2013: Women to Watch

Published 9:37 am Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Her energy and enthusiasm are contagious. The Reverend Vonner G. Horton, senior pastor of New Oxley Hill Baptist Church in Merry Hill, is never at a loss for something to accomplish.

“It’s about always trying to see how you can be used in the season, in the hour, to impact the lives of the people we have been called to serve,” Horton remarked. “So I try to live a life of servitude because I believe it is something that is going to advance the cause of people, of women, youth, and education. Try to be pro-active instead of reactive, and offering oneself like that gives you a chance to richly impact the lives of other people.

Horton has impacted many lives in the Roanoke-Chowan area, and not merely from the pulpit. Horton has and continues to serve on numerous boards and commissions statewide as well as around the nation. They include being an appointed member of the Elizabeth City State University Board of Trustees; Faith Partnership, Inc.; Table of Faith Board of Directors; Sisters of Faith; Commissioner on the North Carolina Commission on Community Service and Volunteerism; Chair of the Bertie County Medical Transport Service Board; and former member of the ECSU Foundation Board of Directors.

Born in Martin County and educated in their public school system before getting a degree from Mt. Olive College, she was a teacher and school administrator on her native soil and later in Bertie County. She has also been an entrepreneur and a manager in private business.

“I started out working at the age of 12 or 13 because we came up in a home where we were taught to work,” she says. “It wasn’t an option; it was a necessity (in the household). My parents made all the decisions and everything you made went on the table.”

“I was too young to be paid,” she adds with a reflective chuckle. “So the owner let me do jobs until I was old enough to get a work permit. Then I worked through that and put myself through school.

Teaching was always something she enjoyed; from her days as a Sunday School teacher at age 6 and later in the classroom. From there she says she was called into full-time gospel ministry.

“We were taught structure and discipline,” she says. “And it is now a part of everything that I do; doing it with a spirit of excellence and feel like I’m doing it unto the Lord.

“I really believe that what I do everybody else is doing,” she adds. “So I struggle sometimes when people perceive that I’m doing such a great work because I believe it’s something we all should be doing, even if we’re not.”

Her education background has served Rev. Horton well, and she believes that education and the ministry go hand-in-hand.

“Whether it’s out of a textbook or whether it’s out of the Bible, it’s about enriching the lives of others and one should study to show yourself approved,” she says, quoting from 2nd Timothy. “I believe I have the best job in the world as a pastor, but thereafter I believe it’s education because every doctor, every lawyer, every businessman, every politician, has gone thru the institutions of learning.

“Apart from all the errors that are made, you have worth,” she says punctuating the air for emphasis. “Everybody’s always striving to do more.”

Sometime this year Rev. Horton will celebrate 14 years in the ministry and nearly as long of pastorship at New Oxley Hill. She has come thru a time when women in the pulpit were a novelty, and not very widely accepted in some church circles and associations.

“I was one of the first females to be called to an established Missionary Baptist church in North Carolina and in this area I was THE first,” she says. “The pioneering and breaking that ground was challenging; but if you answer God’s assignment for your life, he will make a way. Since then, one of the things I’ve made sure is that I don’t advocate being a female. I am a pastor who just happens to be a female; I am not a female pastor. My call comes before my gender.

“Oftentimes I’m treated as a female pastor,” she points out. “I’ve gone to (churches) where the pastor did not realize I was a female until I got there; so I knew when it was acceptable or not and I did not make them uncomfortable.

“I’ve fought sometimes against my own understanding because of the way I was raised (in the church) and I have been there,” she adds. “Only until you allow yourself to be seen as God sees you can you accept that our call comes far deeper than what our gender, or our ethnicity, or our social status might be.”

Last fall, Rev. Horton was honored by the North Carolina Black Women Empowerment Network along with Bishop Thomas Lee of the Greater Wynns Grove Baptist Church for the work their churches did for victims of the spring tornadoes in April, 2011.   The NCBWEN, according to its mission statement, is a non-partisan organization committed to the advancement, wholeness and total well-being of Black women through political, social, economic, physical, mental health and educational initiatives to empower women, provide endorsement and support of political candidates, engage community interest and involvement and spotlight the needs and concerns of citizens throughout the state.

“Sometimes we get a little uncomfortable in the presence of others that we perceive to be great men and women who’ve made a different level of contribution, so sometimes we conform to who they are as opposed to appreciating who we are,” she says. “So wherever I go I celebrate people by saying ‘I really like being me’. The cause has to be greater than the gender and we have to find some common ground for working together for the good of people.

“When you are ill do you really care if the doctor is a man or woman?” she asks rhetorically. “You only want to know if they are skilled and if they have studied. If I am standing on my faith, then my faith is what it is. Whether it’s me, or whether it’s brethren, we all will not reach everybody. Christ used different persons at different times to address particular needs to impact the audience of people that they were exposed to. Whether it was the Woman at the Well, or the Man laying at the Pool of Bethesda: each made examples of the power of the Almighty. We have to appreciate the contributions we have all made to society.”

Rev. Horton later donated her honorarium of some $1500 from the NCBWEN to ElizabethCityStateUniversity to aid a need-based student in completing their education for fall semester.

“I knew what it was like,” she would later say of her contribution. “I’m mindful of the needs of the people, which is one of the reasons I am still in Bertie County. Some people work hard to remember; I work hard not to forget.”

New Oxley Hill also aided residents in the aftermath of Hurricane Isabel in 2003 with shelter and feeding.

“I forfeited my salary during that time because I knew what it was like not to eat,” she says. “We ran our stoves off of generators thanks to Mr. Curtis Wade with REA because we had no power at the church. I would go to work at 4 in the morning and not leave until midnight. We did FEMA applications and that was one of the most rewarding portions; to help people get back up again was worth it and it means more than anything I could ever do.

“It didn’t matter if you were black or white,” she says. “At that time there was a need and we had to make it happen. I won’t forget that experience because that’s what I think our lives should be all about.”

For Rev. Horton it’s also about building relationships.

“I have a network of persons that I can call: Congressman Butterfield, Governors Easley and Perdue; I even spent time during December at a Christmas gathering at the White House.  “It’s for the good of the community,” she says with a laugh. “I’ll talk to you as long as you can tell me what you are going to do to help the people.”

This spring Rev. Horton will release her first inspirational book, entitled, “On Broken Pieces”. The book will deal with the struggles the minister has overcome in her life.  In the next month she hopes to publish a pamphlet called, ‘Fifty Inspirational and Motivational Quotes to Empower the Broken Woman’.

“Whether it’s cancer, divorce, the sudden loss of a close loved one, jobs, injustices in life, whatever; there’s always something you can hold onto. I use the example of the Apostle Paul shipwrecked in Acts 28 and making it to shore on broken pieces. In everything in life there will always be something that you can grab onto that can get you to the next moment.

“My life is what it is and it has made me who I am,” she says in conclusion. “It is the story beyond the glory; and while I’m certainly not all I desire to be, I live my life to the service of other people.”