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Light of the World turns to first female pastor to fill interim role

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In need of an interim leader to help the transition to its next permanent pastor, Light of the World Christian Church appointed Rev. Janae Pitts-Murdock, who became the 152-year-old church’s first female senior pastor.

Pitts-Murdock, who grew up in Detroit and most recently worked at a church in Arkansas, said she came to Indiana because it was a chance to get back in the Midwest and use all of her talents.

“Why not come to Indiana!” she laughed. “… Fayetteville, Arkansas, is a long way from Indianapolis, Indiana, but there are lots of reasons why this opportunity made sense.”


In previous roles as a pastoral leader dating back to 2007, Pitts-Murdock said it was usually the case that churches leaned on her preaching or her ability to connect with people or her business credentials (she has a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Memphis). At Light of the World, though, Pitts-Murdock feels like she can use her whole skillset.

The church was in need of a new pastor after David Hampton left to become deputy mayor of neighborhood engagement for the city of Indianapolis. In the Disciples of Christ denomination, which Light of the World is a part of, a search committee can recruit an interim pastor. Pitts-Murdock said she won’t be considered for the permanent position and won’t be part of the search for the next leader. She said that makes it easier to be a leader.

“I have a very specific role to help the church transition into a more stable, healthier organization,” she said, “and so it’s very difficult to make hard decisions, unpopular decisions, difficult choices when I’m also vying for the long-term job.”

Light of the World was without a pastor since January, which left it to church elders to keep things going smoothly. Myron Richardson, head elder, said Pitts-Murdock is the answer to their prayers.

“She’s a blessing,” he said. “… Without a pastor, a church is in the wilderness. You need a shepherd. She will be the shepherd of our sheep.”

Light of the World was not in a uniquely dangerous situation. Every church thinks about where the money is coming from, who’s walking through the doors on Sunday and how to guide the congregation toward a stable future. Getting a pastor, even on an interim basis, means Light of the World now doesn’t have to do that without a bona fide leader.

Entrusting a woman to be that leader is rare territory for churches. It’s uncommon in many branches of Christianity to have a female pastor, and the two largest faith groups in America — the Roman Catholic Church and Southern Baptist Convention — don’t allow women to be ordained.

“That was a bold step that we made, but she was more than qualified,” said Church Council President Shatrese Flowers, who was head of the 11-person search committee. “We didn’t let her gender get in the way of us making the best decision for our congregation.”

Pitts-Murdock had her first Sunday as senior pastor Aug. 20 and said it was a “sobering” experience to be in a new environment with so many counting on her.

“I felt supported, I felt affirmed, I felt welcomed by the congregation,” she said. “It was a good day.”

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-766-1406. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.