OCEAN PARK — The first time she stood up in a pulpit, Denise Westfall found her calling.
Now she is bringing those abilities to the Peninsula as the new pastor at Ocean Park United Methodist Church. She takes over from the Rev. Mary Evelyn Long, who retired.
Westfall had eight years of Catholic schooling in the Spokane area, attended Eastern Washington University, then set about raising a family. She later embraced Protestant theology.
Life path clear
In one pivotal moment, her life path became clear.
“I was attending a Methodist church and I really grew spiritually,” she said. “The pastor took a leave and asked if I would preach. I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ When I stood up at the pulpit, it was almost like a blast that said, ‘This feels right!’”
She attended seminary in Denver, Colo., and was ordained, pastoring in Deer Park for three years before moving west to be closer to her three grown children.
The Rev. Westfall retired after serving Methodist congregations in Vancouver and Battle Ground for 20 years.
That didn’t last long. “I kept asking God and the next thing I knew the bishop had sent out a letter to retired clergy about an opening. It just seemed like the right thing to do.”
She recalls an admonition during her training about the demands of pastoring.
“‘If you can do something else, do it’” she was advised, “‘But if the call is that strong, you don’t have much choice.’ It’s a hard call. There are a lot of expectations of clergy that are beyond our human capability to do.”
But rewards are worth it, she believes. “It is beautiful; I like being with the people. It is a gift to be with a family with a dying member and administer the sacraments.”
Her coffee group meets around the corner at Adelaide’s; the conversation is wide-ranging — not just religious matters. “All these things are fulfilling to me.”
Look at the mission
Planning will be a key element for serving her congregation, which numbers about 40.
“We need to look at the mission,” she said. “What will Ocean Park United Methodist look like in five years and 10 years?”
The building itself, with its distinctive wooden square tower, will be an important focus. Discussions are beginning about benefits of applying to join the National Register of Historic Places.
“This church is over 100 years old. There’s a lot of history,” Westfall said. “We want to keep that going for the next group of people who come here. But it is an old building with a lot of physical needs.”
She is grateful to have music in the hands of almost legendary Peninsula resident Barbara Poulshock and excited to contribute in the broader community, including support for the Food4Kids backpack effort and the His Supper Table meals program.
The decision to resume working at age 66 has meant a significant lifestyle change, because her husband, Mike, still works in Portland, and now commutes to their Surfside home on weekends.
Westfall’s hobbies are quilting and knitting — although both are inextricably linked with her vocation.
She pieces together “passage quilts,” which are placed on single beds to provide colorful cheer to hospice patients and later presented to family members in remembrance of their loved one.
Also, she knits “prayer shawls,” which she believes provide more than physical comfort for someone in need: Each stitch represents a prayer. “You can feel the arms of God around each shawl. It’s a wonderful ministry.”
‘It just seemed like the right thing to do’
— The Rev. Denise Westfall
describing coming out of retirement for another pastor job