Beth Platz, who became the first woman minister in the Lutheran church in America 10 years ago this month, has all the credentials of her male colleagues and more.
Along with the diplomas and certificates, the 40-year-old University of Maryland campus minister has a box of hate mail.
There are crinkly, yellowing letters and fresh crisp ones, all bearing similar messages: that she's "a disgrace to the church," an "instrument of the antichrist," that her "defiance" of the Lord will send her straight to hell.
But now that her female Lutheran colleagues number about 200, the letters only trickle in. And by far, most of the people she hears from are supportive.
Unlike some of her peers, Platz never campaigned for ordination. Although she'd completed Lutheran seminary training in 1965, she was content to work as a lay assistant with the university campus ministry. However, after five years of "doing everything I do now except preach and administer the sacraments," Platz said she felt a call to the ministry.
A short time later -- the day after the Lutheran church in America voted to ordain women, Platz's bishop called to tell her she was fully qualified to be a minister and invited her to apply.
Four months later, before a crowd of 1,200 and a large contingent of media representatives, Platz was ordained.
Today, she is an upbeat minister who is popular with students for her sense of humor and her knack for applying the gospel to daily life. She quotes "Peanuts" comic-strip characters as freely as she does the Bible in her sermons.
"I find her sermons very powerful," said Terry Scott, a 22-year-old university senior. "She draws theology into your everyday life, and not many people do that anymore. Her ministry has affected me a great deal."
Scott met Platz through the university's counseling program. After attending services and other religious functions, he converted from Methodism to the Lutheran faith.
After counseling troubled students for more than 15 years, Platz has become privy to their needs, hopes and fears.
A decade ago, she said, students were concerned with social issues -- civil rights, the Vietman war and abortion: Today, she said, their concern is survival -- "How can I get a good job?"
"Some students are confused over what they see as two competing value systems, other have no value systems at all -- which is in itself a value system."
A lot of faculty and staff here believe common value systems among the young are gone . . . and that is scary," Platz said.
She believes this search for values has contributed to the rising popularity of "very judgmental and exclusive" fundamentalist groups afloat on campuses, as well as Nazi and Ku Klux Klan groups there.
"People who join the Klan and the Nazis," said Platz, " are looking for security. They see these groups with common beliefs and end up retreating and becoming rigid."
But Platz believes that today's young people also are rebelling more against peer pressure "that dictates that they must be sexually active."
For the first time in her counseling career, Platz said, she is also encountering students who are questioning what it is to be a man or a woman. "Before, the young had strict role modles to follow and never had to contemplate what it meant to be a man or a woman." she said.
Platz has fun challenging the sex-role stereotypes of her audiences. "Sometimes," she said, "I'll tell them, 'I bet I fooled you, I don't wear combat boots and I don't talk out of the side of my mouth."
Platz's sense of humor is reflected in her office, which is decorated with cartoons and overflowing with frogs. Carved frogs, stuffed frogs, glass frogs and even a monstroud blow-up frog spill from Platz's office into her outer office. The frogs are gifts from students over the years who've heard her sermon on the meaning of Christianity.
"A good Christian," said Platz, "should like kissing frogs. The job of the Christian is to love the unlovely, the ignored. Which, by the way, is very appropriate in campus life where we can get caught up in the lovely."
Frogs are now the motif of Platz's ministry.