CANTON — Joan Harrington will be the first to admit she is not a typical pastor.

"I know I'm an unusual person because you don't find 83-year-old virgins very often," Harrington said.

Harrington was installed as pastor of First Baptist Church in Canton on Jan. 14. She had previously served as a pastor for Central Baptist Church in Great Bend. Over the past year, she worked as First Baptist's interim pastor, making the drive from Great Bend each Sunday.

"Coming here was just like a nice place to spend my last years, because I don't like retirement," Harrington said.

She was born near Chicago, and during her senior year of high school, Harrington's father, also a minister, moved the family to Kansas.

Harrington first felt called to serve God at the age of 11. In order to do so, she decided to remain single and not marry. That resolve wavered during her teenage years, and she became engaged. Her fiance was sent to Japan during the Korean War and ended up marrying a Japanese woman.

"I came to the place where I thanked God for it; it was good," Harrington said.

Being single did not mean being solitary for Harrington, who made it a point to socialize with families.

“You can’t be an old maid and serve the Lord. You have to be oriented into a family, whether you’re single or not,” Harrington said.

In that time, Harrington explained, wives were expected to care for their husbands and support their work.

"I said, 'Billy Graham's taken, who else am I going to get,'" Harrington laughed.

At the age of 21, she responded to an invitation at Moody Memorial Church in Chicago for those who wanted to go into full-time missionary work.

"I purposely decided — it was a decision — to stay single all my life and live among the kids in the city," Harrington said.

Harrington recalls living through the race riots of the 1960s as she worked with African-American children living in inner cities.

"I remember when 'Roots' came out and I sat and watched it with all African-Americans," Harrington said. "I was the only white person in the room."

A six-week trip to Central African Republic with Africa Inland Mission gave her an appreciation for African-American culture.

In the inner cities, she collaborated with anyone willing to serve.

"You don't have denominational barriers when you're working down in the ghetto," Harrington said. "Everybody works together."

Harrington started day camps and ran a pregnancy center for young girls living on the streets.

"Our world has changed so much. There are so many kids who don't have a good family. Our society is eroding because of it," Harrington said.

At times, Harrington provided foster care for teenagers — many of whom still keep in touch.

"I think that's the most important thing there is to do," Harrington said. "I still do. If we don't reach the kids early, we lose them as Christians. We've lost a lot of them, quite frankly."

Harrington's home office, lined with bookshelves filled to capacity, are a testament to her love of learning — as are the framed diplomas on one wall. She studied Bible at Moody Bible Institute, and has a doctorate in education and counseling from California Graduate School of Theology.

"I have a 20-year-old mind in an 83-year-old body," Harrington laughed.

Harrington still devotes much of her time to study, reading books on social studies, history and the Bible.

"In my mind, my major task is teaching," Harrington said. "I'm very studious, so when I preach a sermon, I spend a lot of time on it."

She shares her knowledge of history and apologetics with teenagers whenever she can.

"I love to home school high school kids," Harrington said. "I really think home school is important in the day and age in which we live."

Through her years, Harrington said she was happy to go wherever God wanted her to be.

"My biggest desire is to let my light shine so that they may see my good works and glorify my Father in heaven," Harrington said.

First Baptist Church, located at the corner of Fourth and McPherson streets in Canton, holds Sunday School at 9:30 a.m. and worship service at 11 a.m. Sundays and Kids Night at 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays.

For more information about the church, call 620-628-4883.

Contact Patricia Middleton by email at pmiddleton@mcphersonsentinel.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.