With new military orders, Gary pastor heading to North Carolina
By Michael Gonzalez Post-Tribune correspondent June 8, 2014 1:14PM
Rev. LaTonya Pettigrew addresses the congregation before a prayer at St. Andrew A.M.E Zion Church in Gary, Ind. on Sunday, June 8. | Taylor Irby/for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 12, 2014 6:10AM
GARY — The Rev. LaTonya Pettigrew spread her arms, tilted her back and let loose praises during a Sunday morning worship service at St. Andrew AME Zion Church on the city’s west side.
In two weeks, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Pettigrew will be on a logistics assignment for the Army in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The church, which, as a Methodist Church, has grown somewhat accustomed to pastors rotating through its doors, held two send-off celebrations for Pettigrew Sunday morning and afternoon.
The small congregation sang and praised enthusiastically as morning light filtered through colorful stained glass windows. They ate dinner, and they spoke highly of the young pastor with a radiant smile and a colorful corsage on her left wrist.
Pettigrew, who preached her first sermon in 2005, became a pastor at St. Andrew’s one year ago. Along with holding different positions in the church since 2012, she launched a gun buyback program with the city, the public school system and others, offering free GED and test-taking classes in exchange for firearms.
As an officer in the Army active guard reserve, the transitions can be tough, Pettigrew said, but the key is building a support system that can withstand the rigors and relocations of serving in the military, she said.
The family generally serves about three years on each relocation.
“It’s all faith, and you have to have a sense of a village,” said Pettigrew, originally from South Carolina. “My mom, my family stepped in to help the kids transition, and you have to know good people who can undergird you in the transition process.
“And, the people in this church, it is absolutely amazing. They’ve actually helped ease the burden of the leaving, because they’ve been praying and loving and keeping us.”
Family unity is key to the changes, especially as the couple raises three young sons, said James Pettigrew, the pastor’s husband.
“It’s a lot of uprooting putting the kids back in new schools, having to meet new friends having to get reestablished,” he said. “But, we’re a real close-knit family, and whatever we do, we do it together.”
As she lined up with the other members of the church choir, waiting for the morning service to begin, Christ Jackson, a longtime member and Gary resident, said she “was devastated” when she learned Rev. Pettigrew received new marching orders in March.
“Rev. Pettigrew is a very nice minister, and she really cares about the people and about the community,” Jackson said. “She really is a Christian.”