character and community service - participate in a cook-off to determine who will become the next "babe." That is, until one of the finalists is found dead in a pool of broccoli and blood. It's obvious to the babes a murder has occurred - no Biddlebourne cook worth her table salt would use broccoli, which isn't locally available.
"Broccoli just isn't done by cooks in the know," said Spencer-Smith. "They choose what is grown in the county, and broccoli has to be shipped in - it's produce non grata."
The babes' ringleader is Edith, modeled after Spencer-Smith's grandmother, who raised several children during the Depression. Edith's strength of character, deep faith and serenity are inspired by her grandmother.
"As I child, I saw her sacrifices, but as I became a women and married, I saw them in a new way," she said. "She never complained."
"The Good Old Babes" will be available in 2014.
Spencer-Smith is a 1964 Weir High School graduate and the daughter of the late Jack and Fay Kearns of Weirton. She worked 28 years in newspapers, including 11 years at The Weirton Daily Times, before graduating from United Theological Seminary in Dayton and being ordained an United Methodist Church pastor. She served congregations in Western Ohio before retiring in 2006.
Spencer-Smith's books also may be purchased at Penn-Way Pharmacy located at 3159 Main St., Weirton, and at Amazon.com.
Spencer-Smith resides in Weirton with her husband, Grant Beamer. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gathering Place is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays. It is free and open to the public. Hosts or hostesses are available daily.
For information, call (724) 729-3450.