From the time she was a small child, Reverend Kelli Westmark had a strong relationship with God. She knew Jesus loved her, felt it deeply, and needed to share with others that message.
“When I was three years old my mom worked as a secretary at the Tillamook Church of the Nazarene,” Westmark recalls. “I would bring all my stuffed animals (to the church) and line them on the platform and tell them Jesus loved them.”
Westmark has been the pastor of the Lincoln City Church of the Nazarene for eight years. In that time the church has grown from a membership of 12 to over 70 weekly attendants. She also spearheaded a funding campaign and oversaw the building of a preschool that serves up to twelve students at a time.
Westmark was recently honored with the annual Faithful and Fruitful Pastor Award for the Oregon Pacific District of the Church of the Nazarene. She was selected from more than 200 pastors in the Western half of Oregon.
“She just exemplifies both those characteristics,” said Dr. Stan Reeder, Superintendent of the district. When Westmark, “took the church, it couldn’t afford to pay her a full time salary. She made that sacrifice to give full attention to the church,” despite having very little personal income.
This, he said, exemplifies Westmark’s faithfulness. The way the church has grown while under her guidance is an example of her fruitfulness.
“He completely surprised me,” Westmark said, of receiving the award, “and I received it through my tears. I’m just so thankful.”
Westmark felt the call from Jesus to serve from an early age, so it seems logical she always knew she’d become a Reverend. She never thought she could attain a pastorship, however, believing instead that women could not serve in this calling.
“I thought women should be silent in the church,” she said. “There’s a scripture that people take out of context, that women should be silent in the church, and I was one of those people.”
As a youth Westmark was active in the Tillamook Church of the Nazarene. When high school graduation neared, she pondered where to attend college.
“I kept telling people I was going to become an elementary teacher,” she said, “And every time I said it I felt sick to my stomach, like I was going to throw up.”
It was while on a summer youth group mission to Mexico after high school graduation that Westmark said she heard the Lord speak to her. The youth group got word that their senior pastor of the church was leaving, and while praying together for guidance she heard God distinctly tell her, “Youth Ministry.”
“I was so excited,” she explained. “We’d had a woman serve as our youth pastor, and so I thought that’s what my calling was to be.”
She enrolled at Northwest Nazarene University in Nampa, Idaho to pursue a degree in special ministries with an emphasis in teaching youth.
It was during her senior year of college when Westmark was a teaching assistant for Dr. C.S. Cole that the professor said clearly, “Kelli, don’t you see God is calling you to preach?” He then pointed to another professor in the program, a woman, who was an ordained pastor.
Perhaps, she pondered, what God had meant when He spoke to her while on that mission trip to Mexico were two, separate words. Rather than seeking work as a Youth Minister, perhaps her role was to serve people: specifically ‘Youth’ and as a ‘Minister.’
Westmark said from that point onward, God moved swiftly in her life. The staff at the school, “basically said, ‘Kelli, here is a full ride scholarship to seminary to get your masters of divinity, go figure it out.’”
She moved to Kansas City, and enrolled in the Nazarene Theological Seminary, where one of the first classes she took was about preaching, “and I knew this was what God was calling me to do.”
After three years of Masters courses, Westmark had a Masters of Theology 10 offers from churches in both the United States and Canada, wanting to add her to their staff.
“They were excited to have me,” she recalled. “They wanted a female pastor.”
She finally felt called to a church in Indianapolis, “a church that was in turmoil,” she remembered. “It had four members and it needed a restart.”
Four years later, just when the church was taking off, a pressing family situation called Westmark back home to Tillamook. She left her church family and came back to the coast.
Life, at that point, she felt, needed a break from preaching and full on pastor duties.
She took a support role as an associate pastor with the Tillamook Church of the Nazarene and worked for Country Media as the advertising manager of the Headlight Herald and the North Coast Citizen.
Westmark said she knew eventually when the time was right, God would call her back to a church. That calling came from Dr. Reeder when he asked Westmark to substitute as a short-term interim pastor for a small congregation in Lincoln City.
This church was also in a declining state and their then-pastor had left, Westmark said. After preaching for two weeks, she returned to her work in Tillamook.
Dr. Reeder then called and told Westmark that the church membership wished for her to be their permanent pastor. Westmark admitted she was in no frame of mind to take on this church. “They didn’t want a pastor, they wanted someone to bury them,” she said, frankly of both the membership’s age and their then fixed mindset.
Dr. Reeder, however, had a different idea about the Lincoln City church. “He said, ‘Well Kelli, I’ve talked with them and I think they’re willing to make changes,’” she recalled.
“So, I went and interviewed them and they said they’d do whatever I wanted, if I could please just come and be their pastor.”
Westmark said she opened her mind to what God wanted and came away with the conclusion that, “Through all of this, if they were willing to change, and willing to make a difference in their community, I’d go. I felt peace in my heart that this was the right next step.”
Westmark took the job, and took on a church with a budget of less than $50,000 a year for the entire church, including her salary.
“I’m not sure how she survived those first years,” Dr. Reeder said, frankly. “It was at great personal sacrifice.”
Remembering the words God had spoken to her regarding her calling, Westmark wondered how she would serve youth with a church comprised of elderly members. The answer, she said, became clear in the first year in her new church.
“I asked them, ‘What is one thing we can do in our community? How can we make a difference?’” The membership responded that they missed having youth in their church, she recalled. Additionally, Lincoln City has a high poverty rate and parents with very little income for daycare. Could they build a small preschool to help community members?
Westmark said that once they had a goal in mind, with a changed mindset and fervent prayer, her congregation rose to the challenge. They fundraised for monies to add on to their building, succeeding at their goal.
“What a vision,” Dr. Reeder said, of Westmark’s commitment. The fundraising campaign was, “a huge risk for her,” due to the church’s limited funds.
Today, Westmark looks back at her faith journey and smiles. At age 41, she has walked many miles since that day when God said to her, “Youth Minister.”
“It feels amazing,” she said. “I feel like I am not only in the prime of my life, but I’m exactly where God wanted me from before time began. I love my church family, and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I wake up every morning with joy, ready for whatever God has planned for that day.”