SHE was recently named president-elect of the Jamaica Baptist Union (JBU), shattering the glass ceiling that had existed for centuries. But for 43-year-old Reverend Karen Kirlew, this achievement has happened in God’s own timing.
“I am apprehensive and often wonder what it’s going to be like. But God knows what He’s doing. It was uncontested, and the constituents were very elated and overjoyed. People are excited, people are on the edge, and it has a lot to do with being part of history. But together the leaders of the church discern what approach to take as God instructs us, and whatever vision is to be realised we will do it together,” she told All Woman.
Kirlew, who will not assume the role of president until 2018, has been a Christian since age 14. She said that though she has always had the desire to help people and always enjoyed being in the church, this form of ministry was far from her mind.
“I was a student at the College of Arts, Science and Technology (now UTech) and I was interested in organisational management and administration. Before that I was at St Andrew High for girls and I wanted to be a gynaecologist, but I changed my mind as I didn’t get the grades for the sciences,” Kirlew shared.
She explained that after her return to Jamaica in 1995, having left in 1994 to spend 10 months in Britain as part of a mission team, her pastor Reverend Neville Callam suggested pastoral ministry to her, which she said came as a shock. However, after much deliberation, she consented.
“He was convinced this was my calling and helped me to realise that God had a particular calling upon my life. Before, I was involved in many ways, and from time to time I wondered if there was a way to offer myself some more with the youth, adults and children of the church (as) I interacted well with each group of people. Initially I was shocked, frightened, spellbound, and I listened as he spoke for about 40 minutes or so, and didn’t intervene. As he spoke he helped me to understand what God would continue to do. It set me on a different path and allowed me to think in a different way — one I had not considered before. Things took off from there, and by the time I applied for ministry I got the feeling this was it, because the support was there from the church community as they have to recommend you as well. It was a matter of doing what I was doing for the love of the Lord and God’s people,” Kirlew said.
Subsequently, in 1998 she journeyed to the United Theological College of the West Indies where she embarked on her pastoral studies. After graduating in 2002 she was assigned to the Linstead Circuit of Baptist Churches to give assistance to Reverend Everton Jackson, then president of the JBU. From there, in July 2003, she was assigned to St Ann’s Bay Circuit of Baptist Churches where she has remained until now, pastoring the St Ann’s Bay Baptist Church.
“The experience has been instructive and has contributed tremendously to my spiritual and personal growth and development. It has helped me to understand people some more, to understand culture, where people are at, how people respond to their own needs, and how I as a pastor must respond to those needs, even if it would not be what I would do. It has brought me onto another plane, taking me from my comfort zone, and it allowed me to see how other people are and how God can use them – other people – and all of us together to be effective. I’m also very proud of the circuit — St Ann’s Bay, Lime Hall and Liberty Baptist churches,” she said.
Kirlew, who considers herself to be enthusiastic and possessing a generous spirit, also shared that she has a love for Christian education, teaching and training, explaining that when people are able to learn and put into effect what they have learnt, it gives her deep joy.
She also prides herself on taking care of people and one day hopes to be responsible for a home for the aged or needy. Currently, she is actively engaged in her church’s Dorcas Ministry which provides clothing for the needy, evangelism initiatives, and its women’s federation. Before pastoral ministry, Kirlew had roles such as Sunday School teacher, worship leader, member of the youth fellowship executive, shared responsibility for putting a young adult ministry in place at her church, member of the choir, children’s choir master, chorale, drama productions, and conducting Bible studies in church and as part of her pastoral training for ministry as a lay preacher.
In her down time she enjoys spending time with her husband Raymond and 10-year-old son Dominic. She also ensures she keeps in touch with her parents and siblings.
Guided by Philippians 4:13, Kirlew shared that she is not easily challenged, and believes in trying until you succeed. As a result, she also makes it a point of duty to empower the youth, women and young men in her church.
“There are real issues, and we have to meet people at their point of need and address them. Allow them to understand they have a positive role to play and can contribute positively to society and to themselves,” she declared.