Pastor Bertina Westley

Pastor Bertina Westley recently joined Stephens City United Methodist Church.

STEPHENS CITY — After moving to the area from more rural settings, the Rev. Bertina J. H. Westley is excited to be pastor at Stephens City United Methodist Church.

Though born and raised in the South Side of Chicago, Westley has spent most of her ministry so far in rural Virginia areas, first the Eastern Shore district from June 2016 to June 2018 and then the York River district from July 2018 until she came here in September.

“The community, the way it is situated, is quite different,” she said.

Salem UMC was so rural, “We had a cornfield next to us,” she said.

“So here it is wonderful to have the opportunity to have neighbors and be able to reach out to people that are passing by on the streets.”

Westley had a previous career as a police officer in Kansas City, Missouri, where she answered God’s call to pursue the ministry. She attended Saint Paul School of Theology and graduated with a master of divinity degree.

She joins a long line of pastors at Stephens City UMC who date to its informal beginnings in 1775. Westley takes over for the Rev. Bass Mitchell, who served for about a year before recently retiring.

Looking forward to partnering with other area churches on community programs, Westley, 50, said one of her short-term goals is to start bringing more people back to the church at 5291 Main St.

It’s a multi-tiered issue that involves reaching out to people who have left the church for one reason or another and those who are fearful of gathering during the pandemic, as well as welcoming potential newcomers who might not fully understand the purpose or benefit of faith programs in their lives.

“Many members are still fearful because of the pandemic and so they have not yet returned to church and they are watching online,” Westley said.

Still, she said, about 70 people regularly come out to church each week.

The church offers a traditional Sunday service at 8 a.m. followed by a praise and worship service at 10 a.m. that is later posted to Facebook.

“We are looking at being more active in the community,” she said. “We have a lot of ministries here at the church.”

Before becoming a church pastor, Westley was a youth leader and said she hopes to draw on that experience to help her reach out to families with young children.

“A lot of young families are not coming to church as much as they used to,” she said.

A mother of two sons, Westley said she and the church already have plans for some family-friendly activities, such as a Trunk or Treat event on Oct. 30.

“The congregation and the community has been very open and very loving and I look forward to many years together.”

Contact the church at 540-869-2348.

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