Stacy Downing, senior pastor at Walnut Creek United Methodist Church, reads the Bible in her office. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
Stacy Downing, senior pastor at Walnut Creek United Methodist Church, reads the Bible in her office. Photo by Jackie Gorski, Times-Union.
Editor’s Note: March is National Women’s History month. This is the fifth in a six-part series of interviews with successful and influential area women.

Both men and women can be called to serve in ministry, as experienced with area women.

Emily Cash has been co-pastor with her husband of Valley Springs Fellowship for about two months. She has been serving in lay ministry for about 10 years. Her bachelor’s degree is from Baylor University where she took theology classes for the degree. She is now in seminary school at Fuller Theological Seminary.

Cash spent her teenage years in church and, over the years, her relationship with God has been an important thing for her, so she said she naturally gravitated toward “being at church and serving at church.” She never imagined having a pastoral position, but was open to whatever God had her do. When she started seminary, she just wanted to learn more about the Bible and how God worked in the world. There was no end goal for her. Now, she said, she’s co-pastor at Valley Springs.

Sinai Locke, corps administrator for The Salvation Army, has been has been working with The Salvation Army for almost two years.

Locke has her bachelor’s degree from Grace College in counseling and is taking classes through The Salvation Army training college in Chicago, describing it as a certificate where she’ll be fully trained for leadership.

Locke said she thought about going into counseling full-time, but she felt God was steering her toward helping people. She feels her counseling background helps with her much of what she does, especially with the women’s ministry.

Stacy Downing, senior pastor at Walnut Creek United Methodist Church, said she grew up in the United Methodist Church and explored different Christian traditions in college, but felt pulled back to the United Methodist Church. She served as associate and lead pastor in other Indiana churches. She came to Walnut Creek in June. She said she believed she was the only woman to apply for the position.

Amanda Clark, lead pastor at Branches Vineyard Church, has been in ministry for 15 years in one way or another. In 2014, she was invited to help plant a church in Goshen and she stayed there for about six years. She came to Branches Vineyard as lead pastor in December.

Clark said she been a Christian since she was really young and has been interested in ministry for a long time. She felt a calling pretty young to serve in ministry, but didn’t know what that would look like. She took a job as an office manager at a church in Syracuse, and the longer she held the job, the more she felt called to ministry.

Debbie Lowe, co-pastor at New Life Christian Church and World Outreach, said she has been in ministry for 38 years. She got into the field after her conversion experience when she came to a “realization at 23 years of age.” At the time, her life and marriage of three years were falling apart. In desperation, she prayed, “God if you’re real, show yourself to me.” That’s what she said He did. From that, her husband, John Lowe, pastor at the church, came to the same conclusion. They went from him finishing to his senior year in college and Bible school, then ending up at a church in Peru, Ind. After feeling God was calling them somewhere, Debbie said John said he felt God was calling them to Warsaw. They founded New Life, which started as a church in their basement.

Cash said she and her husband are still figuring out the logistics of what she does. Valley Springs has also been without a pastor for two years, so figuring out the pastoral role is what “we’re all exploring together.” For her, Cash said her job responsibilities are geared more toward preaching on Sunday morning and knowing and loving the people in the Valley Springs congregation. She said a lot of work goes into preparing for Sunday services, since she’s “still so green” to the position. She hopes it will be less work once she’s in the role for a longer period of time.

Sinai said she and husband Ken are the directors, therefore the pastors, of The Salvation Army. They do anything and everything related to the church. Sinai’s role deals more with the church than the services part of The Salvation Army. She indirectly helps clients on the social services part. She said she’s still learning, but noted it’s “exciting.”

Downing said she preaches every Sunday, as well as providing the themes and direction of worship throughout the year. She has provided ministrative leadership to elected leaders. She is also charged with Communion and Baptism as sacraments. Her church has also made care teams, and she is “kind of the coordinator.” Care teams are congregants who have taken on a list of 10 to 15 families that are connected one way or another to the church and the teams are making contact with them a couple times a month.

