We never know how significant it will be to open a door and walk in to a new place. Almost exactly 18 years ago, the Hight family opened the front doors of East Hills Alliance Church and walked in. The doors were solid wood in those days, no welcoming see-through glass, and the door handles were shaped out of wrought iron to look like shepherd’s crooks. In fact, those handles are what identified the church for us. We were seeking a new church home and one of us said, "Let’s try that church with the shepherd hook doors." With all the studies and surveys about the demographics and strategies of drawing people to church, we certainly did not fit into any category. In fact, I doubt there is a door-handle category on any church growth survey!
When we walked in we found a small group of genuine Christ-followers who warmly welcomed us, eagerly invited us to participate in the life of the church, and after a few months enthusiastically enfolded us in to membership. Our kids became part of a Sunday night youth group that was big on games like four-square and sardines, Tom and I began to teach adult Sunday School classes, and Tom was affirmed as an elder. We had found a church home when we walked through the doors.
Before long, a new senior pastor walked through the same doors and East Hills began to experience a season of renewal. Pastor Steve Fowler asked if I would consider becoming licensed, a first step through the doors of full time ministry within the Alliance. Not really knowing what I was getting in to, I said yes and began to take the steps to licensing and eventually to consecration/ordination. During that time I also came on staff as part of the leadership team here at East Hills.
Serving as a woman in ministry is a door all its own. This was a challenge to the status quo, and yet here in Kelso, this new role was accepted and honored as we all served together to build up the body of Christ and proclaim the wonderful Good News of the gospel. The East Hills family took this new role in stride and really led the way within the Alliance Northwest District to value diversity on the staff of our smaller churches. My title as an associate pastor was ground-breaking, and in fact created a bit of a stir at the higher elevations of church government. At one point there was a small rebellion as Pastor Steve declared that if we could not all be pastors, we would all be ministers (the preferred title for women). As you now know, the rebellion was successful! While I rarely refer to myself as Pastor Ann, it is a title I cherish, for it helps to convey the deep and abiding care I have for the dear ones of East Hills. To be allowed to carry this title has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
This title has opened a few doors for me. It has given me a pathway into the community as part of various boards and committees, and given me added credibility as a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate). While not a requirement, it has been a tool to open doors that have allowed me to share and demonstrate a life of faith outside the walls of the church building. It has also made it easier for others to approach me as a mentor, counselor, and spiritual advisor.
A few years ago I was invited to walk through another door, this time at the district level, to be part of our Licensing, Consecrating, and Ordaining Counsel. This is the group that reviews the qualifications and authorizes the credentials for all the candidates entering ministry in the Christian and Missionary Alliance. As part of this board I have been privileged to interview many bright young men and women seeking to walk through their first doors of ministry, to provide encouragement and direction, and to weigh in on policies and training.
As I think back on the things we have shared together – raising our kids, getting and changing jobs, enduring chemo and surgeries, fighting disappointments and depression, grappling with addictions, waiting in hospitals and courtrooms, celebrating new babies and new homes and new memberships, and standing together as we mourn our losses—all of this reminds me of the great goodness of God who directed us to open those doors that first Sunday morning. I am so glad He did.
So as I stand before another door, the door into retirement, I find myself rich with memories and anticipation for what the next thing will be. I foresee continuing as part of our East Hills community as we serve and grow and impact our communities with the love of Christ. I do not know exactly what that will look like, but I am certain it will be a grand adventure for all of us.