Cherry Marshall doesn't remember much about the first service she celebrated as pastor of Hope Presbyterian Church.
Who could blame her? After all, it was nearly four decades ago.
A Catonsville resident since 1996, she will likely remember the service on Jan. 8, though, as it marks her last before retiring.
"I'm the right age," the 66-year-old said about why she chose to retire. "I think 38 years is a long time. Time for them to have new leadership."
When Marshall accepted her position at the Arbutus church on Shelbourne Avenue in 1973, one of the few things Marshall remembers about her first service were the television cameras stationed around the church attempting to get a glimpse of the first female pastor in the Baltimore Presbytery.
"When I was ordained, there were less than 100. Now it's over 4,000," Marshall said of the number of women pastors in the country. "It's changed a lot in my tenure."
Though the number of women serving as pastors has increased, the congregation she serves has largely remained the same.
"These people are my friends," Marshall said. "It's hard to leave. Somebody said I grew up with them, and they grew up with me."
Marshall recalled the first baptism she ever performed at Hope Presbyterian Church came only a few weeks after she arrived in Arbutus after serving in Hagerstown for three years.
That day, Marshall baptized Cindy Shreve.
Shreve called Marshall a "second mom" and that's why she waited and waited to get her 3-month-old daughter, Bailey, baptized this past Christmas.
"We actually had a lot of babies born in our church in the last few months, and we wanted to make sure we had the last (baptism)," said Shreve, who married her husband, Michael, six years ago.
"It was just a really big and special time," said Shreve, a Wynnewood resident. "It just means so much that I started off Cherry at the church and Bailey sort of finsihed off."
Farrell Maddox saw Marshall's connection with her congregation when he arrived in 1993 to serve as a temporary choir director.
The church asked Maddox to stay, he said, and 18 years later, he can still be found playing the organ at many of the church's 11 a.m. services.
For Maddox, the 35-minute ride to Marshall's church from his home in Joppatowne is worth it, even though another Presbyterian church with a pastor he likes is only five minutes from his home.
"She lives the life she teaches to others," Maddox, 53, said. "Working with her with weddings and funerals, she just brings comfort to everyone."
Maddox said when his father, Farrell Sr., died about 12 years ago, Marshall provided him comfort as he went through the difficult time.
"She was there as we needed her," Maddox said, noting she often provides the same service to people not affiliated with Hope Presbyterian Church. "When you're in a difficult situation and she appears and prays with you, you just feel comfort."
Maddox said seeing Marshall go will be sad, but he is also excited about the addition of Pastor John Kazanjian from Kenwood Presbyterian Church in Overlea on Feb. 1.
Marshall said she is unsure of what she will do with her new found time off, but that the Presbyterian church often puts pastors in interim work after retirement.
She added that she would like to continue ministry.
Marshall's final service certainly wasn't a goodbye. She went out in style with a party thrown at Snyders Willow Grove Restaurant on Hammonds Ferry Road.
More than 250 friends, family and members of the Presbytery signed up to attend.
Days before the event, Marshall noted she was thrilled with the number of people attending but kept her eye where it's been for the past 38 years.
"I wish they were all coming to church, but they have their own churches to go to," she said with a laugh.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun