Originally created 07/17/04

Pastor makes history serving God



When Renea Slater finished Candler School of Theology at Emory University about 12 years ago, there were only two positions available in the Georgia United Methodist conference. She did not get one.

She and other jobless graduates sent out letters to United Methodist conferences in other states. She went back to teaching junior high students in Athens while she waited for God to open a door.

In time, more jobs opened up. After a few months, it occurred to her that it made no sense for her to send rsums and letters to other states when there were churches available in her own district, and she told the bishop so.

"I want to pastor," she told him. "I have always taught children of all races, (but) predominantly white. I know how to get along with all people. I work with all people every day."

In three weeks, she had an appointment.

"I say that is God's providence," said the Rev. Slater, who recently was named to her fourth appointment in 11 years of ministry.

Now, she is the first female and the first black senior pastor in the more than 200-year history of St. John United Methodist Church on Greene Street. Female pastors are becoming more common in the United Methodist denomination, and both St. John's senior and associate pastors are women, which the Rev. Slater says is a rarity.

She serves with the Rev. Hilda Skelley. who joined the St. John staff as associate pastor about three years ago.

The Rev. Slater grew up Baptist in a small town near Shreveport, La. During her undergraduate days at Louisiana's Grambling State University, she liked to visit other churches to see what they were like. Going up to the rail for Communion at the Methodist church and its order of service appealed to her.

She eventually married a Methodist minister. As a pastor's wife, she learned a lot about ministry. She enjoyed studying the Bible and teaching classes, but when she decided she had a call to the ministry, it put pressure on the marriage. It ended after 19 years.

To pursue her seminary education, she applied to two schools. When Candler offered to cover 80 percent of her expenses, it seemed that God was opening a door for her.

After graduation, she expected to be a pastor at a small church for a couple of years, then go into hospital chaplaincy work or campus ministry.

"Who wanted female pastors?" she thought, though fellow seminary students urged her to do just that.

The Rev. Slater has since served on staffs for predominantly white and predominantly black congregations.

When the bishop and his cabinet this year planned to make cross-racial appointments at some churches, they talked with her. At first, she was unsure about leaving the Atlanta area for Augusta.

"I didn't want to go. I didn't know anything about St. John's. I just simply didn't want to go because it was so far away," she said.

When she came to Augusta, however, it turned out to be a match.

"When they met me and I met them it was like - great!," she said.

Because Methodist pastors typically move every few years, she doesn't know how long she will be here.

"But for the time that God has placed me here, I will give it my best and I believe that St. John's will give it its best," she said.

Reach Virginia Norton at 823-3336 or virginia.norton@augustachronicle.com