The Rev. Emily Hull McGee of Louisville, Ky., will be the new pastor of First Baptist Church in downtown Winston-Salem, the church decided in a congregational vote last Sunday.
McGee, 33, is the 12th pastor in the church’s history and the first woman, although women have served as associate pastors.
McGee will begin in her new position on July 6 and deliver her first sermon on July 12, church leaders said.
“Our downtown urban church wants to reach out and grow and serve the needs of the community,” said Ray Owen, who chaired the church’s search committee. “She has served as a pastor of young adults and has done an exceptional job. She worked with a program that had 20 in attendance and increased it to 200. She is a dynamic and energetic person, and personally warm and friendly.”
Owen said that McGee was the unanimous choice of both the search committee and the church membership as a whole, which heard McGee preach on Sunday and afterward voted her in as the new pastor.
McGee was born in Louisville and grew up in various states in the Southeast, including North Carolina. She earned a bachelor of music degree from Furman University in 2003, and master’s in music from Northwestern University in 2005, and a master of divinity degree from Wake Forest University in 2009.
McGee was ordained in 2009 at First Baptist Church in Knoxville. Since 2009 she has been minister to young adults at Highland Baptist Church in Louisville.
“I’m excited to come back and rediscover the city as a resident and not a student,” McGee said.
McGee said that First Baptist has gone through the experience of a lot of other urban downtown churches that saw their congregations shrink as people moved to the suburbs. What she heard when she talked to the search committee is that the church wants to be more active in the growing downtown scene.
“One of the things that was a constant refrain that I heard throughout the last seven or eight months was their desire to be a leader among the churches of Winston-Salem in connecting with the growing downtown community – people who live work and play downtown,” McGee said. That includes building connections with the arts community, she said.
Owen said the search committee reached out in a lot of different directions to find candidates, eventually coming up with 81 names that were narrowed as the months went by.
Owen said modern technology helped the search: Committee members could check out church web sites and listen to sermons that were podcast. They used Skype to conduct interviews sometimes.
The church’s former pastor, the Rev. David Hughes, retired in 2013 after serving more than 22 years in his post.
Owen said the search committee started its work by developing a profile of their church and the kind of pastor they felt they needed. Owen said that while it is a historic event to have a female pastor, the church didn’t set out to find one.
McGee is a third-generation pastor, her father and grandfather both having served as pastors. She and her husband Josh McGee have a son, Liam who is two years old, and are expecting a daughter in April.