Of the list of places where the Rev. Robyn Abel could have ended up, she admitted that Leavenworth seems appropriate.
Having arrived last Friday in town for the beginning of a stint as the pastor of the city’s 155-year-old First Presbyterian Church, Abel is the first woman called on and voted by the congregation to fill that role, though the church did have a female interim pastor about a decade ago. It’s not the first time, either — she said she’s been the first female pastor in four of her five assignments.
“I call it being a trailblazer, and in Leavenworth — what better place to be a trailblazer?” she said.
But Abel said she is not in the ministry to simply blaze a trail for her gender — she’s also hoping to help First Presbyterian reach out to the Leavenworth community.
It was not always that way. Raised a Southern Baptist in Orlando, Fla., Abel said she was studying in northeast Texas to be a nurse and worked part-time as a Presbyterian church secretary when she felt she was called to become a minister after the area experienced a deadly tornado that kept her pastor from being able to take care of the routine visits to those in the hospital and in nursing homes.
“I loved it,” she said. “I really, really enjoyed going in and visiting with people and going into the nursing home.”
But taking the next step and enrolling in seminary took some convincing — not for her late husband, whom she said was supportive — but for herself.
“It was a very frightening thing,” she said. “If I could have been like Moses and seen a burning bush and be really certain that this is what was going on, that would have been better.”
But after some thought of her own and encouragement from those around her, including that former pastor, Abel said she did decide to go to the seminary. Since being ordained in 1990, she said she has served in a number of churches around the country — in Waco, Texas; in Columbus, Ohio; and most recently, for 13 years at Iroquois Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Ky. Over that time, Abel said she has developed something of a specialty in her ministry.
“One of the things that I’ve been involved with is church redevelopment and church transformation,” she said.
Leavenworth has been on her list of preferences in future assignments — Abel said her husband’s brother- and sister-in-law were both stationed at Fort Leavenworth for about six years, and that she visited several times.
Among the congregation, too, at First Presbyterian, Abel said she there seems to be a desire to move existing ministries forward and find new ground, which makes the partnership a good match.
Page 2 of 2 - “That’s always been my interest, to go into a congregation that is hungry to do new things, to reach out into the community in a new way and to do new kinds of community outreach,” she said. “They need a cheerleader, they need someone to spur them on and take their dreams and flesh them out. This just seemed like a good fit.”
There’s a number of opportunities to partner and to expand existing ministries because of the unique nature of the city, with the presence of both the fort and nearby correctional facilities.
“There are a lot of people out there that are in and out, that are transient with the community, who maybe don’t have a church home here in Leavenworth. And we need to continue to try to find ways to meet their needs and touch their lives,” she said.
However, before sitting down with church leaders to come up with some new initiatives and increasing the “visibility” of the grand church on Fourth Street that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, she will be meeting with other faith leaders and introducing herself to her new congregation.
When time allows — Abel still has a sizable stack of boxes to unpack in her office — she will also hopefully be able to receive visits from her daughter, son-in-law and three grandchildren, who all still reside in the Louisville area.
“They’re looking forward to getting on an airplane and coming to visit,” she said.