Pastors and staff
Meet our team members…who work to keep it real.

Mary Alice Birdwhistell, PastorMary Alice Birdwhistell, Pastor

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Before joining Highland’s staff in August 2020, Mary Alice served as Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, where she ministered for eleven years. However, Mary Alice is originally from Kentucky and is so excited to be back in her old Kentucky home! 

Mary Alice was a Parks Baptist Scholar at Georgetown College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in English in 2009. Upon graduation, she moved to Waco, Texas, where she attended Truett Seminary at Baylor University and graduated with a Master of Divinity in 2013. During her time in Waco, Mary Alice began to discover and to live out her call to ministry at Calvary Baptist Church, first serving as children’s minister (2009-2013) and then as associate pastor (2013-2017) until the church ultimately called her as pastor (2017-2020). 

Mary Alice loves sharing her days with the beloved community at Highland, inviting us to trust God with our “one wild and precious life.” After all, “one life on this earth is all that we get…and we are fools if we do not live it as fully and bravely and beautifully as we can,” as her favorite writers, Mary Oliver and Frederick Buechner say. 

Mary Alice is actively engaged in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry. She also writes for BWIM, d365 by Passport, and Reflections by Smyth and Helwys. 

Although she stays busy in the life of the church and community, outside of her work Mary Alice loves reading and writing, taking yoga and barre classes, Kentucky basketball, the arts, spending time with friends and family, and soaking in the sunsets on her family’s farm in Madison County.


Renee Purtlebaugh

Renee Kenley Purtlebaugh, Associate Pastor to Children and Their Families

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If any parent has ever worried about leaving their child with another adult, it is simply because they have not yet met Renee. Renee joined the Highland clergy in June 2007 after finishing her Master of Divinity degree at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond where she received the Addie Davis Award for Outstanding Pastoral Leadership.

Prior to Highland, she used her biology degree from Georgetown College to work as a physical therapy technician for a few years. She has also directed camps for Passport and worked with children in a myriad of settings.

An expert at making sure kids feel welcomed, Renee feels privileged to consider how each experience your children may have at camp or in classes here at church can uplift and empower them to be their vibrant, wonderful selves. By introducing the church to Godly Play, guiding a team of over 130 volunteer teachers, upholding our safe-church policies, and continually preparing our children’s areas with intentionality and care, Renee affirms that we are all children of a loving God.

Renee also offers genuine care to families—as we all embrace the difficulties, mysteries and joys of life. Beyond Highland, Renee served as the leader of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Children’s Ministry Network to help them revision their purpose. She continues as a member of this team.

She and her husband Tyler have a daughter. Renee’s from-scratch-baking leaves most Pinterest cupcake efforts in the dust. Seriously, her icing creations are spectacular.


Lauren Jones MayfieldLauren Jones Mayfield, Associate Pastor to Young Adults and Missions

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Prior to Lauren joining the Highland family in July 2016 she interned at a Mennonite Church in Pasadena, CA; served as Director of Worship at The Riverside Church in New York City; Director of Caldwell Chapel at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, and Pastor of Lynnhurst United Church of Christ in Louisville, KY.

With degrees from Samford University, Fuller Theological Seminary, and graduate coursework at Yale Divinity School, Lauren believes that when the Church engages culture prophetically, compassionately, and relevantly, it will be a place where our lives are transformed.

So leading the Young Adults for Lauren is about offering space for Millennials to push back on authority while engaging the necessity of organic and sincere community. While paying close attention to the intersections of spirituality, politics, and culture, Lauren also works with our three mission teams—community, global, and justice—to help congregants put belief and love into action.

Ordained in the United Church of Christ, Lauren recently served on a local denominational oversight committee, as well as the board of Uspiritus, a residential treatment facility for children victimized by trauma. She currently serves on the board of Planned Parenthood of Indiana and Kentucky and travels with church folk to Frankfort as often as possible to rally and lobby.

In her free-time she dreams of owning a free-of-charge yoga studio that serves fair-trade, organic tea by day and (red) wine (only) by night. She and her husband Tyler have three children. She blogs here.


Sally Evans, Interim Minister to Youth

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Sally serves as our Interim Minister to Youth. She has worked with HBC’s youth in years past, having served as a mentor and a volunteer.

Part Yankee and part Kentuckian, Sally has always enjoyed connecting with others through faith, story, and meaningful experiences. When she’s not working you’ll likely find her writing stories, playing guitar, or on an outdoor adventure with her wife Paige and their two daughters.


Jim England, Interim Associate Pastor

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Jim serves on staff as an Interim Associate Pastor. He’s no stranger to ministry at Highland, having served as Interim Pastor on two separate occasions. Jim holds both Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry degrees. He assists with pastoral care, worship leadership, and preaches at both Sunday worship and Friday Church. Jim is married to Mary Helen, and they have two daughters and four grandchildren.


