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From Pulpit To Politics: A Pastor Takes Her Work To The Wider World

After three decades as a pastor, Faith Whitmore fulfills her vocation outside the pulpit, as district director for U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.
After three decades as a pastor, Faith Whitmore fulfills her vocation outside the pulpit, as district director for U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.

This is part of a series of stories about starting over, profiling people who, by choice or circumstance, reinvented or transformed themselves.

Faith Whitmore was ordained as a pastor 30 years ago, drawn by a deep sense of God and spirit within her. She worked at churches throughout the Sacramento, Calif., region, eventually becoming senior pastor at one of the largest United Methodist congregations.

It was like running a small business, she says.

"You have committee and property that you need to take care of, and fundraising that has to happen," she says. "There are weddings and funerals and baptisms."

And, of course, preaching.

"Christ engages the woman at the well," she said from the pulpit in 2011, "finding the lost, calling them by name, calling them home. ... That's what a healthy church can do, that's what a healthy church can be: A place of knowing, and being known."

"People say ... 'How long have you been in politics?' And I say, 'Well, depends on how you look at it. Maybe a couple weeks, maybe all my life.' "

But after three decades doing this work, Whitmore was tired. She took a job leading a nonprofit that helps homeless people.

Soon after, the Catholic Church stopped contributing to the group because as a pastor, Whitmore spoke out in support of same-sex marriage and Planned Parenthood. She says she wasn't pushed out of the job, but soon after, she accepted a position as district director for U.S. Rep. Ami Bera, D-Calif.

"People say, 'How you can you go from ministry to politics?' " she says. "Or they ask me, 'How long have you been in politics?' And I say, 'Well, depends on how you look at it. Maybe a couple weeks, maybe all my life.' "

Exactly how Whitmore came to work for Bera is a point of disagreement between the two longtime friends. Whitmore says he approached her; Bera says she approached him.

"From my end, it was a no-brainer," he says. "You have someone who is trusted in the community, who is well-respected in the community, whose values align with my values, who really is a natural surrogate."

Bera ran for re-election last year, and won by a razor-thin margin. The candidates and their supporters spent more $20 million on the election — the most expensive congressional race in the country.

Bera says Whitmore got mad about the ads running against him.

"We might be driving somewhere in a car, going to an event, and she might vent to me a little bit," Bera says. "It's like, 'Faith, you remember the clergy? You can't use colorful language like that.' "

Swearing aside, Whitmore is still deeply religious. But things have changed: She doesn't go to church every Sunday, and has no regrets about leaving behind her life as a pastor.

Whitmore says she now takes her Christian values into the world and fulfills her vocation outside the pulpit.

"I am growing older and my time on Earth is getting shorter," she says. "Some of the things I care about are on a larger scale. If I can care about health care for everybody, that's legislation. If I care about immigrant status, that's legislation."

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