Clark said she preaches three of four Sunday sermons a month. She also had a leadership team she directs, which makes the big decisions of where the church will be going and what it will be involved in. She is also available to her church’s families for pastoral care.

Debbie said she’s an assistant to her husband, John. Her job is to help in any way she can to help in the ministry. At this time, she oversees the women’s ministry, one-on-one ministry and couple’s ministry. When the church had a Christian school, she was the director of it for 21 years.

Locke said for the most part, people have welcomed her at The Salvation Army. She said she has to slowly work into her role because it’s a lot of responsibility and she has to understand what her role is in her ministry. She said her transition has been “super easy” and she’s still learning. Locke said The Salvation Army has had women as leaders in its ministry since before women could vote, so she hasn’t had any issues in regards to being a female leader in the ministry. Locke said there have been several female officers. The top leadership role in The Salvation Army is the general and there have been several females holding that position.

Cash said a few members of the Valley Springs congregation left when she and her husband got hired. The congregation has had female elders for about 15 years, so a lot of people that were uncomfortable with female leadership have been gone for “a long time.” However, there were a couple of people uncomfortable with a woman having the senior role of pastor. She noted there are some people in her life that don’t fee women should be leading in ministry.

“It doesn’t feel personal,” Cash said. “Very few people grew up in environments where they saw women leading in church, so the journey to supporting that and believing in it looks different for everybody. And for some people, it may take a long time. Some people may never get there. And that’s something that I have to be comfortable with.”

Cash said she knows what she’s been called by God to do and “we’re responding in obedience to that,” noting how everyone else’s response to that is not her responsibility to solve. As far as issues now, Cash said if gender plays a part, she’s not aware of it.

Downing said she has not been the first female pastor in any of the churches she has served. When she received her call to ministry, she “was blessed” she had started attending a church that had a female associate pastor. She met her first female pastor the same year she got her call to the ministry. Downing said if she hadn’t met the associate pastor, she wouldn’t have known women could hold that position.

Downing said Walnut Creek has been very welcoming to her. She is under the understanding they have had a female pastor before, but the pastors for the past 20 years have been men.

When Downing was serving at a church when she was 24, she described how an older gentleman saw her like his granddaughter and would come up and give her a “big smacking kiss on the cheek.” While she understood where he was coming from, it wasn’t ideal situation for a minister and didn’t know if she would have gone through the same experience if she had been male.

Clark said there was a time she didn’t believe women could be pastors. She said a lot of people are divided on whether women should be pastors, based on their interpretation of certain passages in the Bible. In 2013, her view on women in the position began to change when she began reading different books and researched it. She noted it was five or six years of doing so in order to change her position. She said a huge part of her changing her view is when she was able to preach at the Goshen church, she realized she loved it and could be good at it. She thought it could be her calling. Then she had to consider why that was. She thought she was more interested in sheparding everyone than being a women’s minister or being a speaker. She saw that everyone has equal gifting from the Holy Spirit.

She said the church she started out in held that type of thinking. She also noted Warsaw is a fairly conservative town and she believes there would be several churches where she wouldn’t be allowed to apply to be a pastor at. However, she has been welcomed at Branches Vineyard. The previous pastor actually preached several messages defending the position of women being pastors and that set the stage of several people feel more comfortable with the idea. That allowed him to address any concerns people may have on the issue. There was only one person that left the church because Branches Vineyard hired a woman.

Lowe said she has had differences of opinion of women in ministry with other people. She said there’s always going to be someone that doesn’t “sense the same thing God’s calling you to do based on their perspective on doctrine and theology.”

“But I think God is so big that it’s like looking at a mountain from only one angle. Everyone’s perspective is different. It doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong, but it’s from where God has positioned them. And because of my personal conviction about what I know God’s called me to, even though I may receive criticism from somebody with a different perspective, it’s OK. They have permission to have a different perspective. It’s not going to change my conviction,” Lowe said.