Kathy Collier, Minister of Music and Worship

Kathy Collier, Minister of Music and Worship

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Kathy wins the “longevity-at-Highland” award as she has attended or worked with us since the ‘80s. A Paducah, KY native, Kathy earned her Music Education degree from Murray State University and then a Piano Performance degree from the University of Kentucky. After a committed, thirty-year career as a music educator, Kathy felt the pull to join Highland’s staff in 2007.

When Kathy is not at her desk envisioning our next worship event, she is directing the choir or working with the children in ways that liberate even traditionally non-musical folks to experience the joy of worship through the senses. Kathy creates and leads from her own giftedness, equally matched by her devotion to faithful praxis.

Kathy has coordinated a robust amount of musical and choral opportunities reaching from life at Highland to the state-level Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Kentucky, and beyond to our global work in Morocco. This is a metaphor for the expansive ways in which Kathy approaches worship and the beauty of music—inclusive and far-reaching.

Kathy is married to Phil, and they enjoy spending time with their son Tom, daughter-in-law Holly, their daughter Carol and her husband Drew, and their four grandsons. If you happen to see Kathy at spin class, watch out, she is fierce on that bike!

Austin Echols, Organist

Austin Echols, Organist and Music Associate

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Austin arrived at Highland in 2007 after serving our church friends at Ridgewood Baptist. A graduate of the University of Louisville, Austin studied both Music and Religious Studies.

Austin brings to the organ and piano an astute awareness of mood, possibility, and creative genius. You can feel it quickly during the Gloria Patri (a refrain we sing every Sunday) and more fully when he is playing an original composition.

Austin accompanies for numerous school choirs, as well as workshops, reading sessions, honor choirs, and All-State choirs for the American Choral Directors Association. As an honorary member of the Black Classical Artists of Louisville, Austin participates regularly in concerts focusing on American Spirituality.

A member of the American Choir Directors Association and the American Guild of Organists, Austin has also served as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Louisville Chamber Choir. Currently, he is working with famed religious poet scholar, Thomas Troeger to publish his most recent work, which he composed for Highland’s 2016 Advent season.


Fred Bogert, Music Director to Friday ChurchFred Bogert, Minister of Music – Ridgewood Baptist Church; Music Leader of Friday Church

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Fred Bogert has spent the last 45 years as composer, producer and performer of every style of music. Fourteen years ago he moved to Louisville from Nashville, where he recorded over three thousand songs as proprietor of Historic RCA Studio B and neighboring Studio C. Three of the CD’s he produced were nominated for Grammies.

Fred has performed on many of America’s finest stages, including the Ryman Auditorium and the Fillmore West. He has written for and performed with the Austin Symphony and the Nashville Chamber Orchestra. He is known throughout the American music industry as a powerful multi-instrumentalist and singer.

As director of Friday Church Fred shapes the content and context of each service through music that fosters the energy Friday Church is known for. The attractive variety of styles and sources of Friday Church’s music comes from Fred’s passion and expertise in bringing out the best of each musician and singer he works with. He also serves as Minister of Music at Ridgewood Baptist, where he was ordained in 2013.

One of the things that Fred loves most about serving at HBC is meeting and working with so many “doers of the word” in both the staff and congregation. “It’s humbling and intriguing to be on a path full of such wonderful adventurers.”


Kathleen Gordon, Financial Secretary

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Kathleen joined the staff in February 2020. She manages all aspects of our financial record keeping and reporting. Analysis of data for both Staff and Ministry Groups makes her a valuable resource for the church. Kathleen was born in North Carolina but has lived in Louisville for most of her life. She and her husband are the proud parents of twins.

Cheryl Davis, Office Manager

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Cheryl joined the staff in May 2021. She creates our weekly publications, works on our social media and website presence, and manages the office including our volunteers and data entry personnel. Cheryl’s warm personality and keen computer skills make her an important part of our support staff. Cheryl has been a member of Highland since 2006 and is married to Robert, mother to Brandon, and grandmother to Harrison.

Walter McWhorter, Church Administrator

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Walter was hired in November 2017 and has been a member of Highland since 1984. Walter tends to the operations and management of the church, oversees the care and use of the building, and works with technology needs within the office. He serves as the staff liaison to the Technology Ministry Group, Property & Space Ministry Group, Congregational Safety resource group, Transportation group. Walter is married to Angela Collins, and has one child, Anna Kate McWhorter.

Jerre Bassett, Full-Time Custodian
It is not uncommon to hear visitors and long-time congregants repeatedly comment on the beauty of Highland’s building. And that attraction is readily noticeable because of its tidiness and cleanliness. Jerre has worked at Highland since 1995, and before that she served at Cathedral of the Assumption. Jerre keeps our space welcoming to all who walk through our doors. She is married to Frank, has two children, three grandchildren, and one great grandchild.

Frank Bassett, Part-Time Custodian