“Working in the business world just didn’t have meaning for me anymore.”
It wasn’t an easy choice, leaving a hugely successful business career for a life serving God. Kathleen Mitchell Rhyne ’77 had been hearing the call since childhood; in the mid-90s, the feelings intensified. But Rhyne, who at the time was director of new products for Hershey Foods, says she was “a tough sell. My husband, Bill, had taken early retirement, so I was the primary breadwinner. And Kelly, our daughter, was still in elementary school. It was a big decision.”
The turning point came when Rhyne was on stage at the Hershey Theatre, addressing her entire company.
She remembers, “I was talking about the future vision of Hershey. It was a very important presentation, and while I was in the midst of it, a voice came into my head and said, ‘Kathie, you should be using these gifts for God.’ It was a profound experience … I mean, God just lost patience with me!”
The daughter of a serviceman, Rhyne moved frequently throughout her childhood. A constant in her life was church; she sang in choirs, volunteered in vacation Bible schools, and attended youth conferences.
When she entered Bucknell, she found other ways to serve, acting as a student counselor and teaching at an Arizona Navajo reservation. She also took a variety of sociology courses that, she muses, “showed me how much I love people and thinking about why they do what they do. I think that was an early indication of the things that I’d love about ministry.”
After graduating with a B.A. in history, Rhyne, while staying deeply involved in church, fast-tracked through the business world, working for Procter & Gamble, Kraft, and Pillsbury before joining Hershey in 1989. A hot commodity, she regularly received inquiries from other companies — including Mattel, who wanted to chat with her about becoming president of Barbie Worldwide. In 1999, she was informed that she was about to be promoted to vice president of Hershey Foods. It was a fantastic offer, but, as she explains, “Working in the business world just didn’t have meaning for me anymore.”
So, she resigned from Hershey and entered Lancaster Theological Seminary, earning a master of divinity degree in 2003.
Ordained by the United Church of Christ, Rhyne recently assumed the senior pastor position at the Congregational Church of Topsfield, Mass. Although she calls giving up her booming business career “a scary experience,” she adds, “once I made the decision, I never regretted it. I wouldn’t give this up for anything in the world!”
Posted Spring 2007