Pastors and staff
Meet our team members…who work to keep it real.
Mary 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 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 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.
Justin Sizemore, Minister to Youth and Young Adults
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Justin is a graduate of Georgetown College (‘13) and the McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University (‘16). Prior to joining the staff at Highland he spent 7 years working with youth and their families at Calvary Baptist in Lexington, KY. Justin has served at other churches in both Georgia and Kentucky.
Justin feels passionately about the faith journey of teenagers and young adults, but his call to ministry is wholistic and expansive. He believes that church works best when all generations and groups in the church work together. Justin always wants to find ways to bring all generations in the church together, so that we can serve, worship, and minister to and with each other.
Apart from congregational ministry, Justin has also served on boards for PASSPORT Camps, the Marshall Center Board of Georgetown College, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Youth Ministry Network board. He is looking forward to finding places in the Louisville community to plug into and get involved with.
Justin and Abby have two children, Ann-Thomas (“A.T.”) and Edie, and one fluffy pup named Rosie. In his free time, Justin enjoys cheering for University of Kentucky sports, building Star Wars Legos, playing sports and video games, and cooking good food to share with family and friends.
John Dickson, Interim Minister of Music and Worship
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John is no stranger to Highland! John served as our Minister of Music and Worship from 1986 to 2000 during his days as a professor at Southern Seminary. Since then he has served as the Director of Choral Studies at Texas Tech University, Dean of the School of Music at Mercer University, and is now Professor Emeritus at Louisiana State University following his retirement as Director of Choral Studies. Currently John remains the Artistic and Musical Director of Coro Vocati, a professional chamber choir in Atlanta.
Outside of his 44 years of work as a collegiate music professor, 30 of those years have included music ministry within the church. John believes strongly in the power of music to lead people in the worship of God through the Beauty of Holiness. John and his wife, Becky, have two adult sons – Matthew and Andrew.
John serves on a part-time basis at Highland, with a focus on worship planning and leadership, conducting the Sanctuary Choir, cultivating relationships and offering pastoral care among the music community, and continuing to foster the legacy of robust worship and music that is so central to us at Highland.
Sharon Sanders, Interim Organist and Music Associate
Sharon has been a member of Highland since 1982 and has served as a substitute organist and pianist numerous times over the past four decades. She brings her skills as our interim organist and music associate with a deep and rich history of HBC.
Fred Bogert, Music Director to 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