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GETTING TO KNOW YOU: Deacon Frances Hoyer

July 11, 2011 10:14 AM

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’ve been a lifelong resident of Huntington, living now about two miles from where I was born. I made up for that by traveling through church work to Africa, the Dominican Republic, and several U.S. states. I grew up without any formal religious education. As an adult, I became engaged to a lifelong Lutheran so I became a Lutheran. In one week, I was baptized, confirmed, and received my first communion!


When I started going to church, I was immediately tagged for Sunday School teaching. I had dropped out of college because I didn’t want to be a teacher! And here I was teaching. That was the beginning of my learning about God. I gathered an appetite to learn more and more. After attending diakonia, I went on to become a deacon. I was in the first graduating class and was set apart in 1997. While I was still in that learning mode, I decided to go back to college. I got my degree in 2003 at the age of 69.


You became very involved in prison ministry. How did that come about?

As you know, deacons serve an internship. At that time, my pastor’s husband, the Rev. Hans Hauk, was a prison chaplain. He wanted to have a Lutheran presence at the prison. He invited me on a tour—needless to say, I was very reluctant. But I took a tour with him, and after I got there, it seemed natural. I served my internship at Manhattan Correctional Center, a federal prison. When I finished my internship, they asked me to be chaplain for women. Most of the women there were waiting to go to trial, or had been transferred from other place, or had violated parole. It was not a case of hardened criminals. I was there six and a half years—it had to be the highlight of my life.


What was your role as chaplain?

I came once a week, specifically for spiritual needs. I visited the women in groups or one-on-one. I led hymn sings. If I had enough women, I led a Bible study, sometimes a series. Right now, I’m leading a women’s Bible study at Christ, East Northport and it’s not so different. Women have the same questions. They come and talk about faith.


Sometimes when I arrived, the officer on duty would ask me to talk to a woman on lockdown. Some inmates would come to me, holding a Bible and say, “I have a problem with this.” Most of the women had really good theological background. They were all religious: they had been to Sunday School or taught by their grandmothers. They were quite open and easy to approach. Several could recite Bible by heart, one knew all the Psalms.


I didn’t get into their cases—I never asked. Some told me freely. Some asked me to write to a judge and I would do that.


LadiesNonethelessCoverYou recently published Ladies Nonetheless about your experiences. What prompted you to write a book?
The women would often say, “My family is so worried; they have a distorted view of what it’s like here.” New women would be so frightened. A couple times the inmates said, “You have to do something. It’s not such a scary place.” That prompted me to write the book. So I tried to tell some of the incidents about the women, the lighter moments and the scary moments. Quite often, these women didn’t belong in prison. It’s a story I wanted to tell and it needed to be told.


How long did it take to turn your stories into a book?

When I was taking courses in college, I took creative writing and writing for publication. Then after I graduated, I put everything all together—articles from church newsletters, pieces from my courses, and entries from a journal that I kept. I kept digging out all these pieces I’d written and tried to make some kind of sense of it. It took almost 10 years. I’d work on it and think, ‘I can’t do this’ and walk away. When I turned on the computer and there it was, I’d do a little more. It started out in my spare time and grew and grew. It was a longtime labor of love.


What’s next for you, Fran?

I retired in 2008 but I’m still leading women’s Bible study and I occasionally preach. I’m happy to speak to women’s groups about Ladies Nonetheless. As my pastor says, “you don’t retire from ministry!”



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