Pastors & Staff

A special message from Pastor Darren


Rev. Darren Cowdrey,  Senior Pastor – revdarren@umcwv.org

Pastor Darren was appointed as the senior pastor at UMCWV effective July 1, 2024. He is an Orange County native, born in Fullerton, but mostly from South Orange County. He and his wife Brenda were married in 1993. They then moved to Northern California where he went to seminary at Pacific School of Religion. While there he started his professional pastoral career as a youth pastor near Walnut Creek. They were blessed to have their two children born there, Joseph and Miranda. Brenda has had a few careers and is currently the facility and events director for a private school in Pacific Palisades. Miranda is in the world of finance, for which her parents are grateful. Joseph is a performer who is starting a teaching credential program with the hope of building a school drama and choral program. Joseph is also engaged to be married, with plans for a fall 2025 wedding. God has sent Pastor Darren to a few different places: Northern California, Canada, and Texas. But ultimately, he and his family ended up back in Southern California where he has pastored four churches, most recently in Oceanside. He has pastored many different types and sizes of churches and worked with different economic and cultural backgrounds. He feels like he has learned from the people of those churches as much as he’s been able to teach. His heart is excited as he thinks about the future and what we’re going to learn and do together at UMCWV. He hopes God will bless our time and our journey together.


Charissa Birmingham, Director of Youth and Children Ministriescharissaumcwv@gmail.com

Charissa Birmingham joined our staff in October 2023 as the Director of Children and Youth Ministries. She is originally from Illinois, and earned her BA and MA while living there. She has previously worked as a Human Resources Director and served as a volunteer working with youth in her childrens’ schools, Girl Scouts, and our church. She has been a member of our church for 14 years, and lives in the Conejo Valley with her husband and their three children.


Vinia Pavlath, Administrative Director – Vinia@umcwv.org

Vinia Pavlath is the Administrative Director.  On staff as of January 2013, she was born in Honduras, Central America, but immigrated to the Los Angeles area at the age of seven and has stayed in this area all her life.   She graduated from the University of Southern California with a Bachelors of Arts degree in economics.  Later she graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a Masters in Business Administration and worked in finance in the aerospace industry.  She started working at The Growing Place Preschool in 2007 after being a stay-at-home mother for 10 years.  She lives in Oak Park with her daughter.


Gloria Hilliard, Director of Music – glomusic49@gmail.com

Gloria Hilliard is the Director of Music and has been an integral part of our church community for many years. She received a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, and a Master of Arts degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Along with having been an assistant professor of music at Mary Hardin-Baylor College and a teacher of music theory at Pepperdine University, Gloria has gained recognition as a pianist, organist and music conductor. She has been the director of the Village Voices Chorale since 1987 and teaches piano privately. She holds memberships in the American Choral Directors Association, the National Association of Church Musicians and the Music Teachers Association of California. Gloria and her husband Mike live in Agoura Hills and have two grown children and two grandsons.


Jenny Lee, Organist – Jenny@umcwv.org

Jenny Lee received a Bachelor of Music in Organ and Church Music from Chong Shin University in Seoul, South Korea. She received a Master’s in Organ Performance from Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While in Pittsburgh she was organist at Perry Highway Lutheran Church, assistant organist at First Presbyterian Church, and Music Director at the Korean Central Church of Pittsburgh. Currently based in Los Angeles, Jenny has served as organist at the Wilshire United Methodist Church and the Oriental Mission Church. Presently, she is the accompanist for the Bella Musica Conservatory in Burbank. She has given many organ and piano recitals in the United States and South Korea. Jenny is an active member of the American Guild of Organists.


Nick Newkirk, Director of Handbell Choirs – NNewkirk49@yahoo.com

Nick Newkirk is the director of the handbell choirs: Covenant Ringers (adults) and Tintinnabulators (grades 2-6). He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in music education from California State University, Northridge. He has studied under notable directors and has diverse stage experience performing in more than a dozen musical productions. Nick has more than 10 years of experience instructing children in various activities including voice, general music and acting. He is the Recreation Supervisor for the City of Agoura Hills. He is also a member of the American Choral Directors association and the Handbell Musicians of America.

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Jennifer Sorensson, Director of The Growing Place Preschooldirector@growingplacewlv.org

Jennifer Sorensson serves as the Director of The Growing Place Preschool. She earned her Master of Teaching degree from National University with a specialization in Early Childhood Administration. Over the last 25 years, she has worked in various pre-school and elementary settings with children as young as 6 weeks to school age. Jennifer joined The Growing Place staff in 2016. She lives in Thousand Oaks with her husband, Fred, and their two daughters.