NEW PORT RICHEY — The Rev. Betty Batey is looking forward to having more joy in her ministry.
After 19 years as a hospice chaplain in South Florida, Batey is on the brink of becoming a pastor again.
She will greet her new congregation at the First United Methodist Church in New Port Richey at 10 a.m. July 5.
"I am excited to be with people and experience the whole life cycle, to experience their joy as well as their sorrow," said Batey, 56.
Batey is a native of Coral Gables and grew up in the Miami area. She earned her bachelor's degree at Florida State University, then went on to Emory University Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, where she graduated in 1977.
She entered the ministry at a groundbreaking time for women.
"Only six of the clergy out of 700 in the Florida Conference were women," she said. "Now it is significantly greater, but not quite half."
She said she also had to prove herself at each new church.
"There were only a few of us (female ministers) and it was a big challenge," she said. "But each congregation was good to us."
And back then, the clergy were rotated every four years to a different church.
Now United Methodist ministers stay with their congregations longer. The Rev. Tim Haas, who is leaving the New Port Richey church, ministered there for nine years. Haas is moving to the Keystone United Methodist Church in Odessa.
"It is better for everyone, for the ministers and families," she said.
Helen Robinson, who has been the church secretary for four years, has mixed emotions about the change.
"Words cannot describe my feelings about how much he (Haas) will be missed," she said. "But I hear good reports about women pastors and I am looking forward to her (being here)."
Robinson has talked to Batey on the telephone and met her once.
"She is delightful, very warm and has a wonderful sense of humor," said Robinson.
Batey is divorced and has a 24-year-old son, Robert Green, who will remain in Miami Lakes as she travels north.
She said she has always felt the calling to do pastoral work.
"I enjoy being with people," she said. "Being a pastor is a passion for me."
As a chaplain with hospice, she said she often served as a bridge to the community.
"Some people I encountered had no home church and I became a pastor to them," she said. "This was very important when facing death or a crisis."
She said she is also looking forward to a slower pace in her life.
"It will be nice to work with people not always facing a crisis," she said.
Away from work, Batey enjoys photography and the outdoors.
"I also like Florida history," she said.