Q&A with Rev. Denise Walton - Dublin District Superintendent

9/16/2011

ADVOCATE: Where did you grow up?  Have you always lived in South Georgia?
REV. WALTON: 
I was born in the inner city of Chicago but grew up in Columbus, Georgia. My mother, Minnie Lee Harris, moved back home to care for her mother, Precious Amber Johnson, after she had a stroke. My five siblings and I grew up caring for my grandmother. I believe it taught me to be compassionate and concerned for those unable to care for themselves.

I grew up in the East Wynnton area of Columbus not far from Wynnton United Methodist Church.  I have lots of great memories being a part of a neighborhood community. I graduated from Carver High School and Columbus State University.

The gift my mother gave to her children was a fierce determination to live with joy and peace despite your circumstances. I learned growing up how to live with very little but to share and give to others.

As I reflect back on those days, it was the pain and grief of losing my mother that led me into a deep desire to know God.

ADVOCATE: How did you get started in ministry? 
REV. WALTON:
I believe that ministry was a part of the fabric of my life from birth. While growing up, I was always involved in some aspect of helping others. In college, I navigated toward Criminal Justice and planned to work in the prison system. I grew up in a neighborhood where there was potential but I saw young people constantly taking the road to destruction instead of destiny. I wanted to be a part of something that would offer a different choice.

During my last semester of college, I interned at Rutledge State Prison and worked with one of the first HIV/AIDS support groups for that system. The summer was exciting but at the end I was more interested in the inmates suffering from mental illness. That interest led me to work part-time as a houseparent with severely mentally ill female patients. That work exposed me to the vast need for mental health services but I also discovered that some of these patients were being abused. The discovery of abuse led me to explore the work of Ombudsman. An Ombudsman advocates for the rights and protection of persons living in nursing homes and personal care homes. I did that work in Columbus and also worked with Atlanta Legal Aid covering all of Fulton County for a couple of years.

While I was in Atlanta I met Reverend Tom Johnson Jr. and was introduced to the ministry of Open Door Community House in Columbus, Ga. I fell in love with Open Door and was glad to return home to Columbus. It was at Open Door that I was introduced to the ministry of United Methodist Women. I was intrigued by the love shown to those living on the margins, and began to learn more about Methodism.

My work at Open Door began with the seniors in ministry and that led to work in the transition home with homeless women. After a brief time working with Department of Family and Children Services, I returned to Open Door and eventually became the Program Director. During that time, I met the late Reverend Joseph and Mrs. Beverly Roberson of South Columbus United Methodist Church.

I joined South Columbus UMC and was blessed to work in many levels of ministry. It was at South Columbus UMC that I felt the call to ordained ministry. After a few months of prayer and reflection, I spoke with Rev. Roberson and entered Candler School of Theology. I was honored to be a part of such a great ministry at South Columbus UMC. Later, I would have the privilege to rejoin that community as the senior pastor. I count it a blessing to be a part of the legacy of Reverend Joseph Roberson and a part of the family of South Columbus United Methodist Church.

ADVOCATE: What is your faith journey? 
REV. WALTON:
I grew up in a home where Baptist missionaries would visit my grandmother for Bible study. We were always related to church and church attendance in some way with VBS, choirs and weekly services in the African Methodist Episcopal and Baptist churches in the neighborhood.  However, I accepted Christ into my heart truly and began my faith journey after the death of my mother.

I have tried in all ways to grow closer to God through Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. I believe that each day we have a choice to make: drawing closer or moving farther away from God’s love and His will for our lives. Each day, I try to choose to draw nearer to God.

Each night, I picture myself climbing into the arms of God and telling Him all about my day. I ask for forgiveness and ask Him to show me the things I have done wrong and the people I have hurt that day. My relationship with the Lord is still growing because I am still learning, failing, repenting and being offered grace.

Most of all, I want to be pleasing to the Lord. I want to remain in His will concerning my life and faith journey.

ADVOCATE: Tell us about your family.
REV. WALTON: 
I have five siblings, two boys and four girls. My oldest brother and his family live in Charlotte, N.C. He is a fifth grade teacher. My youngest brother is a career Air Force man currently in Japan. All my sisters and their families live in Columbus.

I married my high school sweetheart and we have two adult sons. Terry Marquis lives in Lithonia, Ga. and works for the Department of Family and Children Services. Terry is in a specialized unit that investigates child death cases and high profile molestation cases. Christopher Dwayne is married to Quianna and they live in Montgomery, Ala. Chris is a recent college graduate and just entered graduate studies at Auburn University. Chris and Quianna are expecting their first child in October. They tell me it’s a girl!

ADVOCATE: How did you find out that you had been appointed to be a District Superintendent?  What was your reaction?
REV. WALTON:
Bishop James King called me and told me that I would be coming on the cabinet. I was surprised because I never imagined myself in the role of District Superintendent. After getting over the initial shock, I was just very prayerful and hopeful that God would use me in some way to make a difference for the Kingdom. That has been my prayer every day since I received the news.

ADVOCATE: What are your visions, goals and hopes for the Dublin District?
REV. WALTON:
I have prayerfully asked God to lead me in a focused vision for the Dublin District. After spending time with Bishop King and the other members of the cabinet at our retreat, I returned to my room and developed a vision plan for the next 24 months. I shared this plan with the clergy at our set-up meeting. 

ADVOCATE: What’s one challenge you see facing the Conference and/or District?
REV. WALTON:
I believe our greatest challenge in the conference and district lies in the extent we are less focused on the mission of the church and focus more on other things. The mission to make disciples is our mandated focus from God’s word. Anything that takes us away from the mission is a challenge to overcome.

ADVOCATE: What’s one thing that most excites you about the Dublin District and/or the South Georgia Conference? 
REV. WALTON:
The potential we have to come together and make a difference for the Kingdom. There is so much hope and opportunity present among us.  I celebrate the strength of our connectional system and the great possibilities that lie ahead if we embrace ways to work more collaboratively and strategically together.

ADVOCATE: What do you like best about serving in the South Georgia Conference?
REV. WALTON: 
I love the image and reality of the way clergy and laity work together at all levels of the church.

We need each other. I believe we are at our very best when egos and agendas are laid aside and we find ways to live out the love of God and love of neighbor. I love being a part of this journey with so many people who are also living out their faith journey.

ADVOCATE: How do you, in the midst of your busy schedule and traveling, make time for quiet time, prayer, and Bible study?  
REV. WALTON:
I spend quality time with God in prayer and conversation each morning and night. I also read a devotion book and a book of prayers each day. I am exploring some new material this summer for personal Bible study. I am blessed with friends who serve as prayer partners and we often spend time each week reflecting on some revelation from scripture. I realize that I must be more intentional now that I am not preparing a sermon each week. Time with God is as important to me as my next breath. 

ADVOCATE: What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies and interests?
REV. WALTON:  
I like to exercise in the pool with water aerobics. I enjoy walking. I like to read and ride my bike when I have time. I really like spending time with family and friends. Lately, I have been shopping for a new grandchild and that is exciting.

ADVOCATE: What’s one fact about you that most people don’t know?
REV. WALTON:
I love to sing. I really love gospel music but I also enjoy Jazz.