The day after giving her first official sermon at First United Methodist Church in Klamath Falls, Pastor Helen Mansfield began a week in Chiloquin serving as a team leader working with youth on Sierra Service Project.
“This is (the program) where I first realized my calling to the ministry,” she said. “This is my 26th year to participate in the program.”
Her interest in youth has been a constant through her adult life during which she has always been listening for God’s call to service. An early experience which influenced her was accompanying her mother, a professor at all-black Bethune-Cookman College, in a protest march from Daytona Beach to Cape Kennedy, Fla., when she was 14.
“We stayed at black churches, where they have full-bodied worship,” she recalled. “I got to ride back in a car with Rev. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference” … “God is interested in justice, and it is different from our justice.”
Having been transplanted from California as a teen, she had difficulty accepting the segregation that existed in Florida in 1969, and she challenged her Episcopal Sunday school teacher, who told her to read her Bible. She did and was still left questioning what she perceived as injustice. To placate her mother, she still attended church, she said, but, “I checked out of organized religion.”
After graduating from college with a political science degree 13 years later, she spent a year as an aide in the California legislature, focused on education and the environment. It was a disillusioning experience.
However, she connected with a Franciscan Catholic Church in Sacramento where she felt she had found a church that lived the Gospel, welcoming questions and loving everyone. The next several years, she juggled marriage, raising two sons, getting an emergency teaching certificate and substitute teaching.
In time, she said, “I realized the place that I found my deepest joy was helping people experience God’s limitless and unconditional love.”
The next seven years she commuted 120 miles, one way, two to three times a week to San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo, Calif. She loved studying the scriptures and believes while we are selective literalists, “The Golden Rule is always the central message.”… “In scripture, God has a preference for the poor and the outcast, and I have a heart for the ones that are excluded.”
She was commissioned by the California-Nevada Conference of the United Methodist Church in 2009 and fully ordained in 2012. She served three churches over 11 years.
When she and her husband, Victor Izzo, made a visit to the Winter Wings Festival in Klamath Falls in 2015, they knew they had found a place they could enjoy birding and outdoor activities. Izzo was retiring from 30 years as a hydrogeologist, protecting groundwater from pollution. Mansfield partially retired, but soon after moving here, she was able to find a position as an intervention teacher at Mills Elementary School, helping children who are behind grade level in reading and math.
After a year as a worshiper at the Klamath Falls church, with the impending transfer of its then current pastor, she was offered a part-time appointment as pastor. Hesitant at first, she has embraced the Pacific Northwest Conference Rural Church Initiative which will be part of her ministry here – which she described as, “helping the church be a community organizer. We have to try to find a niche to work with and make this a better community; listening to the people who live here about their hopes and dreams.”