When the Rev. James Bishop retired from ministry in 2021 from Asbury Town Neck United Methodist Church, the Rev. Tori Butler was appointed the 11th pastor. She is only the second female leader of the 134-year-old church. “Dr. Tori,” as she prefers to be called, believes she might be the youngest pastor as well.
“I’ve been in other ministry settings where I was the first woman, first Black woman, or the youngest person on pastoral staff, but I’ve never been so embraced as a leader as I have been embraced here [at Asbury Town Neck UMC],” she said.
“My church was looking for a leader with my gifts and my graces, so I don’t know if it mattered or not that I was a woman - if I was able to come help and revitalize ministry and get people excited about Jesus again,” Dr. Tori said.
Raised Catholic by a single mother in Baltimore City, Dr. Tori recalls feeling called to faith and ministry at a young age. “Even in the Catholic faith, I knew that women couldn’t be priests, but every day I saw the sisters faithfully and beautifully serving God,” Dr. Tori said. “I grew up with female pastors, so I never thought that women couldn’t be pastors and leaders.”
To lead the 365-member church out of the COVID era, Dr. Tori was tasked in July 2021 with establishing a re-entry task force team to determine what worship would look like. Using established COVID guidelines, she reinstituted ushers to welcome members and to ensure order, safety, and pew spacing.
The same month she arrived, Dr. Tori was approached by a group of young people asking for Bible study. Passionate about reactivating young people and their voices after COVID, Dr. Tori thought she’d get something started in September. However, due to their persistence, the Bible study began in August.
“It was such a blessing and a joy to see and hear the young people,” Dr. Tori said. “They wanted to be served and to be seen.”
Described as a dynamic leader, Dr. Tori is known for her energic preaching style, which comes from being excited about the gospel of Jesus Christ and sharing with others the message that God is working in them.
“I hope that I can lead people in such a way that they trust where we are going,” said Dr. Tori of her passion to empower others. “I look to see who’s in the room, who’s at the table, and most importantly, who’s not, and being intentional about bringing someone not at the table to the table to have a voice.”
Building on a long, rich history of community in Severna Park, Dr. Tori said her church is now in a visioning process to capture who they are now and who they want to become.
“This process is a collective conversation,” she said. “We will honor what has gone before us, but if God is asking us to become something else, we must be open to becoming.
“This church, for me, is the best matched with my gifts that I’ve ever had. It’s the best church I’ve ever served!” Dr. Tori exclaimed. “I am elated to be here and excited to see what God is going to do here.”
Sunday service is at 9:00am, in person and livestreamed on www.asburytownneck.org. Masks are required for the in-person service.
Dr. Tori earned a bachelor’s degree in history and international relations from McDaniel College, a master’s degree in divinity from Duke University, and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Emory University.
She spoke at the 57th anniversary of the March on Washington, D.C., in 2020, and is a contributor to “Do Not Be Afraid: Bishops & Young Clergy Share Signs of Resurrection & Words of Hope” and “I’m Black. I’m Christian. I’m Methodist.”