Debbie Hough is the Director of Christian Education at Derry Presbyterian Church, in Derry Township, PA. She earned her M. Div from Princeton Theological Seminary and if you line up the accolades behind her name, you get a proper alphabet soup – M. Div, M.A., M.Ed., B.S. – and she’s worked in Presbyterian churches across the country before returning back to Pennsylvania. I love knowing that among her favorite books are A Prayer for Owen Meany and Harry Potter. She seems like a “salt of the earth” kind of person, one that you’d want to share a cup of coffee with, just to soak up her wisdom.
Q: As the Director of Christian Education at Derry Presbyterian, what is something that you want all people of all beliefs to know?
DH: I believe there is room on this planet for people of all faiths. And, I would love to listen to your story of faith and only ask that you listen to mine. We are all people of stories who may find our stories intertwined and a part of a story much, much larger than any one of ours as individuals.
Q: Is there some place that you feel most at home? A place that your soul knows? Tell me about it.
DH: I have been privileged to find a home nearly everywhere I have ever lived. Right now, I feel most at home at my little house, with a cup of coffee in my hand, a cat in my lap and looking out into my garden. This place gives me a grounding of body and soul, and a peace of mind that is hard to come otherwise. It is nothing fancy, but I love being home and coming home after I have been away.
Q: What inspires you? Where do you find your greatest joy?
DH: I am blessed to find inspiration in so many ways – through me eyes looking at art; through my ears listening to all kinds of music; through my mouth enjoying a good meal with family and friends; through my hands as they hold a child or dig in the dirt planting a flower which I then can enjoy with my nose through the smell of it’s fragrance (especially lilacs!).
My greatest joy comes from spending quality time with my women friends and my women cats!
Q: What defines who you are?
DH: I suspect I am defined by numerous things, but clearly, I have been defined by my family of origin and the place where I grew up. My family was most likely of British descent, but we grew up thinking we were Pennsylvania Dutch. My last name is a perfect example of the confusion. It is not an easy name to pronounce, since “ough” can sound very different in different words. I suspect it should be pronounced “Huff” (British), but my family in the corner of Western PA says it is “Hoke” (a harder, more German sound). As has been true, if I meet someone with this last name somewhere in the country who pronounces it like I do, then we will be related. The last time this happened with at a conference in San Diego. The result was the gift of a genealogy to prove we came from England (with a little dash of Welsh thrown in). My family were devoted church-goers (of the Presbyterian variety) and loved to sing, play, and follow Pittsburgh sports teams.
I grew up in a rural, farmland, and coal mining region in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. Folks worked hard and stayed put for generations. Mine was the first generation to attend college and I am one of the few from my family who left the area. But, it is still home!
Q: Who shaped you the most or influenced your life so that you ended up where you are?
DH: The big picture answer to this question is God. The smaller answer are lots and lots of faithful women and men who taught me Bible stories and allowed me in turn to teach others in my home church. This was a one-room building near the one-room school on a dirt road (now paved). It provided me with a wonderful model of what the church is and can be which I have carried with me in my professional life as a Church Educator. The biggest differences are these places are much bigger and I have the privileged of being paid to do what I love to do.
The older women in my life had profound influences on me. My mother taught me to be very creative at an early age. My grandmothers taught me how to laugh, watch strange television shows, and work with my hands. My aunts taught me to be an active church leader, a thinker, a student, and not be afraid to engage in a good argument now and then.