Biographical Stories of Women in the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren —
Ella Mae was born (1921) as the eldest of eight children into the Forney family living on a farm several miles north of Lancaster PA. She grew up in the conservative congregation of East Petersburg Church of the Brethren (COB) where her father and grandfather served in the “free” ministry. Conformity to dress and wearing of the prayer covering was expected.
At that time most Brethren churches had no musical instruments. Congregational singing was directed by a leader using a “pitch pipe”. When challenged by an aunt, Ella Mae learned to direct congregational singing for musical programs and district conference. This was the beginning of her lifelong involvement in music.
It was at a choir practice in their home that Ella Mae became acquainted with Paul Fike from Maryland who had been voted into the ministry by his home church. He became a very special person in her life. In 1940 after Paul had spent a year at Bethany Bible School in Chicago they were married. Together they continued their education at
Manchester College IN and Bethany Seminary in Chicago. Ella Mae developed her musical talent under the direction of Prof. Alvin Brightbill. During this time they experienced the sadness of the birth and death of a daughter and the joy of welcoming a son.
Following the completion of seminary training the Fikes accepted a full-time pastorate serving three churches in Maryland: Sam’s Creek, Edgewood and Beaver Dam. Three years later they accepted a call to the Cloverdale COB. During their 10 years there Ella Mae not only sang in the choir, but also directed the children’s choir, sang in a ladies trio, worked in the Women’s Society, and did substitute teaching in the elementary grades. While living at Cloverdale a daughter became part of their family.
It was at their next pastorate at Pleasant Valley, Weyers Cave VA (12 years) that Ella Mae was able to pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse. She took her training to become an LPN and was employed at King’s Daughters Hospital, Staunton VA. Attaining this goal was a feeling of fulfillment for Ella Mae. This became a talent she would share for years to come. During these years she continued to be a choir member and direct the children’s choir.
Paul’s fourth and final pastorate was a call to the East Chippewa COB (12 years) which required a move to Wooster OH. It was here that for eleven years their family was extended to include senior seminary summer interns. Ella Mae became “Mom” to them and lifelong relationships were formed through these associations. Ella Me was able to continue nursing at Wooster Hospital despite her diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. At church she taught the Jr.-Hi Youth class and assisted with Bible Schools.
Living in half a dozen different places over a period of 35 years often presented challenges, especially when parsonages were not always ready for their new pastor’s family. Patience and flexibility were required. This was also true in 1985 when Paul came to serve as the chaplain at the Bridgewater Retirement Community during his “retirement” years. Here, in their new location, Ella Mae continued to share her nursing skills, often assisting recovering residents, monitoring blood pressure or giving medications. She served as a nurse for the Blood Pressure Clinic at Bridgewater COB and as a PAL Visitor, Village choir member and Gift Shop volunteer in the Retirement Community. For 9 years she was a weekly volunteer at the Rockingham Memorial Hospital cardiac unit until the time of Paul’s illness and death. Throughout their years together Ella Mae was a faithful “helpmate”, supporting Paul in his ministry.
At a 90th birthday celebration for Ella Mae many friends from their previous pastorates had the opportunity to share their memories of being in her “Children’s Choir” or Sunday School classes, being a part of their family, or being recipients of her kind deeds. Surely, many have been grateful to Ella Mae for her many roles of leadership, nursing assistance, and musical involvements. May God’s blessings continue to be showered upon her during her remaining days.