Babish finds calling in the pulpit

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Janet Babish heard God's call but ignored it.

It took family sickness, death and spiritual encounters before she listened.

A few years after the Hayden Congregational Church celebrated its 100-year anniversary, its minister left, and members of the church took turns giving sermons while searching for a permanent leader. Soon it was Babish's turn. While she believed her life experiences were part of a holy summons, her turn speaking in front of the church strengthened that belief.

"I did it, and it felt right," Babish said while sitting behind her small desk in the antique church office. "Even though I was nervous, I wanted to give a message that was meaningful. From people's reaction, I felt like they were encouraged in their faith and fed spiritually. It verified my feeling of what God was calling me to."

Soon after, Babish enrolled in the Theological Educational Institute in Denver and in two years, she became the Hayden Congregational Church's third female minister since it opened in 1899.

Church member Rod Branstetter said Babish always has played the role of a minister, as she often went out of her way to help others and offer comforting words.

"She lived the role of minister before she ever accepted the title, and her life reflects that," Branstetter said. "She's genuine, honest and doesn't pretend to be perfect. She believes we all have that holy spark, and she nourishes that."

She gave several sermons at the church before being ordained. "We knew how good she was," said Beth Sundberg, the church's moderator. "We wanted her, and we all knew her and loved her. It just seemed like the right thing to do, and it worked out great.

"It's unbelievable she could step in and be such a mature Christian and fill the shoes everywhere, not just with the sermons, but with the youth, working with people and so many other things. I doubt many people could go into that and be so capable. It's a thankless job in a lot of ways, so it takes a special person."

Babish grew up in a Christian family in Indian Hills. As the middle child of five siblings, she had a happy childhood, playing in the mountains, exploring caves and damming creeks to make summer swimming holes.

Her family went to church every Sunday. But as the children grew, they began going every other Sunday, and then every three Sundays and so on until they rarely went at all, Babish said.

Babish quit going to church at about 13, but she never lost her connection with God. At that time, however, she looked at her father as God.

"He was a wonderful, moral man with strong values," Babish said. "I always looked at my dad as a guiding light."

When her father died of cancer in 1992, it was "a great loss of guidance and foundation," Babish said. "I started looking more at Jesus' teachings, and that gave me a new purpose," Babish said. "My father was my god. I looked to him for his direction and teachings, but over the years I found out Jesus was even smarter than my dad. I realized I had neglected a big part of my life, and it was pretty exciting to discover what I had missed."

She had begun going back to church with her husband after their two children were born and they moved to Hayden in the early 1980s. But her rediscovery of Christ brought her back to her childhood tradition of weekly church attendance.

Cancer came back into her life, taking hold of her only son and her mother. Her son's cancer was just as devastating to her mother as it was to her. Her mother cried often and began having reoccurring dreams -- some frightening and some comforting.

On several occasions sitting by her bedside, Babish witnessed her mother raise her hand while sleeping. Her mother said she dreamed of hands in white robes reaching down from above, but she just couldn't reach them.

Her mother's dreams, as well as her own, strengthened Babish's faith.

"God was doing a lot of work in me," Babish said. "God was really urging me for some time. I felt the draw, but I ignored it. I couldn't leave my mother. I really wanted to be with her as long as I could."

Her husband, Ralph, felt God's presence, as well.

"Family crisis made us both look at God in a different light and come to know him more that way," Ralph said.

When her mother died, she heeded the call and went into the ministry. Now, she feels the fulfillment of incorporating the gospel into people's lives every week as she reads the sermon to the 117 members of Hayden's oldest church. She is to point out that the church belongs to its members, that it is not a one-woman show.

Babish has lived in Hayden since 1981, when Ralph got a job at the Hayden Station power plant, then owned by Colorado Ute Electric Association. They both worked for the power company in Evergreen, where they met, and transferred to Hayden with promises of better pay.

Babish stayed at home to raise her children, and she and Ralph dreamed of traveling the world when their children were old enough to be on their own. God's call to Babish changed that plan.

"I never said never," Ralph said. "I think she should do what she feels is right, and that's the way relationships go -- you have to be supportive.

"It was never in our plans for her to become a minister, but our spiritual life has grown because of it. She's always caring about others. If it needs attention, she does it. She always finds time for visitations with elderly, and she feels God will provide her with the time to do all the things needs to do."

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