Jane Mitchell Weston, the new pastor at St. Simon’s Episcopal Church in Conyers, was ordained a priest in the Episcopal church in June. (Staff Photo: Karen Rohr)
As a former prosecutor for the city of Los Angeles, Jane Mitchell Weston was living her California dream. The small-town Brownsville, Ky., native had moved to the big city to work as an L.A. deputy attorney right out of law school.
Now, more than 25 years later, Weston is again living her dream, albeit a new one that has her trying to help the wrongdoers as she speaks on behalf of the chief judge — God. Weston has just been ordained a priest in the Episcopal church and has been named the new minister at St. Simon’s Episcopal in Conyers.
On the heels of its 50th anniversary celebration this summer, the Conyers church welcomed Weston and her husband of 19 years, Harold “Hal” Weston, a professor in the college of business at Georgia State University.
David Neville, St. Simon’s senior warden and head verger, said the church had interviewed “four exceptional candidates for the priest-in-charge position” and called Weston, who preached her first sermon as the new minister on July 6. During one of her first meetings this month, the new priest expressed her gratitude to church leaders.
“We had a vestry meeting last week and it was my first official vestry meeting,” she said. “I was giving my report and said, ‘First of all, I love my job. I get up in the mornings and driving here I am so thankful. I love the people. I love the opportunity. I’m very fortunate. A lot of people when they get out of seminary don’t know what they’re going to do. I know and I love it.’”
As a young girl growing up in Brownsville Missionary Baptist Church, Weston could never have imagined that someday she would be standing in a courtroom as a lawyer for the second largest city in the U.S., nor could she have ever dreamed she would one day be ordained an Episcopal priest.
However, as God’s plan for her life unfolded, Weston followed.
The daughter of school teachers, Weston enjoyed learning. Following high school graduation, the self-proclaimed “Kentucky girl” headed off for Murray State University in Kentucky where she was a political science and journalism major. Law school at the University of Kentucky followed with graduation in 1982.
“I think I always thought I would be in the courtroom,” Weston said.
“While I was in law school, I was a law clerk for a cousin of mine who practices in Los Angeles. He basically observed in me that I had a big personality and might be fit for the courtroom… After I graduated from law school, I went to Los Angeles and was there for about nine years.
“I was the deputy city attorney for the city of Los Angeles and was a prosecutor for a while in the criminal division before moving into the civil.”
After she left L.A., Weston went back to her home state and did general litigation for several years in Lexington.
“In the interim, I met my husband and we wound up in San Francisco,” she said. “We were in San Francisco from 1994 to 2009. I’ve always been practicing law and I was practicing there. We loved living in the bay area. It was lovely.”
Weston, who grew up playing the piano in her rural Baptist church and working as a camp counselor at Camp JOY each summer said, “I loved the church of my youth.”
As an adult, she became part of the Episcopal denomination and when she and her husband had been married about a year, they began attending a church in San Francisco.
“We wound up at this wonderful Episcopal church and after a while, I learned the Episcopal seminary in Berkeley offered a certificate in theological studies,” Weston said.
“I thought that was just fabulous. You could take classes over a period of time. With a lot of master’s degrees, there’s a limited window, but this was take classes when you can.”
The Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley was the Episcopal seminary for the west coast and was where Weston started classes in 1999, completing her certificate in 2006, all the while still practicing law.
“I think it was while I was working on my certificate in theological studies I felt the call into the ministry,” she said. “When I started taking classes, it was more of an intellectual pursuit, but during that time it became clearer that maybe I should be leaning toward ordination and ministry.”
At the same time, Weston was becoming more active in the governance of her church in San Francisco, becoming more active in leadership and feeling a deep pull into the church. She was also invited to preach on occasion.
As she was exploring her call into the ministry, Weston’s husband was offered a teaching position at Georgia State University and the couple moved to Atlanta.
She became active at All Saints Episcopal on West Peachtree Street and as her love for the ministry grew, she began exploring the ordination process. The parish recommended her and approved her to attend seminary.
Weston went to Candler School of Theology at Emory University and had not yet graduated when St. Simon’s asked her to become its priest. While at Candler, Weston did an internship at All Saints.
She finished seminary and on June 21 and was ordained at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Buckhead.
“I think I’m the first minister in the family,” she said. “I come from a family of teachers on my mom’s side and on my dad’s side.”
Her father is the late A.B. Mitchell and her mother, Eleanor, who is 92, still lives in the family home which is near Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky.
Weston is also a member of the Georgia Bar, California Bar and Kentucky Bar associations.
“I practiced law for a long time and I loved what I did,” she said. “I loved being in the courtroom. But I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing in the ministry.”
When asked if she has a favorite Scripture or Book of the Bible, she doesn’t want to choose.
“I love the Gospels,” she said. “I love the Psalms. I could get lost in the Psalms. But to say I like one thing more than the rest … I find the whole story so compelling that to pick out one part would be very hard. The whole story of salvation — how wonderful is that!”
These days the new priest is busy visiting with parishioners and getting to know her congregation. She preaches two services Sunday mornings at 8 and 10:30. There is no music played during the first service on Sundays.
As the church looks toward the fall, plans are in the works for a big event in early October where there will be music, fellowship, a blessing of the animals and a landscaping project.
“Fall is the time people start dividing the plants in their gardens,” Weston said. “We want to invite the community to bring us something from their garden so that our garden reflects our community. I’ve got lemon day lilies that need to be divided and I’m going to bring them here.”
Right now, though, Weston especially looks forward to Sundays.
“I love preaching,” she said. “I take it very seriously, not to say other people don’t. But because I’m a lawyer and someone in my profession as a lawyer knows words really matter and chooses words carefully, I’m going to be very thoughtful and prayerful and careful when I preach … My training as a lawyer tells me words matter.
“When I step into the pulpit, I realize it’s an amazing privilege and amazing responsibility. I am always aware of that responsibility.”
Weston invites everyone to visit the church located on Highway 138 in Conyers adjacent to Pine Log Park.
“We are a welcoming community,” she said. “We have a sign that says ‘The Episcopal Church Welcomes You.’ That’s really true. We welcome everyone and wherever people are on their life journey or faith journey, they are welcomed here.
“My hope and prayer for this community is that we can live into the people that God intends us to be in this life.”
Beth Slaughter Sexton is a freelance writer based in Walton County. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.