‘There has to be a passion’
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 1, 2009
By Shavonne Potts
Although she always knew she liked working in the church, Dr. Martha Starks never intended to be a preacher. That was nearly 30 years ago.
Today the East Spencer native is pastor of Word of Life Family Worship Center, formerly New Testament Word of Faith.
Starks began helping with her church’s youth ministry when she was 14 years old. She then became the youth pastor.
Shortly after, she was asked to become assistant pastor and later she took over as pastor.
She’s been at the church ever since.
“There has to be a passion,” Starks said.
A life of ministry
When Starks took the helm, the church had five ministries and 25 members, there are now nearly 20 ministries and 175 congregants.
The departments include multimedia, nursery, women and men’s fellowship, teen, dance and music.
In high school, Starks began to realize she had a calling.
As a senior, when other students were looking forward to graduation, Starks was being ordained as a minister.
When she began in ministry there were not a lot of women preachers.
Starks didn’t let that distract her, she said.
She admits that at times she’s been hurt by people, but she’s thankful for a supportive staff and family.
“When you know who you are and know who you belong to, you can stand,” she said.
Now there are few women who’ve been the head of a church for as many years as Starks.
Through the years, more women have led churches and they often come to her for advice.
“Most of the time I’ve been there and I’ve done that. I thank God I’m still here,” she said.
It is more acceptable to be a woman in ministry, Starks said.
“I don’t look at it as just a woman in ministry thing because God looks at the heart,” she said.
She’s worked in every facet of the church ó as an usher, pianist, leading the choir and with the children’s ministry. Her ministry even extended beyond her church. At one time she was a chaplain at Rowan Regional Medical Center, a job she loved.
She had to quit because of health issues, but is excited to pick up where she left off as a chaplain.
Starks is a chairwoman of the New Tomorrows program service committee. New Tomorrows is a partnership between Rowan Helping Ministries and Park Avenue United Methodist Church.
The initiative is designed to facilitate a structured daytime environment for clients of Rowan Helping Ministries to learn basic life skills in a classroom setting.
The service committee comes up with new program ideas and volunteers to teach those classes.
She is also a member of Project Hope, which provides a spiritual element for Project SAFE Neighborhoods, a national initiative to reduce gun violence. The Salisbury Police Department heads the Project SAFE program.
Starks also is part of the Interdenominational Ministerial Association and has a radio broadcast ó “Victory in the Word” on the Word Net WOGR 93.3 FM Monday through Friday at 10 a.m.
Starks said she couldn’t have accomplished all she has without the support of her family, especially her husband, Elder Clinton Starks.
“My husband became an integral part, especially with the children and the house,” she said.
Starks said she’s learned over the years that family is important and you can’t neglect the ones you love.
She makes a point to spend time with her family, despite all the duties she has at the church.
She and Clinton have three children: Pamela, 36, Monica, 34, and Samuel, 16.
The couple schedule family time and the only things that interrupt that time are absolute emergencies.
She is not the only person in her family who answered the call to ministry.
It seems as though everyone in her family is a preacher or works with the church.
“It all started with my grandfather,” she said.
Her grandfather, Bishop Alfred Franklin Williams, was a minister who died when Starks was about 8.
Her sister, Doris Glaspy, is a minister in New Jersey. Another sister, Evangelist Cindy Wilson, ministers in Virginia and yet another sister, Josephine Peck, is a youth pastor at Starks’ church. Her brother, a former police detective, has a prison ministry in Florida.
Starks grew up with 12 siblings. They were a close family, she said.
Her family’s home was where everyone played ball and hung out.
One of the most difficult times in her life and ministry was when two sisters died recently.”Those were rough times in my ministry,” she said.
Her mother passed on her routine of cooking for a large family. When Starks got married and had only she and her husband to cook for, her mother asked her if that was all she was cooking.
“She would cook big meals and no one left the house hungry,” Starks said.
Starks attended Dunbar Elementary and at the height of integration attended North Rowan High.
She was the first black female on the North High School band.
She graduated from Catawba College in 1989. Prior to attending Catawba, she enrolled at Livingstone College. She married Clinton while at Livingstone and later became pregnant with her eldest daughter. It was 13 years later that she received her college degree in computer information systems.
Starks worked at General Electric for 10 years.
When she’s not in the pulpit the pastor is most likely traveling with her husband or on some new adventure.
She likes to swim, snorkel and whitewater raft.
“You have to enjoy life,” she said.
On a church women’s fellowship trip to West Virginia the group decided to try whitewater rafting.
“I fell in love with it. I had a wonderful time,” she said.
Starks says she got her zeal for life from her mother. When her mother was alive she rode roller coasters and traveled, Starks said.
She was “full of life and vigor.”
When she wants to relax, she cooks.
She enjoys coming up with new recipes and putting her spin on traditional ones.
Her ultimate passion is ministering and seeing the changes it brings in people.
“I love seeing people transformed,” she said.
The church is working on expanding the services it provides.
Starks is working on restructuring the church to make way for a school. She sees it as something that can happen in as little as five years.
“That was a long range plan from 12 years ago,” she said.
The church is also building a fellowship hall.
“With the help of the Lord, I just know we can do it,” Starks said.
All month long, the church has celebrated Starks’ years in the ministry. The services and programs will conclude today with a banquet in her honor.