First United Methodist Church welcomes the Rev. Donna Voteau.

For her first sermon in Pratt on July 6, the Rev. Donna Voteau brought an ox yoke into the sanctuary to illustrate Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:30, “my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” She acknowledged that the heavy wooden yoke is not light, but Jesus was not speaking of physical burdens, but rather the hundreds of laws that the ruling Pharisees considered as religious requirements, rather than a loving relationship with God

She began the sermon at First United Methodist Church in the “high pulpit,” she said, but then came down to mingle among the congregation. She described her preaching style as interactive and sometimes conversational. She strives to be relevant and never boring.

While still unpacking and settling into her office at the church, Voteau has been busy meeting the people in the community and the church. She has set up a series of dessert meetings for all who attend or are members. Last week she met with the A’s and B’s to get acquainted and find out why they are affiliated with the church, what they like and what they would change.

Voteau brings a rich background to her new assignment. A native of St. Louis, Mo., she earned a degree in church recreation at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo., and attended a Baptist seminary, with several hours at St. Paul’s, which is United Methodist. She became an elder in the United Methodist Church in 1990.

Her ministry began with a two-year assignment for Missionary Journeyman in Liberia from 1981 to 1983, before a years-long civil war broke out later that decade.

“Almost all the people I knew and ministered to are dead,” she commented.

Her work in Africa was with girls’ and women’s groups, and she also coached women’s and men’s basketball.

“I had girls who could dunk,” she recalled. “It was amazing.”

The experience “has forever shaped who I am as a pastor,” Voteau said. “I know I can go wherever I’m sent and become a part of the community and learn what matters to the people.”

In the United Methodist Church, pastors are appointed by the bishop, rather than being called by a congregation, as in some other denominations. The local church is involved in the conversation, she said, by communicating the gifts and skills they want in a pastor. Appointments are made for a year, beginning July 1, with annual renewal by mutual agreement.

She has pastored churches in Topeka, Valley Falls and Coal Creek, Basehor and was at Valley View United Methodist Church in Louisburg for the past nine years. She has a history of leading churches in building projects. At Basehor, where the church had been burned, she helped to acquire land. The Valley Falls church built a recreation building, and Louisburg built a new church.

“This may be one time when I haven’t been sent to build,” she noted.

Instead, her task will be to help the church continue on its path of welcoming new members and being a vital ministry in the community, while deciding “what will be next.”

Early in her career, Voteau served as chaplain for Brown University and Roger Williams College in Rhode Island.

Her daughter Patricia is married and is a social worker in Bradenton, Fla. Son Wade works as a federal fish observer in the Bering Straits of Alaska during the winter and as a whitewater rafting guide in Colorado during the summer.