by George Larrimore, Special to The New Tri-State Defender
The Midtown Memphis Development Corporation is honoring Sonia Walker, for her commitment to improving lives in Memphis through her work at First Congregational Church, where she is Associate Pastor.
Walker will receive a Mojo of Midtown Award, at an event at Circuit Playhouse on Cooper Street on March 27th. The Church’s Senior Minister Cheryl Cornish and Director of Ministry Julia Hicks will also be recognized.
Walker’s ministry is just the latest chapter in a life that has included work as a television executive at WHBQ, an educator and a counselor.
A native of Columbus, Ohio, she moved to Memphis from Chicago in 1974 with her late husband, Dr. Walter Walker, the long-time head of LeMoyne-Owen College. Dr. Walker also served as a vice president of the University of Tennessee. He died in 2008 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis.
The Rev. Walker, who refers to herself as a “non-traditional student,” started training for her Masters Degree in Ministry from Memphis Theological Seminary at an age when many people consider retirement.
“My husband gave me that (the training) as a gift and I started in January 2002,” she said. “My mother lived till she was 95 and her sister was 99. My dad had sisters that were living into their 90s. So age limits weren’t part of my thoughts.”
She earned her Masters Degree from MTS in 2008. The holder of a Masters Degree in Social Work, Walker and is widely known and respected for her work on various issues, including education reform and literacy.
Walker was ordained with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) then started with First Congo (as it is often known) in 2008. First Congregational Church is affiliated with the United Church of Christ and has a congregation of around 350.
Reflecting “the eclectic nature of Midtown,” the church is home to a very diverse congregation. It has been in Cooper Young since 2001.
Walker said she is well at home in a church that is “very theologically liberal, with a strong social justice bent.”
“We had the choice to become an open and affirming congregation,” she said, “which means we welcome LGBTQ and whatever other individuals and families to the church, with no restrictions.”
The church works directly with those in the community who need help. A food crisis, for example, is faced by many. The Church’s Café Congo serves 400 free meals each week.
Additionally, First Congregational works with 30 partner organizations, providing space in the 83,000 square-foot church. It serves to house a farmer’s market and workshops focused on bicycles, bees and more. The church’s “stewardship of space” also makes room for music, art and a theatre group.
First Congo, said Walker, strives to keep three principles in focus: stand for peace and justice, keep things simple and always welcome the stranger.
“It’s about being open to what God sends to the door. You serve the people God sends you. That’s how we work.”
Walker is looking forward to turning 82 in April, and not letting up. With a great, soft laugh she said, “I went back (to seminary) really late and have extended my work life really long. …
“And the joke (among her friends) is ‘I’m going to work a few more years. But not as long as Sonia.’”
Presented by the Midtown Memphis Development Corporation, this is the fifth year for the Mojo of Midtown Awards. The purpose is to honor individuals, organizations and businesses who, through talent, motivation and innovation, have made significant contributions to the vibrancy and sustainability of Midtown Memphis.
Beer, wine, and heavy hors d’oeuvres will be served at the party and there will be live music. Tickets are $35 in advance and $40 at the door and everyone is welcome.