Allen to lead Middlebury church as its first female pastor

MIDDLEBURY — To say that the Rev. Stephanie Allen has had a busy week would be an understatement of Biblical proportions.
During that brief timeframe, Allen drove from Cleveland to Addison County, closed on a house in the town of Addison and delivered a sermon as the first-ever female pastor of the 110-year-old Memorial Baptist Church of Middlebury.
“It was a smooth transition,” Allen said with a smile on Thursday as she took a quick breather on what was only her sixth day as a Vermonter.
While her introduction to the area has been like a whirlwind, she is very happy to be here, presiding over her new congregation of more than 100 parishioners. Members of the church’s search committee reached out to her after studying her profile posted through American Baptist Churches U.S.A.
Allen had been content in her previous role as associate pastor at the First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland. But she became intrigued about the prospect of a new leadership role and relocating her family to Vermont. She and her husband, Mitch Howell, had both attended college at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. He had harbored aspirations of someday returning to the Granite State, while Allen had yearned for the Green Mountains of Vermont.
She won.
“I was thrilled about the prospect of moving,” she said.
Allen did some “Skype” interviews with Memorial Baptist leaders during the fall and then came up for a face-to-face interview a few months ago during which she met members of the congregation. Church members clearly felt she would be a good match for their needs, as they voted to bring her on as their new minister. The church will formally “install” her as the new pastor at a special service on Sunday, April 6.
She is indeed a busy person.
When she isn’t planning sermons and providing other spiritual guidance, Allen is very busy with her young family. She and her husband have five children, ages 11 months to 12 years. She reserves a block of time from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. each weekday to ensure she is home to greet her school-aged children, prepare dinner and help out with homework.
It is this role as an active mom that Allen is looking to dovetail with her ministerial responsibilities.
“I have to balance my roles,” she said.
Her husband, Mitch, is a computer programmer with Sherwin-Williams. He is able to “telecommute” to his company based in Cleveland.
Asked about her preaching style, Allen replied it is “informal” and “colloquial.” She likes to put cultural references into her messages in an effort to make Biblical passages more relatable in 21st-century society.
Allen, 39, also loves languages. She earned a doctorate in Hebrew. She makes sure her message is readily understood by those listening at worship services.
“I preach like I talk,” she said. “I’m the same off and on (the job).”
She vowed to become involved in the Middlebury community through fellowship and community service. The Memorial Baptist Church is finishing its first season hosting a warming shelter. Staffed by professionals and volunteers, the shelter has been serving seven to 10 homeless people during the most frigid of nights.
“We see a need in the community and we try to meet it,” she said of the church’s philosophy.
Longtime Memorial Baptist Church parishioner Matthew Dickerson led the search committee that reached out to Allen. He said he’s confident the church found a winning match in its new pastor. Dickerson recalled speaking with the senior pastor at the Cleveland church at which Allen worked, in order to get some feedback on Allen as a candidate.
“His recommendation was unguardedly glowing,” Dickerson said. “He described her as both ‘scary smart’ and ‘super organized,’ one of the most capable people he had ever worked with. He also described her as an excellent preacher, noting he wished she preached every week so that he could listen to her. As our committee listened to several of her sermons online, we realized how accurate his statement was.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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