WEST VALLEY CITY — The church building is unimposing from the outside, composed of a light brown brick on the demure street corner. The facility is humble but clean and well-kept, with the only seemingly out-of-place feature being the overflowing stock of soon-to-be-delivered food storage.
Upon further inspection, however, the interior — something of a metaphor in and of itself — holds an eager congregation, ready to serve and expand their faith under the tutelage of their new pastor.
Atlanta native and mother of two, Vinnetta Golphin-Wilkerson is the newest addition to
Granger Christian Church, the oldest Protestant denomination in the West Valley, first established in 1957.
Peering warmly up from a tidy, L-shaped desk in a sleek black jacket, she has a look in her eye that can't help but reflect a life rife with perspective-shaping experiences.
Earning her bachelor's degree at Duke University — she was "absolutely" rooting for them in the NCAA Tournament — in public policy and psychology and then a master of divinity at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, Golphin-Wilkerson went on to serve as a volunteer chaplain at the Georgia Metro State Women's Prison, then as a regional moderator for the Disciples of Christ and as an administrative pastor at God's City of Refuge Christian Church in Atlanta.
"I believe it's a path that God chooses for you," she said, describing her reasons for getting into the ministry. "You find a place where that's where your fulfillment is. My desire has been to do what I was created to do. I believe there's a level of peace; a level of fulfillment that can only happen if you match what you were created for. I've been praying about it and then this opportunity came so I'm very happy."
Self-declared to always have been involved with helping people or in leadership roles since elementary school, Golphin-Wilkerson said there was a moment in her life when she realized she was going to wholly commit her life to God while trying to balance time in the ministry with a "regular job" and working to help disabled and mentally challenged people find private sector employment.
"I had an experience where I became particularly aware of God's love for me ... (and) the intensity of it," she said. "I became aware that in the midst of everything, God knew who I was. My response to that was, 'Yes, I'll do what you want. I'll be who you want me to be. I will go forth and give it all I've got.' I work hard. I do the best job I can. That's my response to that kind of love."
That response, among other spiritual posts, landed Golphin-Wilkerson in the troubled path of female inmates in Georgia as she attempted to help them try to find solidarity in faith and, in many cases, be able to return home with a sense of normalcy and peace.
What began as part of a seminary requirement in practical ministry, bloomed when she realized a good friend was also involved through her own church in a program called the Restoring Hope Ministry project — an effort to help women find private sector employment when they get released from prison.
Golphin-Wilkerson assisted the inmates by showing them how to assemble resumes, be successful in interviews and explain an extended absence from the workforce among other valuable tips. Often, the help came in the form of simply talking to them about the pragmatic issues facing them when they returned home, honestly advising the mothers who were present that their children would not immediately resort to saying "yes, ma'am," when they arrived.
"These women were like sisters," she said. "You learn they're not so different — one bad choice or one set of circumstances could put anybody in that place. The same things hurt. They have the same kinds of hopes and dreams. They want to know that they matter. They want to know that somebody cares.
"One of my main goals was to help them understand that if God is not real behind that wall, God is not real anywhere. You're going to deal with the consequences of whatever you did, but that doesn't put you beyond God's love."
Despite citing the cold winter weather as a departure from warm days in Georgia, Golphin-Wilkerson said she feels comfortable here and hopes to use those past experiences to strengthen her new congregation as well as the surrounding community in their efforts to serve.
"I am such a happy camper," she said. "I left a very loving congregation; I've come to a very loving congregation. We have people in this church who are active in the community already — I don't have to convince them to be active. There are all kinds of folk here from different backgrounds, but here we all agree on God's love and transforming the world. I'm the luckiest pastor in town."
A believer in the idea that "God doesn't waste a single experience," Golphin-Wilkerson wants to use her past in service to grow the congregation's community outreach ministries. She said the efforts are not necessarily to gain church membership but rather to unite people of any faith or background to make a difference.
"I know that we're particularly blessed that the gifts God has given Vinnetta are now being shared here with us," said Granger Christian Church moderator Diana Baxter. "It's a new and exciting period in the ministry where we see the expansion of the work we're doing in the community for various cultures and ways of life that loves knows no limit. I think this is just a catalyst for bigger and better things in West Valley and beyond."
Avoiding anything resembling a "Vinnetta show," Golphin-Wilkerson said she wants to foster an environment of collaboration and love.
"One of my core beliefs is that God works in people as well as through people," she said, holding a fierce gaze. "When I see that — when I can see the transformation that happens in someone as God is using them — that's it for me."