Kathi McShane greets with an assuring smile. The new senior pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church exudes positive energy and inspiration.
A belief in good strikes at her core – it’s a belief that provides strength as she leads the large church and its congregation into the future.
Asked about a philosophy on which she relies during tough times, McShane, 62, quotes a 12th-century mystic: “‘And all shall be well.’ … There is nothing so far gone that it can’t be brought back to good – that’s the essence of my faith.”
That faith was tested 25 years ago when her husband died suddenly while their daughter, Stacey, was still a child. McShane had just rediscovered the church the year before.
“I didn’t set foot in a church for 10 years (after graduating from law school),” she said. “I went back when my daughter was 5. … We literally wandered into a Methodist church.”
She credits the church with helping her raise her daughter.
McShane’s relationship with God began as a child of Armenian parents, growing up in Oakland. She set her sights on entering the seminary. But law school at UC Berkeley beckoned, followed by 16 years of practicing law – 11 of them as a founder and partner of McShane & Felson in Walnut Creek. McShane specialized in business and real estate litigation.
She left law in 1996, enrolling in the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. She earned her Master of Divinity degree in 1998.
McShane has since enjoyed a successful second career, serving as associate and senior pastor at Methodist churches in Sacramento, San Ramon, Alamo and Campbell before arriving at Los Altos United Methodist Church in July.
McShane’s resume indicates that she’s a doer – she sits on several boards, including Habitat for Humanity – and that fits with Methodist sensibilities quite nicely.
“Faith is exercised in the way we serve in the world,” she said. “There is no faith without it being lived out. It’s not getting (people) to convert, it’s handing people food and shelter, and helping to rebuild after a hurricane.”
She praised the church’s Compassion Week, which offers parishioners opportunities to participate in approximately 150 humanitarian projects.
“I’m preaching a sermon series on how important spiritual life is to sustain that kind of service in the community that people really want to be part of,” she said. “They have to get filled up (with inspiration) regularly if they’re going to keep that up.”
Carol Damonte, the church’s director of ministry and music for youth, said one of McShane’s greatest strengths is the way she challenges parishioners to “think, discern, grow, move into action, and go the extra mile.”
“As for me,” Damonte added, “she makes me want to be the best person God created me to be. What more could one ever want from their pastor than that?”
Parishioners Jeanne and Duncan MacVicar praised McShane’s “passion and commitment” to her service.
“She has a reputation for being an excellent administrator, which a large church needs,” they said in an email. “Kathi also strives to identify needs and seek results as a seasoned problem solver. And, last but not least, she delivers profound messages from the pulpit every Sunday.”
McShane said that among her goals is finding a different way to meet the needs of families with young children.
“It used to be that parents thought that their children needed to know Bible stories just because everybody needed to know Bible stories,” she said. “That’s not so true anymore in our culture. What is it that matters and that will feel as important to parents for their children to get from Sunday school as the character traits they get on the soccer field? … What I long for is the church offering something that feels so important to families and children that parents are, like, ‘My child has to be there.’”
Taking note of an area where people’s time is at a premium, McShane said she wants that one hour of service on Sunday to be so vital that it’s considered a top priority.
“Time is such a scarce resource. … It has to feel to people like the most valuable one hour of every week,” she said.
“Her presence simply invites people in,” Damonte said of McShane. “She sees life as a sacred gift from God, acknowledging it will be filled with struggles, yet abound with joy.”
“My image of God is not that God is shining some light in front of us showing us where to go,” McShane said. “God is walking behind us with a broom and a dustpan, sweeping up the broken pieces and reshaping them in some mosaic that is quite different from what we thought the unbroken thing was supposed to look like,” she said. “The world and our lives – they get broken. It doesn’t mean they’re finished.”
For more information on McShane and Los Altos United Methodist Church, visit laumc.org.