SPRING HILL — Arlinda Burks began her second career, as a minister in the United Methodist Church, when she was a grandmother. Now, four years after her ordination at age 56 and having served as associate pastor of two other Florida churches, she has become senior pastor at Mariner United Methodist Church.
Reared in Indiana as a Baptist, Burks became a Methodist several years ago because of the church's openness to women in ministry and its stand on social justice issues.
"That was a personal passion of mine," Burks said. "But I don't deny my Baptist upbringing. I was rooted in faith."
Before going into the ministry, Burks spent 26 years in the Navy, retiring as an officer. During her enlistment, she earned a master's degree in counseling. Later, she earned one in divinity.
But Burks is about more than where she went to school and how many degrees she has, she says.
"That's just data," she said. "It has nothing to do with who I am."
She loves books like To Kill a Mockingbird, for example, and while she has electronic devices to read them, on a rainy day she wants to settle in and turn pages.
"I don't want to slide my hand across to make a page appear before me," she said.
She also loves blue crabs with hot sauce, something she never tasted back in Gary, Ind.
"I always carry a bottle of hot sauce in my purse now," the minister said.
Classical, big band, marching and blues are favorite types of music. It's a Wonderful Life and The Lion King are special movies. Television show selections include The West Wing and Judging Amy.
While she is not really into poetry, Burks wrote a poem as an assignment for a training seminar a while back called Where I'm From that she says helps define her.
"I am from, 'you must get your education' and no coloreds or girls allowed," the poem reads in part. "I am from 'I'm too tired to give up my seat on the bus' and from 'Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.'
"I am from 'I have a dream' and a 'dream deferred.' I am from be respectful, be fair, be helpful and always try. I am from 'you can do and be anything you want if you work hard,' I am from the smell of fresh bread cooking, fish on Fridays and the best cornbread dressing ever made."
Burks said the poem, which has several more stanzas and ends with the line "I am from a world of infinite possibilities," is helpful when people want to know who she really is.
"It creates a way of having dialogue with people who read it," she said. "Some people have this kind of common experience."
Burks, who replaced the Rev. John Hay Jr. on July 7, is the eighth pastor at the 32-year-old church.
Just before the new minister's arrival, Chuck Nichols, who is on the church's staff parish relations committee, said he was looking forward to having her come to the church.
"I think she is going to be a spark plug for us, and that's what we need," Nichols said.
Burks said she thinks what Nichols probably noticed about her is her passion.
"I don't try to curtail that passion; I let it carry me," she said. "I try to share that passion with the congregation when I'm speaking with them, when I'm preaching, when I pray. I'm very transparent."
Burks hopes to provide leadership, administrative skills and direction to the church.
"Sometimes they just need someone who can set the vision, but we do that in a collaborative way," she said. "I think that was a huge part — they were looking for someone with vision and a gift for evangelism and outreach."
The church will be very involved with the community, Burks said.
"One of the things I want for Mariner is to be very visible in the community — not just a building sitting on the corner," she said. "We're serving people that we're called to serve, that's what the church is for. It's not just to take care of ourselves and have nice services on Sunday, but to equip people to go into the world and be a change agent in the name of Christ."
The words of Burks' poem are reflected in her opinion of her ministry.
"I believe in what I'm doing and that Jesus is who he said he was: the Son of Man, the Son of God," she said. "And we ought to always be excellent and be excited that we get to do this. Because I think it's a privilege."