Starrsville UMC has a history which spans more than 180 years.
Spend a few moments with the Rev. Dr. Susan Martin Taylor and it becomes clear how much this mother and stepmother of five and grandmother of two enjoys talking about her family. As the new pastor of Starrsville United Methodist Church, parishioners are sure to hear how proud Taylor is of the children, who are all grown up with busy lives, and how much she relishes the role of grandmother to 2-year-old Nathalie van Der Maas and 3-year-old Ethan Smith.
They are also sure to hear preaching that comes from the heart because Taylor brings a unique history of her own as she settles into her new position at a church that has a heritage which spans more than 180 years.
As the first female to be named pastor of Starrsville UMC, one of the oldest churches in Newton County, Taylor said she received the best introduction she has ever had when one of the church leaders welcomed the new pastor to the congregation.
"He pretty much said that 'Today is a first in the history of Starrsville United Methodist Church,'" Taylor said of the church leader, adding that she was paraphrasing. ""Prior to today, God's word and the leadership of this church has always been from the male pastor. From this day forward, it will be from a female voice and that's new. She's called by God to be here and we're grateful to have her.'"
Taylor has already been out and about and is excited about serving the church that was founded in the 1830s in the community that was started by the Starr and Epps families in the 1820s.
"It's a great place to be," Taylor said. "The people are friendly and they love God and want to serve God. I don't know how in the world it could be better than that."
Born at Atlanta's Emory University Hospital, Taylor grew up near Lakewood Heights, then moved with her family to Gainesville when she was in high school. She graduated early from Sylvan High School near Oakwood and attended North Georgia College for a year.
At 18, she married a U.S. Army airborne ranger infantry officer. They were stationed in Hawaii for four years, where Taylor completed her undergraduate degree in business education at the University of Hawaii and taught at a private Christian school. Her husband left the military for a year and the couple moved to Ohio, where their first child, a daughter, was born.
Taylor said he was miserable being out of the military, so he got back in and the family was stationed in Florida, where their second child, a son, was born. There, she earned her master's degree in business administration from the University of West Florida.
The family then moved to Tallahassee where Taylor worked as the planning and budgeting director for the Florida Department of Commerce.
After 11 years of marriage, the couple divorced in 1985, and Taylor took her two children to Morristown, N.J., where she worked as a systems analyst.
"I worked with them for a year and realized very quickly that God was not calling me to be a systems analyst," Taylor said. "I was way too much of a people person..."
Taylor came back to Gainesville to be near her parents and took a job working with the University of Georgia's Small Business Development Center. She enjoyed a long career in the small business and leadership fields, including jobs as director of the Gainesville Small Business Development Center and the director of the Gwinnett Small Business Development Center.
Taylor also completed her doctorate degree from UGA in education in occupational studies.
"Finally, after about six years, I stopped running from God's call into the ministry," she said. "I decided to inquire at Candler (School of Theology at Emory University). I had been a Sunday School teacher, worked with youth and done just about everything at our home church, McEver Road United Methodist.
"Every once in a while I would be asked to preach. I didn't know about preaching. I'd put together a talk. People would say you need to be a minister. I would say, 'uh huh.' My husband, my parents would say, 'You don't want to do that. It's a hard job, there would be a huge salary cut, this is not a good thing.'
"But God would not leave me alone. The hounds of heaven kept nipping at my heels. It was just 'It's time or else' was the message I kept getting. I didn't want to know the 'what else.'"
Taylor inquired at Candler and sent the college a letter stating she would be unable to attend unless she got a substantial scholarship.
"So in July 1998, I got a letter from Candler that said we have a full scholarship waiting for you and expect you to be here in September," she said. "I said, 'O.Kaaay.' In a little over a year, I left after 12 years with the University of Georgia doing the work I loved. I took the risk and stepped out on faith."
Taylor's friends and family, including her second husband of almost 25 years, Larry, a design civil engineer, are all supportive of her pastoral ministry. She began at a church in Demorest followed by other appointments including associate pastor at Duluth First, pastor of Hopewell UMC in Hall County and associate pastor at Simpsonwood in Peachtree Corners, before being appointed to Starrsville UMC.
Taylor is preparing this week to leave for a mission trip to Kenya, but will be in the pulpit Sept. 16, when the church celebrates homecoming. On Oct. 14, the church will have a service of blessing for animals at 4 p.m.
"We will thank God and bless the animals for the love they give us in our lives, for the ways they bless us in our lives and to thank God for the life he created," she said.
Everyone is invited to visit Starrsville. Services are Sunday 11 a.m., preceded by Sunday School for all ages at 10 a.m. The church is located at 2786 Dixie Road in Covington.
Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, contact Karen Rohr, features editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.