"I'll be working Sundays in the future, but not on "Face the Nation,'" says Carla Gorrell of Arlington, for 15 years a TV makeup artist, powdering the likes of Walter Cronkite, Jimmy Carter and Menachem Begin. Instead of attending an early Sunday church service before rushing off to CBS, Gorrell plans to forsake the pancake for the cloth, the pew for the pulpit.

This month, Gorrell enters divinity school at Wesley Theological Seminary, adjoining American University.

Mother of three boys and wife of an Arlington high school teacher, Gorrell is not the usual candidate for the ministry. At 36, she will be among the oldest in her class at the seminary. Likewise, she's older than most of her classmates at George Mason University, where she'll graduate Jan. 10 with a bachelor's degree in pastoral counseling.

Her approach to the ministry is unusual, too. "I have a very liberal interpretation of the dogma. I'm also a feminist," she says in a soft-spoken, nearly timid manner. For instance, she resents what she sees as "sexist language" in hymns and prayers, such as referring to all people as "man." "It's a long process to get away from stereotyped sex roles," she says.

Women are still scarce in the Presbyterian ministry. Of 294 ministers in the National Capital Union Presbytery, which covers the Washington metropolitan area, 18 are women. Twenty more women are in various stages of training.

"Women are atrociously under- and unemployed in the church," she says.

"No tremendous conversion or born-again experience" was at the root of her decision to become a minister, Gorrell says. It was, instead, the result of difficult life events.Five years ago, her youngest sister, Kim, died of leukemia at age 25. Each member of the family reacted to the illness differently.

"Kim tended to pull away from the faith when she got sick; I learned that death is part of life and learned to value life more," Gorrell recalled.

"We're taught that if you're a good person, everything will go right. That can cause lots of conflict. There's no justice in the death of a 25-year-old," she says simply. The result of her close involvement in her sister's seven-month illness was a strengthening of her faith.

After her sister died, Gorrell took stock, determined to do something different with her life and settled on the ministry. She began work with the Hospice of Northern Virginia and plans to continue working with the terminally ill and their families.

Gorrell, who grew up in Arlington, was married at the tender age of 16 (the same year her parents were divorced). She learned her makeup skills from her mother, Lillian Brown, of Arlington. Gorrell started college four years ago, having spent most of her adult years as housewife, mother and part-time makeup artist.

To maintain the couple's dual income, she'll continue free-lancing at the makeup mirror, in partnership with her mother. As a minister, she could double her present income which peaked at $10,000 this busy election year. Ministers' earning power is comparable to that of teachers, she says, but the clergy's fringe benefits may include travel expenses, insurance and housing.

Gorrell, who often works on the set of the CBS Morning News, meets newsmakers and correspondents and has a canvas bag covered with famous autographs -- Ted Kennedy to Jody Powell -- thanking her for her artistry.Still, she is uneasy with television.

"The commercial aspects bother me, it goes against my value system. It's fun to be close to powerful and famous people," she says, "but TV's very unreal."

Facing three or four years of practical and academic training en route to her masters of divinity degree, Gorrell anticipates a variety of "teaching, preaching, designing programs, administering the sacraments . . . bringing meaning to life and life's major transitions." A parish job is probably many years away, but Gorrell says she'd be content doing pastoral work at a hospital or university.

"I'm a spiritual and religious person, but my mind is not on heaven or sin or other traditional concepts, detached from life," she says. She feels she is most effective counseling individuals who are encountering the problems of death and dying. The pain she has encountered, she believes, will make her a better, more empathetic minister.

When she has time, she reads (her bookshelf is divided between women's literature and religious subjects), does volunteer work and jogs three miles, three days a week, to prepare for a 10-kilometer race next spring. t

She also gets together with clergywomen friends for "sanity checks." Friend and role model the Rev. Madeline Jervis Foulke, interim pastor of Clarendon Presbyterian Church, has offered Gorrell support since the two met seven years ago on the church's task force on women. Gorrell served as chairwoman.

"Carla is already doing ministry with a small 'm' and her ordination will make her more effective. Energy, intelligence, good looks -- she's got it," Foulke says.

Smoking cigarettes at her dining room table as her sons -- Dick, 19, Kevin, 11, and Brian, 8 -- trooped through, Gorrell said she has trouble getting her sons to attend church. "I try not to push too hard, since that has worse effects."

Dick says he'll go to church to hear his mother preach, but he downplays her new role. "My friends don't even know she's going to become a minister," he said, home from his Saturday auto mechanic job for a hurried lunch.

"The kids say they wish I'd stay home and bake cookies more often," Gorrell says, but I'm no different from the women in blue-collar jobs. There just isn't time." Still, she thinks her children are more proud than resentful of her pursuits.

Its harder to explain the sexism in her family. "The boys are all chauvinists, especially in their comments about girls," Gorrell laments, blaming it on "peer pressure."

But in the home, "we have fairly traditional sex roles," she says.

"Well, I don't know," husband Richard interjects, "I do a lot of the housework."

"Only until I'm free to do it."

"Even then, I do a lot around the house," he replies, as though to settle the matter.

"We've been through a rough semester," Carla declares, effectively ending the banter.

For the past 13 years, Richard Gorrell has taught world studies at Fairfax County's Thomas Jefferson High School in Alexandria.

How will it feel to be the minister's husband?

"Interesting," Gorrell demurs, quickly stating his support for his wife's decisions: "She's very intense about her work, has an A average and, instead of a 25-page paper, she did a 94-page job for his BIS (bachelor of individualized studies.)"

A heartfelt project, her thesis explored changing relationships between women and the church. "It was an outcropping of my own experience," Gorrell says. Her father, stepfather and husband have all been church elders; yet despite years of church activity, she says, she's never been seriously considered for an elder's post.

"If she wasn't one already, she'd become a feminist," Foulke says of Gorrell."It's a hard and painful job to be a woman in the ministry now, to be trained and 'called' in the spiritual sense and to be constantly rejected or diminished."

"I have a lot to give," Gorrell says, "and I want to be there as these changes happen."