MARYVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — The Rev. Dr. Willa Estell leads her congregation as Senior Pastor at St. Paul A.M.E. Zion Church in the city’s historic district.
She’s a tiny woman with a powerful presence.
A divorced mother of a daughter and two sons, Estell moved to Maryville without ever hearing of it and is still going strong at the church 18 years after she left Indianapolis.
“I wanted to be where God would have me to be and not necessarily where it was convenient or somebody thought I needed to be,” Estell said.
“Some congregations aren’t going to receive you because you are divorced, because you are a single parent, because you are … not the ‘traditional’ and my comment: ‘the people in my congregations look more like me than the model you think ought to be.’ “
Estell was armed with the Word and an impressive educational background, ready to take on the male-dominated field of ministry.
“I was in my 30s before I went back to get my bachelor’s (degree) because I knew it was important, ” she said, “I was in my 40s when I went back to get my master’s, and I was in my 50s when I went to get my doctoral.”
“She breaks every misconception that has been conceived about women in non-traditional roles,” longtime friend and lifelong St. Paul’s member Sharon Hannum said.
Hannum calls Estell a change agent and not just behind the pulpit.
“Pulling a drug-addicted female out of a drug house, you know, that’s not something the average person does,” she said.
It’s for her dedication to her community and the people in it that earned Pastor Estell the prestigious Blount Award, presented last week at a luncheon hosted by Senior Citizens Home Assistance Service, or SCHAS, representing just one segment of society important to this woman of God.
“For me, so much of it is understanding that every human life is valued,” Estell said.
Pastor Estell helped found Blount County United, a community organization committed to working for racial justice. It works toward what Martin Luther King called the “Beloved Community,” a space open and welcoming where all can come together as one.