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First Woman Executive Presbyter of INW Wins Distinguished Ministry Leadership Award

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First Woman Executive Presbyter of INW Wins Distinguished Ministry Leadership Award

News Story by Nina Culver | FāVS News

The Rev. Sheryl Kinder-Pyle, the executive presbyter of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest, recently received Whitworth University’s Distinguished Ministry Leadership Award in recognition of her work leading one of the larger denominations in the region.

Kinder-Pyle received the award after Whitworth’s board of trustees selected her from several nominees for the honor, noting her 12 years leading the Presbytery and her work supporting churches that serve Nez Perce tribal members.

Tad Wisenor, Whitworth’s Senior Associate Vice President of Institutional Advancement, said he has worked with Kinder-Pyle for years.

“She is a bridge builder at a time when our world and our country feel divisive,” he said. “The Presbyterian denomination is one that has allowed congregations to choose their own path but share a common governance. I think she is leading the church for this season in a way that is worth celebrating.”

Kinder-Pyle is a collaborator and a convener, Wisenor said, giving her opinion when asked but otherwise letting the process work.

“She leads from the middle, if you will, and brings others alongside,” he said.

She’s also fun to work with, Wisenor said.

“She’s a joy,” he said. “She has a terrific sense of humor. She’s not afraid to get in the trenches.”

‘I’m one of the first.’

Kinder-Pyle grew up in Illinois and Indiana, double majoring in psychology and religion at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. She thought of becoming a Christian counselor. At the time she never considered becoming a pastor.

“I’d never seen a female pastor in a church,” she said. “I’m one of the first.”

She was attending Princeton Theological Seminary, still with the goal of becoming a counselor, when she took a required field placement in a church. She was hooked.

“I loved it,” she said. “I had to explore that.”

After a lot of consideration and discussion with her professors and fellow students, she decided to become a pastor. She had met her husband, Scott, at the seminary and the couple married between their second and third year. Searching for a church that needed two pastors fresh out of seminary was a challenge, she said.

They soon came across First Presbyterian Church in Spokane, which was searching for two youth pastors. Kinder-Pyle led the high school students while her husband led the middle school and college students. The couple worked there for several years in the late 1980s and early 1990s and while they loved it here, they decided to move back East to be closer to their families after Kinder-Pyle became pregnant with their first child.

She worked part-time for several years, then the couple moved to the Philadelphia area to plant a new church, Crossroads Presbyterian, which continues to this day.

In 2006, the couple moved back to Spokane, where her husband started another new church, the short-lived Latah Valley Presbyterian Church.

Casting visions and seeing the ‘Spirit’ move

In 2010, Kinder-Pyle started working as the executive presbyter.

“We don’t do bishops, but I am the regional leader,” she said. “I love working with pastors and church leaders. I actually have used the gift and some of the things I needed in planting churches to reshape the Presbytery. I love vision casting and seeing where the Spirit is on the move.”

As traditional congregations have aged and shrunk, the challenge now is to imagine new ways of worship, she said. That includes new ways of using church buildings. Kinder-Pyle said her job is to walk alongside local Presbyterian churches and help them discover new expressions of church.

“I think that the church will continue, but it will look different,” she said.

As an example, she points to Bethany Presbyterian Church, a South Hill church damaged heavily in a fire in January 2022. The congregation is dreaming about what it can do with that property, Kinder-Pyle said. While they want a worship space, offices and meeting space, they’re also considering something to help the community, such as housing for working families and/or refugees.

“It’s exciting,” she said. “We’re walking alongside them and encouraging them to dream.”

Other projects and experiments have taken root in the community. Feast World Kitchen, a restaurant featuring an ever-changing menu created by refugee chefs from around the world, is located in a building that First Presbyterian Church owns.

In addition to her job, Kinder-Pyle has also been heavily involved in the Octet, a group of regional bishops and executives representing the Roman Catholic, Disciples of Christ, Episcopal, Lutheran, United Methodist, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ and American Baptist denominations.

First woman executive presbyter of Presbytery of the Inland Northwest

Throughout her ministry, Kinder-Pyle has been a trailblazer. She is the first woman to be named executive presbyter of the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest.

“I was a female pastor that had never had a female pastor,” she said.

The church has changed over the years and it’s not as unusual to see women pastors, Kinder-Pyle said.

“I think women, at least in mainline churches, have seen other women pastors,” she said.

But still, old attitudes sometimes linger. Kinder-Pyle recalls a conversation with an elder in a church that was looking for a new pastor. He told her that he could accept a woman interim pastor, but “we’re going to need a man to be the real pastor.”

Kinder-Pyle said she reminded the man that she was his pastor’s pastor and that a woman could fill any ministerial role. “

It was just a funny moment,” she said. “You love on the people where they are and encourage them. It takes time and love, I think, and patience.”

Kinder-Pyle said she was grateful to receive Whitworth’s leadership award.

“I felt so encouraged by that recognition,” she said. “You feel like you’ve been seen and appreciated and it’s such a gift.”

Nina Culver
Nina Culver
Nina Culver is a freelance journalist and North Idaho native who has called Spokane home for the last 30 years. She started working at The Spokesman-Review in 1995 as a work study intern while still a journalism student at Gonzaga University and stuck around for the next 22 years, covering everything from religion to crime. She has an adult daughter and two grandsons who keep her hopping and if she has any free time she likes to read.

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Sr. Teresa Jackson
Sr. Teresa Jackson
5 months ago

Congratulations Sheryl! A very well deserved recognition of your leadership and gifts on behalf of the Church!

Cup Harrison
Cup Harrison
5 months ago

Congratulations!

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