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WEBSTER GROVES, MO (KTVI) – On Sunday, history was made at the First Congregational Church of Webster Groves, as a black woman was brought aboard to fill a role which has always for them been assumed by a white male. First Church is located at 10 West Lockwood Avenue. The public was invited to Sunday morning celebration in which the transition took place.

Rev. David Denoon, the church’s pastor, is departing for a long sabbatical. Minister Sonya Vann, a minister on staff of Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant, was chosen from a wide field of candidates to become the Sabbatical Pastor.

While First Church has a long history of advocacy for racial equity and social justice, based in their Christian faith, Minister Sonya Vann is only the second African American they have called to a pastoral role, and the first to do so as their lead staff person.

Rev. Denoon and his family will be journeying to western Africa to explore the cultures and traditions there, to experience Christianity in various contexts, to come to a greater understanding of the roots of American slavery, and to discover further the historical connections between the United States and West Africa.

While Rev. Denoon is gone, the church will embark on a renewal of its own. Under the theme, “Renewing Our Mission – Learn, Explore, Partner,” the church’s renewal is taking shape in sermons, workshops, and planned activities on the intersection of faith, race, and social justice.  The church hopes and believes, this will help them to understand more deeply their past and become an even stronger congregation in the present and the future.

These efforts are made possible, thanks to a Pastoral Renewal Grant awarded by the Lilly Endowment through the Center for Pastoral Excellence at Christian Theological Seminary (Indianapolis). The funds provided to First Church are enabling this pastoral sabbatical and congregational renewal.