WESTPORT — How does a person, a woman, become a religious leader in today’s world?

For Heather Sinclair, who joined the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston as senior pastor in July, her journey to the pulpit wasn’t always obvious.

“I think it was probably a call that surprised me,” Sinclair, 43, said. “It wasn’t a lightning bolt kind of moment. I didn’t hear voices from above saying you should go and do this. It was more a sense, as I moved through study and leadership and exploring my own personal faith, that it felt like the right path.”

Raised outside Boston in Westford, Mass., Sinclair grew up wanting to be a high school biology teacher, but when she got to Colgate University, that plan no longer felt right.

“I joke that I got a D in organic chemistry and that was the moment when I said this is the wrong thing,” Sinclair said. “That was one little piece of a bunch of other things, but felt like a pretty obvious sign, if you want to look for signs in that way.

Thankfully for Sinclair, she’d found new passions as a leader in Colgate’s campus ministry and as a student of comparative religion.

Growing up Methodist, Sinclair attended church fairly regularly and described her parents as “quiet leaders” in the congregation, but she never thought to be a pastor. In college, however, Sinclair felt called to the religion of her youth and, encouraged by professors and campus ministry staff, decided to pursue work as a Methodist pastor.

“It’s not just personal spirituality, it’s about how you connect with the world and how you bring the good news out to other people,” Sinclair said of Methodism. Giving a sermon that relates the gospel to people's lives is one of her favorite parts of the job, Sinclair added.

After college, Sinclair participated in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Hartford and a few years later, attended Yale University School of Divinity.

Sinclair’s husband, a Fairfield-based lawyer who she met at Colgate, grew up in Greenwich so the pair, who now have two elementary school-aged daughters, decided to stay in Connecticut. Most recently, Sinclair served at the United Methodist church in Greenwich and before that led congregations in Avon, New Haven, Shelton, and Trumbull.

The Methodist Church has many women leaders, especially in New England, Sinclair said, noting her greatest challenge is not being a woman in the church, but being a woman and pastor. Sinclair, however, wants her struggle between the two roles to inspire others.

“I hope to be a role model both to girls and to women about how we can balance and be in full-time leadership positions and be a mother as well,” Sinclair said.

Also difficult is convincing people of the value of church, Sinclair said.

“I know that coming to church and getting the kids up on Sunday morning is kind of a countercultural thing these days, and I think the church is trying to figure out what that means, but I think in a lot of ways we offer a really good way for people to connect and be together,” Sinclair said.

svaughan@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2638; @SophieCVaughan1