Pastor leaves historic Clay AME church with fondness for next step

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 1/19/22

ORANGE PARK – A career of twists and turns has led to the end of an 18-year stay of a St. James A.M.E Church reverend and now she looks to the next chapter in one of the region’s religious …

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Pastor leaves historic Clay AME church with fondness for next step

Posted

ORANGE PARK – A career of twists and turns has led to the end of an 18-year stay of a St. James A.M.E Church reverend and now she looks to the next chapter in one of the region’s religious landmarks.

Alesia Ford-Burse was transferred from St. James A.M.E Church to St. Augustine’s St. Paul’s Baptist A.M.E Church in December. She said she’ll miss her church family in Clay.

“It was bittersweet,” Ford-Burse said. “I have good friends and good relationships in Orange Park. I think there’s some wonderful people in Clay County.”

Ford-Burse is also the field office director with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in Jacksonville. She also started the gerontology program at Edward Waters in Jacksonville. In 1991, she earned a Ph.D. in applied anthropology from the University of South Florida.

She said there’s an overlap in anthropology and ministry.

“I think understanding the culture helps you better understand ministry. The people, the culture and society, you take that knowledge and apply it,” Ford-Burse said. “It does help, just learning about behavior and traditions. I think that when people are born, despite external factors that determine who people are … some things are just innate, some things are just in your DNA.”

A recent milestone for Ford-Burse, and her twin Alethea Winston, is the pair became the first twins to become reverends at churches with the same name. Winston is the senior pastor at St. James A.M.E Church in Clearwater. According to Ford-Burse, the pair will often have similar days or life experiences.

“We’ll wear the same clothes, we both got engaged and married in the same month,” Ford-Burse said. “We both married men with Winston in their name. Winston is an unusual name. You can go your whole life and not meet anyone named Winston.”

Looking toward her next chapter, St. Paul’s A.M.E Church is in its 149th year and has a strong civil rights heritage. Martin Luther King once graced its pulpit. Ford-Burse is St. Paul’s first woman senior pastor, she said.

“I think it speaks a lot for the church itself about the members and how they kept the church-going. It’s important for us to understand our history,” she added. “If we don’t recall and recognize our history, we lose the context, the value to society and the progress we’ve made.”

Ford-Burse said her main takeaway from Clay County is that a community can overcome challenges.

“I appreciated my time there, the people and relationships,” she said.

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