Elaine Watskey, new pastor at Mount Cross Lutheran Church, is not the first female pastor in the Rim country -- but she is currently the only one.
As such, she probably knew she'd be asked if God is a woman. She was ready.
"My personal belief is that we cannot describe God through human eyes and in human terms, so I don't think of God as a male or a female," Watskey said.
While she stands alone in Payson, female pastors are not all that uncommon according to Watskey.
"The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, which we are a part of, and their predecessors, started ordaining women in the early 70s," she said. "The Methodists began before the Lutherans, and I'm not sure where other denominations fell, but I have had the joy of interacting with many Presbyterian and Episcopal pastors who are women."
The other two major Lutheran synods -- the Missouri and Wisconsin synods, both of which are represented in Payson -- do not believe in ordaining women.
"They and other denominations justify it by taking a literal interpretation of the Bible," Watskey said. "I'm not a believer in disparaging denominations within my own Lutheran family or other denominations within the Christian faith, but it's very hard for me to personally understand why they truly believe God does not call women to the ministry when there are plenty of examples in the Bible showing that women were serving in leadership roles."
Watskey came to her calling relatively late in life, earning her masters of divinity degree in 2002. Mount Cross is her first church.
"I was a business woman for many years," she said. "You think you're set for life and you're enjoying what you're doing, and then all of a sudden God says, ‘I have something else in mind for you.'"
A 7-member call committee formed by Mount Cross invited her to Payson for a few days in December. It was love at first sight.
"I thought it was so beautiful," Watskey said. "The first morning there was just a little dusting of the trees.
"The call committee kept laughing because I said, ‘Smell that -- the air smells so good. I fell in love with this community and this congregation right then and there.
"I was extended a call by this congregation and I accepted because I truly felt deeply called to this ministry. I have a deep belief that the Holy Spirit is active on a constant, ongoing basis in all of our lives."
Watskey's first day on the job was April 8.
"I have been told by members of the community: do not expect to be warmly welcomed as a woman pastor," she said, "but I have not felt that. I have been warmly welcomed by the Methodist pastor and the Presbyterian pastor and their congregations.
Of course her own congregation has been most welcoming.
"We're blessed with men and women of all ages here and I have felt loved and accepted by everyone," she said.
Born and raised in Kansas, Watskey is a graduate of Kansas State. Her undergraduate degree is in education.
Husband Joe, a dentist, encouraged his wife to answer her late calling.
"For four years we lived separately while I went to Chicago for my theological education," she said.
When she was offered the opportunity at Mount Cross, husband Joe sold his practice and retired so she could accept.
The Watskeys moved here from the town of Rolla in south-central Missouri -- a community about the size of Payson.
Now that she's settled in, she invites those who don't have a church to join the Mount Cross family.
"We have over six acres of land, so we have our own campus here," she said.
"I want everyone in Payson to know that if they don't have a church home already, we love welcoming men and women and children of all ages."
And she's confident the day will come when all the men and women in this community will work together in pursuit of spiritual goals.
"I feel men and women are integral to each other, and if we work together great things can happen."
Name: Elaine Watskey
Employer: Mount Cross Lutheran Church
Age: I have the most youthful spirit, so I pay no attention to anyone's physical age. It's their inner spirit that I pay attention to.
Birthplace: Raised in Paola, Kan.
Family: Husband Joe, a retired dentist. Daughter, Jill, is an attorney in Kansas City.
Personal motto: There's no dream too big to dream. Don't be afraid to risk. That's how we learn and grow.
Inspiration: My inspiration comes from creation. It's just amazing to me what God has done with this world. I'm not naive to the evil that exists in it, but I just see all the beauty in people and in the rest of creation.
Greatest feat: I don't know that I'd call it a feat, but where I felt I learned and grew the most is when I felt a call from the Holy Spirit in the summer of 2000 to be a part of a gospel choir ministry team that went to Africa. Those three weeks were the most meaningful in my life. I learned more about God and his world from the African Christians.
Favorite hobby and/or leisure activity: Travel.
Three words that describe me best: Spiritual, energetic, joy-filled.
I don't want to brag but ... I was a K-State cheerleader in college. That was fun for me and I'm proud of that.
Person in history I'd like to meet: I'm not going to answer, "Jesus," although I would have loved to have had the chance to meet Jesus. I've just been so impressed with so many women who are not known on a national basis. One of the women who is still living and has fascinated me for a lot of reasons is Margaret Thatcher.
Luxury defined: To have true time as a getaway, time that is truly my own.
Dream vacation spot: Up to this point, speaking strictly of relaxation, it is Hawaii. But my dream of some place to go is to go on a true study tour of both the old and the new testament lands.
Why Payson? Certainly the smell (of Payson's fresh air) was a very important part of that, but I truly believe the Holy Spirit led me to this ministry -- not just to this church but to this community. Also because of the cleanliness and friendliness and just the general beauty of the place.