Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church ministry is journey for pastor

December 11, 2012

By Anna Chatilo

Pastor Debbie Boyce (middle) is ordained by Bishop William Chris Boerger of the Northwest Washington Synod and installed as a new pastor at Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church. Beverly Piro (left), assisting minister for the ordination, looks on. By Mike Nordal

For many years, Debbie Boyce felt her spiritual life was giving her a nudge. After raising five children, she embarked upon a new journey — going back to school, starting out as an undergrad.

Fast-forward nine years. Boyce, 53, graduated from seminary school last summer and became the new pastor of Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church in Issaquah.

A Montana native, Boyce lives in Kent. She said church members have made her transition from student to pastor an easy one. Not only is she the first pastor to be ordained at the church, but she is the first female to hold the role — and both traits are embraced by church members.

“I’ve felt really welcomed, just a wide-open welcome door,” she said. “Lots of warm hospitality, lots of eager energy to welcome me.

The congregation “had a meet-and-greet for myself and my family at the end of July, and it was just a very positive experience … my family came with me and they were really overwhelmed with the genuine hospitality.”

Church Council President Holly Nordal said that “everyone has very much embraced her. Everyone is very pleased with everything she has done already, and some of the ideas she’s bringing on board. We’re looking forward to just having our future unfold and having Pastor Debbie be a part of that.”

Her family, including her children and husband, were very encouraging throughout her schooling, which included a bachelor’s degree as well as a master of divinity.

Boyce said her family has “given me their support every step of the way and they feel really positive and really excited for me in this call. I think that’s been a huge piece of my journey — to have my family with me and surrounding me and uplifting me.”

Though her kids are grown and out of the house, she now sees less of her husband as well. While the job leaves her little spare time, her husband’s work with Boeing now involves commuting to Helena, Mont., every week. He comes home every Friday afternoon and flies out after the weekend, but not before going to church for her service on Sundays.

“That has been hard, just a big adjustment having him gone because he hasn’t traveled for his work for a long time,” she said. In addition, she added, “going through a new step in my own professional life” is yet another adjustment.

She finds that the hardest part of her work brings with it the most gratifying aspects as well.

“The challenge is the same as the joy, in a sense,” she said. “The challenge is getting to know people, and the joy is getting to know people, because I want to know them in a way that I know their story — that I’m their pastor, and can share their hopes, and hear their hopes, and hear their passions.”

Don Benson was part of the call committee that selected Boyce for the position. He said her caring personality was just one of the qualities that made her a good fit for the church.

“Her message is very good, very to the point … very organized,” he said. “I think all churches today have challenges, some more than others, and our challenge really is to maintain and gain people to come to the church or that we can touch on the outside through our discipleship.”

Only a few months into the new position, Boyce is still solidifying her role. With the average service attendance at about 75, she has quite a few faces to remember and names to learn.

“We’re at the stage where we’re getting to know one another and to figure out what is our mission and our calling for Shepherd of the Hills here in this community is, and looking at really putting our energy towards growth,” she said.

Having undergone a few transitions the past few years, the new pastor said building trusting relationships, being present and supporting people are important goals.

Nordal said she is looking forward to what lies ahead with Boyce.

“We’re just so very pleased to have her,” she said. “She has already made a connection with us all, and a very positive impression. I am really looking forward to a long future with her being our pastor.”

Anna Chatilo is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory. Comment at

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