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New minister brings nurturing outlook to Oakwood First United Methodist Church
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The Rev. Sandra Skinner is the new pastor at OakwoodFirst United Methodist Church. It’s her third church. Her best experience so far, Skinner said Thursday, is how welcoming the congregation has been. - photo by NAT GURLEY

Sandra Skinner has learned many important things in almost five years of working in ministry.

"There’s a lot of hurting people and a lot of people in need," Skinner said, "but no matter what the circumstances are, if they know God is bigger than circumstance, if they feel his love and feel valued throughout, I believe that’s the message they need to hear."

Skinner brings that knowledge and more to her new appointment as the Rev. of Oakwood First United Methodist Church. While she is new to Oakwood. Skinner is a lifelong member of the Methodist denomination and the Christian faith. Two previous appointments at Methodist churches and a lifetime believing of have helped her hone the message she wants her new congregants to hear.

"God is bigger than any situation," Skinner said. "That’s what I’ve learned myself, going through hard times. If we trust in him, he’ll get us through it."

Skinner grew up in a Methodist church in the Chicago area. After pursuing a career as an executive assistant in the corporate world, Skinner felt the "pull to ministry" in 2005 through her work with adult education. She went into full time ministry in 2009 and became a licensed pastor in 2010. She is currently enrolled in a course of study at Candler School of Theology at Emory University, one of the 13 seminaries of the United Methodist Church.

In her down time, Skinner enjoys spending time with her family, which includes her husband, Daniel, and children Grace and Christian, as well as traveling and enjoying the "life’s humor" of television shows such as "Seinfeld."

She previously served as the minister of Mount Zion Methodist Church in Carnesville and Mount Bethel Methodist Church in Commerce before coming to Oakwood United Methodist Church.

In the Methodist denomination, ministers serve for one year at a time. For full time churches within the United Methodist Church conference, the clergy appointment process is conducted by the bishop and the Cabinet. The Cabinet is made up of all the district superintendents within a region. For part-time churches like OFUMC, district superintendents are solely responsible for making appointments. The district superintendent for the Northeast Georgia District, the Rev. Richard Chewning, said he knew Skinner would be a good match for the OFUMC from prior experience.

"I appointed (Skinner) to her previous churches and have known her for a while," Chewning said. "She’s done a great job and the Oakwood church seemed like a good fit for her and the congregation."

The Methodist denomination, among other Protestant denominations, is one of a handfule that ordains female clergy. The United Methodist Church conference, in particular, has been ordaining female clergy for over 40 years.

"I have felt that no one has viewed me differently as a woman pastor," Skinner said. "I haven’t come up against any controversy or resistance from any of the churches I’ve served. I’ve been very blessed that way."

According to Skinner, both genders possess qualities that can help them serve a higher purpose.

"I believe that God has given women a natural nurturing element to them that’s helpful in ministry, but that’s not to say that men don’t have that nurturing quality, either," Skinner said.

Chewning has also witnessed very few, if any, negative reactions from congregants when it comes to being led by a woman.

"People are people, and sometimes, whether male or female, people react differently to different clergy, but I don’t know that we see it as often now," Chewning said. "More and more congregations are more open to female clergy, and certainly female clergy bring some very wonderful, God-given gifts to the ministry."

The highs and lows of Skinner’s job, or the job of any clergy member, appear to be gender neutral.

"The most rewarding aspect is seeing someone progress in their faith with God, to be able to help people discover that path and see them grow," Skinner said. "The most challenging (aspect) would be trying to reach those who have shut themselves down from the opportunity or the possibility to grow closer to God, and trying to determine the best way to approach them and help them to open that door."

When confronted by someone who is cynical or even hostile toward the church, Skinner sticks to several key points about her belief system.

"I would tell them that there is a greater purpose for their life," she said. "They are made to be in a relationship with their Creator, and their Creator very much wants to be a part of their life."

Skinner also looks forward to focusing her attention on several closely held causes at OFUMC.

"I feel a heart for families and children and preventing hunger, especially here, right now in our local communities," Skinner said.

At Mount Bethel, she and her congregation partnered with the local school system to supply children in need with backpacks of food to insure they were fed over the weekends. Her appointment at OFUMC will allow her to work with the South Hall Community Food Pantry in nurturing this cause.

Skinner also said she hopes to engage and grow missionary efforts locally and globally. In addition to OFUMC’s local partnership with the South Hall Food Pantry, the church also supports 10 internationally based missionary families in different areas of the world. If she could impress one legacy upon her congregation, Skinner said she would ultimately choose discipleship.

"My focus with my congregation is to bring them together to give honor and glory to God, to nurture them with God’s love and to send them out into the community and across the world in missions to make disciples for Jesus Chirst," Skinner said.

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