Real People: Former HR manager put skills to work in ministry
H.M. Cauley for the AJC
Rev. Claudette Farmer greets church member Rosemary Strickland after a service at the First United Methodist Church of Marietta. Farmer, who is the only minority on the staff, left the corporate world to go into the ministry.
By H.M. Cauley
For the AJC
Second careers are often not a matter of choice; it sometimes takes a layoff or retirement to open the door to new opportunities. For a few lucky folks such as Claudette Farmer, the transition to a new field is a deliberate choice.
The Ohio native earned a Master’s in human resource management and spent 20 years as an HR manager, and her last job was with a major retail chain. But throughout most of her days at the office, she felt the pull to be somewhere else - at church, in particular.
“I have been involved with church all my life,” said Farmer. “I was always very active in lay ministry and was very happy to be behind the scenes doing that.”
But three years ago, Farmer, a single parent with a teenager, felt a stronger urge to be involved in a more visible role. After much prayer and consultation, she gave up her well-paying day job in June and by August was enrolled at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta. She graduated with top honors, and in May, received her first appointment as an associate minister at the First United Methodist Church of Marietta.
“I honestly never thought about preaching,” admits Farmer, whose daughter is now in college. “In fact, I thought of doing anything but that. I don’t like being out front. But when it first hit me, and I told my daughter, she said, ‘Duh, mom. I knew that all along!’ My pastor said he knew. Everybody knew but me that this was where I belong.”
Looking back, Farmer now sees that her time in human resources was laying the groundwork for her new career.
“Being a minister really isn’t very different from what I did before, which was dealing with people,” she said. “While ministry was never on my radar, I can see how all my experience in corporate America led me to it. Being the head of HR meant speaking came with the territory, and that’s helped me become more comfortable speaking in the pulpit.”
Farmer’s new position marks another major change: She is the first African-American minister at the Marietta church that has about 2,500 members.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but this is the warmest, most loving congregation I could have asked for,” said Farmer. “They’ve made me feel so welcome, from the first time I interviewed.”
Senior minister Sam Matthews said Farmer’s personality was a great fit for the congregation.
“I was looking for a person who was warm and engaging, and she was,” he said. “I thought she’d be a good match.”
Being the only African-American member of the staff and one of the few in the church didn’t deter Farmer from the job.
“I knew if I was welcomed, I’d be able to share the love of Christ,” she said. “Maybe my presence here will help [the church] become more diverse. I’m not sure why it’s not, but I feel welcome here and know any other minority would be, too.”
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