Norwalk church calls first female pastor

Cary Ashby • Aug 17, 2017 at 6:00 PM

The Rev. Dr. Tara Henderson’s new ministry at First Baptist Church is a historic one.

“We have our bicentennial in 2018. We are going to be gearing up,” she said.

Henderson is the first female pastor at the Norwalk church in 198 years. Her inaugural sermon will be at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

The pastor modestly said it’s “pretty significant” for First Baptist to be led by its first female minister. But it’s not about a historical first or even that this is her first solo pastorate; Henderson’s focus is on what she can do to help the community.

The West Virginia native said she wants to “open the door” so the church eventually can offer grief support and divorce recovery groups. Henderson plans on asking plenty of questions to find out how First Baptist can help the Norwalk area by being “the hands and feet of Christ in the community.”

“I want to continue our (ministry) at The Haven. I really believe in that,” Henderson said. “Our Main Street (School) kiddos come out twice a week.”

The Haven is located next to the church, 67 E. Main St. The gathering space offers free roller skating and other activities for fifth- and sixth-graders.

Before being called to Norwalk, Henderson served as a chaplain at a senior living community in Centennial, Colo. for 4 1/2 years.

“I was leading worship services, Bible studies and memorial services,” she said.

As a chaplain, Henderson said she helped people through their grief — “everything from losing their driver’s license to losing a loved one.”

Although her recent training and experience focused on ministry with the elderly, she also has worked with children and youth. While attending Alderson-Broaddus College (now Alderson Broaddus University) in Philippi, W.Va., Henderson served as the youth director at two different churches.

“Then I worked with our missionaries and denominational staff in global mission,” the pastor said. “I have a heart for mission and outreach.”

She earned her bachelor of arts in Christian studies and sociology with a professional minor in education from Alderson-Broaddus.

“I also appreciate ministry with single moms because I’m a single mom,” said Henderson, the mother of two girls and a boy, ages 7 through 13.

Raised in Parkersburg, W.Va., she earned her master of divinity from Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary (now called Palmer Theological Seminary), which is outside of Philadelphia.

“My family is in West Virginia and Ohio, so we wanted to be closer,” said Henderson, who added it will be “nice to be within driving distance” of her relatives.

Henderson has a doctorate of ministry in marriage and family from Eastern Baptist. In addition, she earned another master’s degree, this time in social work, from Bryn Mawr College.

Henderson considers one of her ministerial strengths to be pastoral counseling.

“I was a therapist for a while,” she said, referring to individual, couples and marriage counseling.

While being a stay-at-home mom for about 8 1/2 years, she worked in the nursery and children’s programs and women’s ministry at various churches.

Henderson said her ministry at First Baptist will allow her to offer a variety of the ministerial experiences she has had. 

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