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Archive for Saturday, November 23, 2002

Pastor picks Lawrence church over ministry in Lone Star State

November 23, 2002

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The Rev. Emilee Whitehurst's fate was decided over a cup of coffee with a stranger.

The 30-year-old had a tough choice in front of her, with competing job offers from First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway, and University Presbyterian Church in Austin, Tex.

Whichever position she chose - and each of them had their merits - would be the young pastor's first call to ministry.

Whitehurst, who was living in her native Austin at the time she was mulling her decision, went to a local coffeehouse to think it over.

"The last empty seat was right next to me, and this guy came up and asked if he could sit there. I said, 'Sure,' and we started talking," she recalled.

Whitehurst shared her situation with the man, telling him she was supposed to make a decision between the two churches by Sept. 15, and here it was the day before.

"I said, 'I'm trying to decide whether to move to Lawrence, Kan.' And he said, 'You've gotta move there - it's a great town!' He had lived there a short time, and it was just like matter of fact; he was stating the truth," she said.

The out-of-the-blue encounter with a former resident of Lawrence, in an Austin coffeehouse, tipped the scales.

"I was like, 'Well, that settles that.' Then I went home and I called Jim (the Rev. Jim Dunkin, First Presbyterian's senior pastor). It was pretty amazing," Whitehurst said.

"It's a big deal to pick up, move and start over. That just gave me the boost. I really wanted to come here; it was just an incredible position."

And that's how Whitehurst chose to become the Lawrence church's new associate pastor for college ministry and adult education.

The Rev. Emilee Whitehurst is the new associate pastor for college
ministry and adult education at First Presbyterian Church, 2415
Clinton Parkway. She will be officially installed in the position
during a worship service Dec. 8.

The Rev. Emilee Whitehurst is the new associate pastor for college ministry and adult education at First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton Parkway. She will be officially installed in the position during a worship service Dec. 8.

She'll be officially installed in the position during a 5 p.m. worship service Dec. 8.

Looking for a leader

Whitehurst is to be excused if she's feeling a little breathless these days. It's been a real whirlwind lately for the Texan.

"In six weeks, I got ordained, turned 30, moved to Lawrence, bought a house and started my career as a minister," she said, seemingly amazed by all the changes in her life.

Whitehurst was ordained the first weekend in November in her home congregation, First Presbyterian Church of Austin. She arrived in Lawrence Nov. 5.

"I was ordained on a Saturday, and I drove out on a Monday. It's overwhelming, but it's like it's a threshold. God's saying, 'You're ready; you've got to go.'"

Her new congregation in Kansas, meanwhile, was definitely ready for her to arrive. First Presbyterian had been looking to fill the associate pastor position for about two years.

And with good, well-qualified candidates for associate pastor in short supply these days, Dunkin was thrilled when he found Whitehurst.

"It was immediate when I met her. I knew she could be a leader for this congregation, and everybody else who meets her feels the same way," he said.

"It's just the energy that she brings. She's very passionate about doing ministry; faith is a verb to her. This church has been praying about reaching out to college students for a long time, and Emilee has the ability to connect with any student."

Diverse background

Aside from a ton of Texas charm, Whitehurst brings some serious academic credentials and work experience to her new role at First Presbyterian.

She has a bachelor's from Stanford University and a master's from Harvard Divinity School, where she was a disciple of the Rev. Peter Gomes, a nationally best-selling author who Time magazine named one of America's seven best preachers.

At Stanford, she helped create Empty the Shelters, an eight-week summer training program that places college students from around the country in organizations led by homeless, or formerly homeless, people.

After graduating from college, she founded the Justice, Education and Action Project, a multi-racial, community-based service in Oakland, Calif., that trained young people on their rights in encounters with police.

Returning to Austin after earning her master's at Harvard in 2000, Whitehurst served for a year as coordinator of the Texas Faith Network, a 400-member, statewide organization of interfaith clergy that preaches a religious vision of tolerance, inclusivity and social justice.

Her choice - back in that Austin coffeehouse - to come to First Presbyterian in Lawrence seems to have been a good call.

"This is an incredibly warm and supportive congregation. I've never felt more welcomed in my life," Whitehurst said.

"I can't imagine a better situation to start out as a pastor."

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