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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 WhitehurstâÂÂs 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 pastorâÂÂs 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.

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

âÂÂI said, âÂÂ'IâÂÂm trying to decide whether to move to Lawrence, Kan.â And he said, âÂÂ'YouâÂÂve gotta move there - itâÂÂs a great town!â He had lived there a short time, and it was just like matter of fact; he was stating the truth,â she said.

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

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

âÂÂItâÂÂs 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.âÂÂ

And thatâÂÂs how Whitehurst chose to become the Lawrence churchâÂÂs new associate pastor for college ministry and adult education.

SheâÂÂll 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 sheâÂÂs feeling a little breathless these days. ItâÂÂs been a real whirlwind lately for the Texan.

âÂÂIn six weeks, I got ordained, turned 30, moved to Lawrence, bought a house and started my career as a minister,â 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.

âÂÂI was ordained on a Saturday, and I drove out on a Monday. ItâÂÂs overwhelming, but itâÂÂs like itâÂÂs a threshold. GodâÂÂs saying, âÂÂ'YouâÂÂre ready; youâÂÂve got to go.âÂÂâÂÂ

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.

âÂÂIt 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,â he said.

âÂÂItâÂÂs just the energy that she brings. SheâÂÂs 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.âÂÂ

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 bachelorâÂÂs from Stanford University and a masterâÂÂs 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 AmericaâÂÂs 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 masterâÂÂs 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.

âÂÂThis is an incredibly warm and supportive congregation. IâÂÂve never felt more welcomed in my life,â Whitehurst said.

âÂÂI canâÂÂt imagine a better situation to start out as a pastor.âÂÂ

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