Religion feature: Westminster Presbyterian’s first female pastor leading congregation

Courtesy photo Cristabelle Russell is the new pastor at Clovis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church and the first woman to lead the near 50-year-old congregation.

Sharna Johnson

Not only has a new pastor taken the pulpit at Westminster Presbyterian Church, Cristabelle Russell is the first woman to lead the congregation in its near 50-year Clovis history.

Beginning in the position in January following the retirement of Frank Sherman, the church’s pastor of 18 years, the congregation is enjoying Russell’s presence.

“She’s a real go-getter,” said Dwight Waldo, a church elder. “She’s just got a lot of energy.”

Classified as a part-time pastor, Russell is in Clovis five days a week, spending the rest of her time in Lovington where she lives with her husband, who is also a Presbyterian minister.

Having a dual-pastor household in a rural community with only one Presbyterian congregation necessitated her looking for a church to pastor outside of Lovington, she said.

“It is quite a ministry just by doing the driving,” Russell said. “With life here in New Mexico … as my husband said, almost everyone is doing it (driving long distances), it sometimes is difficult, but it’s something you have to take and understand.”

During her time in Clovis between Saturday and Wednesday, Russell said she holds office hours for church members, does pastor visitation, attends meetings, preaches Sunday service and Sunday school and prepares for the coming week.

Westminster is a very active congregation in spite of its small size — with about 30 members predominately between ages 40 and 65 — supporting local ministries, the food bank, meal programs, care packages for military members and spearheading the “Waldo Bear Ministry” giving refurbished stuffed animals to nursing home residents, among other activities.

Russell said she is heading up a mission study at Westminster to “lead the church in understanding their congregational identity and possibilities for service in the Clovis community.” She said she founded a mission project in her home town in the Philippines five years ago and returns to conduct work there each summer.

Russell said the congregation is progressively minded and has opened its arms to her as the first female pastor in its history.

“I think they’re pretty much progressive in their mindset when it comes to leadership so I pretty much picked up were things had been,” she said. “To me that’s an affirmation of who they are in accepting me as a female in their leadership.”

Immigrating from the Philippines in 1990 with a bachelors degree in education, Russell said she graduated from McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago in 1999 and was ordained the following year.

She said she has previously served as a co-pastor with her husband, Harold Russell, and they have a 9-year-old son.

Sunday service takes place at 9 a.m. and includes a choir, with Sunday school at 10:15.

Westminster Presbyterian is located at 3112 Thornton. Information: 762-1217