For Presbyterian minister Sheryl Duke, being a woman in the ministry is a calling, not a challenge.
A former radio disc jockey when she entered seminary more than 30 years ago, Duke asked God to take the lead.
She didn’t think about breaking stereotypes or defending a woman’s right to preach.
She simply wanted to share God’s word.
This month, the historic First Presbyterian Church of Dade City welcomed Duke, 61, as its new senior pastor. The church, with roots dating back to the 19th century, held its first service in 1929. Duke will preach her first sermon on Jan. 7.
I talked to the new pastor about faith, love and Florida living.
Q: What inspired you to make the move to Dade City?
A: I’ve been a Presbyterian minister for 30 years. My call now is to minister at churches looking to grow, smaller churches interested in reaching out into the community, to become more proactive in mission and ministry, which is what they were looking for in Dade City. I fit the bill. And I’m happy to be where it is not snowing.
Q: Your husband, Richard Wenzel, is a Presbyterian elder?
A: Yes, they get two for one. We will be working at the church together. We think we can make it work them. It certainly works for us.
Q: What inspired you to become a minister?
A: I was raised in the church. I grew up Presbyterian. I never really thought about being a pastor.
I thought I was going to be a journalist. I went to college to study journalism. I got a job as a disc jockey at a big radio station in Biloxi, Mississippi. I loved being able to talk, but I didn’t feel fulfilled. I felt called to explore ministry, so I went to seminary. God has a real sense of humor. I got a job as an associate minister in Virginia, and in the years that I was there I was able to help the church grow. It made my heart happy. I am coming to Dade City from a church I helped to grow in Kentucky.
Q: As a woman and a pastor, what challenges do you face? What does the distinction mean to you?
A: Sometimes young people will say, "So-and-so’s dad said women can’t be in ministry." What can I say? I felt the call of God, and that is not something I was able to say no to. If I didn’t feel called to do it I would be doing something else. You know, the Bible talks about women in ministry even in the Old Testament. I was called to be a maid servant for the Lord. Called. I grew up in a family that didn’t understand women in ministry. I remember talking to my dad about going to seminary and him saying, "Well, we’ll just have to see what happens." Years later I preached where my dad was a member at a church in Panama City. He came up to me afterward and said, "I can’t say women can’t preach." It was the best compliment. When people see I am doing the real work of a real minister and that I preach the Gospel, that’s what I want them to go home with.
Q: What is your preaching style?
A: I preach straight from scripture. The Gospel is so good and so important. That’s what brings people to know the Lord. When you are bubbling over with the Gospel, then it’s easy to tell other people about it.
Q: What are your goals for First Presbyterian?
A: The church is mainly made up of seniors. It is a wonderful congregation. They have welcomed us, and we are so excited to be here. I hope with God’s leadership I am able to grow this church even more, to reach further into the Dade City community.
First Presbyterian Church of Dade City, 37412 Church Ave, hosts worship at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. Sundays. Christmas Eve service is at 5:30 p.m. and will feature a guest pastor. For more information, call (352) 567-2591 or visit Firstpresbyteriandadecity.org.