Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are thrilled to introduce Cheryl Tarter! Cheryl IS what a minister looks like!
Cheryl, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My ministry as a worship leader began in 1981-1982. I served part time as interim music minister at Noble Avenue Baptist Church in Guthrie, Oklahoma. My full-time occupation was teaching choir to middle and high school students in public schools. In that first ministry opportunity, I served for eight months and then returned to my home church for a year. Then Noble Avenue called me back to be their music minister, and I served for eleven years part-time while still teaching. The music ministries that I experienced as while I was growing up were exceptional. Those ministries provided great learning and opportunities to serve. At Noble Avenue, I was fortunate to work with the adult choir, lead worship, and start a children’s choir, youth choir, and handbell choir, all while serving with a wonderful mentor pastor and friend, Larry Stevens. I am so grateful for those years spent learning and growing.
It was very difficult for me to decide to quit after eleven years, but the demands of growing a large high school choir program forced me to resign as music minister. For a few years, I served as an accompanist at Noble Avenue. Then in 2003, I felt called to help my high school choir teacher/mentor/friend, who was organist at First United Presbyterian Church in Guthrie. When she expressed concern that their choir needed leadership and asked if I would consider taking the job, of course, I said, “yes.” I served as their choir director for nine years. During that time, I learned SO much about all things Presbyterian. I searched for ways to minister not only to the choir, but to the congregants. In those years, I really got to know people in my town that I had only known by name.
In 2012, my good friend and former collaborator/minister at Noble Avenue, Larry Stevens, told me about a minister of music opening at NorthHaven Church in Norman. I had begun to experience a restless movement in myself, which I have learned over the years is how God nudges me to do something. So, intrigued by this nudge, I followed up by applying for the position. I was still living in Guthrie and was now working in real estate with my mother, having retired from teaching in 2008. NorthHaven is in Norman, a forty-five minute drive from Guthrie. When NorthHaven offered me the position, I accepted. My Guthrie family thought I had possibly lost my good sense. Sometimes the drive is a bit long, but I love what I do.
My first foray into worship planning was collaborating with Larry Stevens. I learned so much from him during my years at Noble Avenue. My time at First Presbyterian was different and provided a chance to learn more about church liturgy and the liturgical calendar year. Since being at NorthHaven, I have enjoyed learning of ways to be creative, yet meaningful in worship planning through collaboration with our former, Mitch Randall, and former student minister, Bryan Partridge. I felt “at home” the minute I stepped into my role as NorthHaven’s music minister. This faith community has some of the most talented, gifted, creative people I have ever worked with. We have changed some over these past six years, as nothing stays the same. I see this as a challenge at times, but a welcome one.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy in ministry are the people. I love seeing them get involved in ministry, especially in worship, whether they are helping lead or being a willing participant. In my early years of ministry, sources of joy came from growing children, youth, adult, and handbell choirs. I also enjoyed ecumenical choir collaboration. Now I enjoy seeing the adult choir take on a challenge, whether it be technically difficult music or a new musical style. My favorite joy is just seeing people enjoy worshiping God together. I have to admit I do push us all musically, as there are many ways to worship God, and we don’t want to miss out on learning of new ways to do that!
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Some of the greatest challenges in ministry for me have come as a result of changes in pastoral leadership. I experienced this at First Presbyterian, where I was somewhat detached from the process. My “job” was choir director. However, I did work closely with the pastor, interim pastor, and new pastor during my tenure there. Now I am ten months in to being in a church that has been without a pastor. At times, I have felt as if I am in the middle of a restless sea! Yet, many wonderful things have come during these painful months of the “in between.” Those things were made possible by the great privilege I have had to work with Pam Durso, who has served as our Interim pastor for the past seven months. I am forever changed by and immensely grateful for this incredible opportunity.
What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
The best ministry advice I have been given is to never underestimate how God can use you. Sometimes we are fortunate to see ministry goals accomplished. There are times, however, when we don’t know how God is using us. In various readings lately, I have been reminded of God’s faithfulness during times of difficulty, times when its really hard to see how things will play out. I know in my head that faith growth can happen during the most challenging circumstances. I also know that the heart can take a hit during these times as well. A writer of an article on illness and suffering says, “Suffering takes us to the borders of our faith.” Life challenges and difficulties do that as well. Right now, my goal is to be sensitive to opportunities for growth and learning and trust God is right there by my side guiding me forward.