By Vanessa Kahin
Her church leadership was once considered by some to be an oddity, but Layloni Drake is simply following a call she received at the age of 17.
The new pastor of Kingswood United Methodist Church, Drake said that as far as she knows, she is the first female pastor of the congregation.
“I’ve been the first in many places,” she said.
Her first assignment out of seminary in 1981 was to a church with only six congregants. However, her first week there, the following more than doubled to 13.
“(They) showed up just to see, what is this thing called a woman pastor,” Drake said. “Nobody knew.”
Being a female church leader has been the cause of several double-takes, said Drake, who also achieved the rank of captain in the Air Force and served as an Air Force chaplain.
“The whole purpose for me being in the military was for me to be a chaplain,” Drake said. She noted funny instances when airmen would make an appointment with Chaplain Drake. They would show up to the appointment, expecting to see a man.
But on a serious note, Drake said the best part about being an Air Force chaplain was being able to listen to airmen and help them face their struggles.
“We were the only confidential people on base,” Drake said. “People could tell us anything.
“The opportunity to be (part of) people’s lives, as they wrestled with things, was such a privilege.”
Drake’s path toward church ministry began in El Paso, Texas, in 1972, during a church youth retreat. The pastor had explained the importance of communion — symbolically receiving the body of Christ. A hymn followed the sermon.
“While we were singing the hymn, I heard a very audible voice,” Drake recalled. “It said, ‘Loni, I want you for my ministry.’”
Drake, who, up until that point, had wanted to be a nurse, said she did not know how to approach the call to lead. She wondered how, as a woman, she could minister. She began to pray for a sign as to what to do.
The answer came via the evening news, during a report about women joining the military.
Drake said she knew then that she wanted to impact the lives of such women.
“Those women needed to know that Jesus could be real for them,” Drake said.
Her father expressed mixed emotions about his daughter’s choice of career, but eventually grew to be supportive.
“My mother was all for it,” Drake said. “When I told my dad, he had to sit down.”
Drake said she knew her father had accepted her decision when he would find and share jokes about pastors with her.
Drake attended McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, where she majored in religion.
She said the major afforded her knowledge in many subjects, including philosophy, developmental theory, sociology and church history.
“I love history,” Drake said. “I think that history teaches us so much. I think when you can understand the context something is written in, it makes a whole lot more sense.”
She then attended Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. She enlisted in the Air Force, and was commissioned January 1984.
Drake, who goes by her maiden name, said she met her husband, Raymond Craig, at Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Together, they had three children — twins Phillip and Peter, 26, and Alysha, 23.
Drake most recently lived in Albuquerque, where she ministered at Asbury United Methodist Church for five years. Before Albuquerque, Drake ministered a congregation in Gallup for seven years.
Drake’s arrival in Clovis was almost immediately marred by the death of her husband, who passed just four days after she relocated to the city.
The untimely loss put Drake in a precarious situation, but it was one she said she did not confront alone.
“I could not have asked for a more loving community,” Drake said of the outpouring of help and support she received following the passing of her husband.
Following her husband’s funeral services in Albuquerque, Drake said her children said to her, “Let’s go home. Let’s go home to Clovis.”
“We had that feeling, that we were coming home to Clovis,” Drake said. “The people here make you feel that way.”