April 01, 2021
Elizabeth H. “Betty” Schrader, 68, passed away April 1, 2021 from complications of years-long struggle with scleroderma. Daughter of Norma Mae (Pratt) and Charles Moore Schrader, she was born in Michigan and raised in Stratford, Connecticut. Predeceased by her brother Danny, Betty is survived by her siblings Dottie Steffany and Robert Schrader, and six biological nieces and nephews. Betty also left behind her beloved dog companion Toto and a vast chosen family: childhood friends Donna Violante and Elaine Sokolowski, her United Methodist clergy sisters the WILD Women, and dozens of adopted nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.
Betty grew up at the Stratford United Methodist Church, where she learned to cook and bake for the masses at church dinners and bake sales with her mother. Stratford UMC was also where she found her calling to the ordained ministry. She graduated from Frank Scott Bunnell High School in Stratford, Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and Boston University School of Theology. She was a lifelong Girl Scout and member of the Housatonic Girl Scout Council. Her life was formed in camp and retreat settings – Girl Scout Camps, Quinipet Camp & Retreat Center in Shelter Island, NY, and Rolling Ridge Retreat & Conference Center in North Andover, MA.
Ordained in the New England Conference in 1977, Betty was one of the early clergy women to have full clergy rights in the United Methodist Church, and who served as a local church pastor for the entirety of her career. She served as the Southern New England Conference Consultant from the Council on the Status and Role of Women, monitoring the episcopal cabinet and church agencies for sexism. She shaped a generation of young United Methodists as a summer camp director and counselor at Rolling Ridge. She ministered in churches throughout Massachusetts and Connecticut: Roxbury and Halcottville, MA; Melrose, MA; Pittsfield, MA; Worcester, MA; Somerville, MA; Norwich, CT; Trumbull, CT; Woodbury, CT. She retired early from the New York Annual Conference in 2013 due to mental and physical health concerns.
Betty passed away on April 1, both Maundy Thursday and April Fool’s Day. She loved to have fun, to hear a good joke, and delighted in playing or being on the receiving end of a good prank. She spoke of having a Roman Catholic side, with a love of ritual and worship, incense, the embodiment of Christ, and the ceremony of higher forms of liturgy. She loved to embody themes of incarnation and creation in her worship altars. Holy Thursday was a good day for a foot-washing servant to say goodbye to the world of her loved ones.
She was a prophet. She was a feminist. She hated the abuse of power. She called people out. She was a formidable colleague. She spoke the truth in public. She was full of love and righteous anger for the violated and forgotten, the least and the lost. She was a grassroots theologian who loved to preach about the soul-piercing, soul-soothing love of God in Christ.
When speaking of her eventual death, she told her sister, “Remember me from a garden.” She always had fresh flowers in her house, paperwhites in pebbles in her windows in the spring, and red geraniums inside and outside of her home all summer long. The garden, the bathtub, and the beach were her personal, prayerful worship spaces and places of solace. She was known for big hats, oversized sunglasses, rubber flip flops, and getting a deep tan in the sunshine.
Style and appearance were important to her. The queen of matchy-match, she loved everything Ralph Lauren, crisply laundered blouses with the collars turned up, big jewelry, and brassy blond hair dye.
Also known as “Boop” to many of her friends, she was famous for her great parties, extravagant multi-course dinners, and extraordinary hospitality, celebrating sacred and secular occasions with equal magnitude. With sets of dishes and bins of decorations for each and every holiday on the calendar, her seasonal decorating was unmatched. She annually celebrated Christmas on Valentine’s Day with her lifelong friends with the maximum amount of red and pink a home could contain. Her candy collection was legend. She held epic Christmas open houses for her church families and friends. She gave her full financial and culinary resources to numerous fundraising events for her churches: pumpkin sales, blueberry festivals, and meals upon meals. Her generosity knew no bounds. Her gift-giving was personal and perfect. She was over the top with all the ways she gave, lived, and served.
She adored children. She spent hours entertaining other people’s children, who were like family to her. She had a trunk full of costumes, loved playing dress up with kids, enjoying make-believe skits, encouraging all things imagination, fashion, and magic. In every parsonage where she lived, she was famous for her teddy bear room, where young guests would spend hours. Her Victorian style room was white wicker furniture with blue and white Chinese pottery. While her home decorating was renowned, in actuality her entire house was held together by push pins, every item precariously balanced on every surface.
Over the decades, she maintained her relationships, baptizing, marrying and burying her friends’ and parishioners’ children, and their children. She was always there with just the right, deeply personal words for people grieving and celebrating, with the most profound theology and ritual remembrances to ease pain and lift up joy. She was a master at expressing the true heart of who people were. She had a long memory and often remembered stories about people that they had long forgotten. She sent cards at critical and difficult moments in life. She was both fierce and incredibly gentle, often at the same time. She was a force of nature whose love you could never forget.
She made and drank a full pot of coffee every day. She loved music, art, and storytelling. She loved TV, movies, NPR, Lake Wobegon, Downton Abbey, and Outlander. She loved gin martinis, Manhattans, Cornichon tiny pickles, and heavy cream. She loved to travel to holy places and anywhere with water.
She adored James Taylor and showering people she loved with love. She was passionate about the ways in which demonstrated care for her friends. She got into trouble on many occasions when she had to speak her mind about what was being done that wasn’t fair or right. She wasn’t afraid of speaking the truth interpersonally or institutionally. She scared people sometimes, but she was incredibly vulnerable underneath, and was deeply hurt by the reactions of folks that didn’t understand her or didn’t want to hear what she had to say. She made people more courageous by her example. She leaves behind a legacy of generations of people she influenced, who have been made greater by her existence.
After years of mental and physical pain, she is now drinking a gin martini in a bubble bath, clearing her mind.