Waco female pastors share their journey to ministry

Mary Alice Birdwhistell, who is the head pastor at Calvary Baptist Chruch, attended George W. Theological Seminary, and serves as one of the only female pastors in Waco. Kyndall Rae Rothaus, who also attended George W. Theological Seminary, is also a female pastor in Waco.

By Emma Whitaker | Reporter

Waco’s two female Baptist pastors had a long journey to discovering their calling to ministry.

Lake Shore Baptist Church lead pastor, Kyndall Rae Rothaus, and Calvary Baptist Church lead pastor Mary Alice Birdwhistell Both, who are graduates of George W. Truett Theological Seminary and received their masters of divinity, discuss the journey it took to discover their calling.

Birdwhistell grew up in a Southern Baptist church in Kentucky, where female pastoral roles were virtually nonexistent. When she discovered her desire to lead a church, questions about the stigma around female church leaders arose in her heart.

“I remember thinking, ‘What would my family think?’ ‘What would my friends think?’ ‘What kind of church would ever ask me to be pastor?’” Birdwhistell said.

Lake Shore Baptist Church Lead Pastor, Kyndall Rae Rothaus, also grew up in the Southern Baptist church. She ended up majoring in theology in college.

“I spent most of college experiencing this tug towards pastoral ministry, but really wrestling still what I had learned growing up. The sort of turning point for me was my senior year when I took my first preaching class,” Rothaus said. “There were two other women in the class, along with 15 to 20 guys. When those two women got up to preach their sermons for class, it was like the light bulb kind of moment because they were so clearly gifted, and I knew it would be tragic if they couldn’t use their voices. It took this question outside of myself, and I could see that they were called. And I would say that was the end of my struggle. I embraced ministry as my calling from that moment forward.”

Birdwhistell went on to join Waco’s Calvary Baptist Church as a children’s pastor. In 2013, Calvary asked her to accept the position of associate pastor, and in 2017 Birdwhistell became their senior pastor.

Rothaus joined Lake Shore Baptist Church as its senior pastor in 2015. She said shes particularly loves her church’s open pulpit communication and preaching styles.

“They really believe in letting the pastor say what he or she needs to say. There’s kind of an understanding that not everyone in the congregation will agree with you all of the time, but there’s the freedom for discussion, for us coming to an understanding together,” Rothaus said.

Lake Shore Baptist is a church that is open and affirming to the LGBTQ community of Waco, as well.

“I think that is one of the unique things about Lake Shore specifically. There really aren’t that many places where the LGBTQ community is safe, genuinely safe, accepted and loved as they are. I know we play a really important role in healing some of the spiritual trauma people have experienced,” Rothaus said.

In 2016, the Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board declared Lake Shore Baptist Church, along with two other Texas churches, “outside of harmonious cooperation” with the state convention because of their views on homosexuality.

Yet, Rothaus continued to press on with her ministry. For her, the LGBTQ community was close to her heart. Even when she was younger and had not fully made up her mind on what she believed on homosexuality, she said she knew that the church was wrong, and it was causing damage.

“I think my very first awareness was being friends with some people who were gay and starting to have this dawning awareness that the church had really hurt people,” Rothaus said.

Rothaus has become a safe place for college students to talk about feelings of disunity and separation, in hope of renewal and new faith.

Rothaus and Birdwhistell were friends in seminary, and united in Waco for being some of the only female pastors in the area.

“I was excited when Mary Alice was made senior pastor because it was like, ‘Oh, there’s two of us now!’ in terms of Baptists,” Rothaus said.

Occasionally the women get together and catch up, sharing each other’s experiences. Both pastors advocate the unique perspectives and attributes women bring to a ministerial role.

Rothaus said how women tend to be more maternal, nurturing and non-hierarchical.

“I think one thing women can bring to the table is their experience knowing what it’s like to be on the oppressed side of the oppressor/oppressed equation. There is this experience of marginalization that women know intuitively because we’ve experienced it. You bring that in to the way you read the Bible, and Jesus was constantly for the marginalized,” Rothaus said. “Hopefully that gives us a pastoral eye for who in our congregation and community are on the margins.”