Making Space in the Church for Working Women

4w_wed_300x300_072413So often, we hear working women around the country lament that they cannot find a niche in their churches. Many of us here at 4word have felt the same, but we are glad to watch this trend changing. This week’s interview features a woman who is helping facilitate that change: Mary Ann Noack, the new Associate Pastor of Women’s Ministries at River West Church in Portland.




4word: Tell us how you arrived in Portland.


Mary Ann: After college, I began a career with Hallmark Marketing Corp. in Kansas City, MO. I relocated to Sacramento and took a specialized assignment working with large department store buyers in three western states. After I married my husband Bob in 1986, we decided to follow his career path, which hindered me from relocating with Hallmark, so I resigned and opened my own gourmet gift basket business called Bountiful Baskets.

In 1988, Bob took a new job in Portland, so I sold the business as a franchise and opened another branch in Oregon.


4word: And when did you begin working in vocational ministry?


Mary Ann: In 1992 I was asked to join the staff team of the church we were attending. I served as the program director of Sunday Services and eventually decided to sell off my gift basket clients to a competitor so I could serve the Lord in full time ministry.

In 2003 I was asked to serve as the Teaching Leader for Bible Study Fellowship (BSF). I taught a daytime women’s BSF class for nine years and just launched a new evening women’s BSF class this spring.

In 2009 the Lord also called me to embark on a deeper study of His Word through Western Seminary in Portland. I am presently working to complete my Master’s of Biblical and Theological Study. Four weeks ago, I joined the staff team of River West Church as the new Associate Pastor of Women’s Ministries.


4word: How long have you been a member at River West Church? How did you become the pastor of women’s ministry?


Mary Ann: My husband and I began attending River West Church in 2003. He serves on the Elder Board, and I have served in various support roles over the years. Last fall our senior pastor asked me to help launch a women’s Bible study at our church. We called our new study “The River” based on John 7:38:  “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38

This spring, the elders and the pastors asked me to pray about joining the staff in a full time capacity.


4word: Does River West distinguish between the roles of “pastor” and “director?” If so, what is the significance of you being named a pastor?


Mary Ann: Our church understands the word “pastor” to be a verb rather than a title. To “pastor” is to spiritually feed and shepherd people in their spiritual journey of faith in Christ.

My position was designated an “Associate Pastor” rather than a “Ministry Director” because the leaders see the role as a spiritual shepherd of women rather than a conductor of events and programs.


4word: Tell us more about your evening Bible study for working women.


Mary Ann: Our new evening study will officially launch this fall. In addition to our Thursday morning study we will be launching “The River at Night” for working women plus a new morning children’s program called “The Creek.”

Presently we are taking pre-registrations for the study and the response has been very strong. The women are so grateful to have the opportunity to attend an evening study, and we are hoping that the connection with the morning study will serve to unite all the women of our church together in both heart and mind as they dive into the same scriptures each week.


4word: It sounds like River West really understands the gifts and needs of professional women. How has being a member of a church like that helped you personally in your spiritual growth?


Mary Ann: As a workingwoman myself, I understand how challenging it is to find time to enjoy the company of other women and to spend concentrated time in the Bible when the demands upon my life are so heavy. Our hope is that “The River At Night” will be a spiritual sanctuary for busy women to connect with the Lord and each other so they might receive encouragement and refreshment for their weary souls.


4word: What about the impact on the other professional women at River West?


Mary Ann: Our desire is for all women to progress in their spiritual journey through the elements of worship, teaching and community at River West. My hope is that our Women’s Ministry will be used as an instrument of the Lord to encourage all women to place their faith in Jesus Christ and allow Him to lead them onward toward spiritual growth and maturity.




Does your home church serve the needs of professional women? If so, tell us what has helped you the most. If not, what do you wish they would change?