Heart for service beats strong after 35 years

LAKELAND – It doesn’t take anywhere near 35 years to notice Winnie Dean’s desire to help others, but colleagues at the Florida Conference chose that milestone anniversary to take notice of her energy, enthusiasm and sincere desire to be of service.

The longtime administrative assistant in the Clergy Excellence office walked into a surprise fete in her honor last week, only a day before she boarded a plane to Leawood, Kan., where she facilitated Florida Conference participation in the Leadership Institute at the Church of the Resurrection. 

Wayne Wiatt and Winnie Dean celebrate her 35 years at the Fla Conference
Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt, left, Clergy Excellence director, was among Florida Conference employees celebrating the 35 years of service by Winnie Dean, right. Photo by Dave Walter.

“It was a wonderful surprise,” she said in an email from the airport. “I love working with our candidates and clergy and helping each of them to achieve their goals! This ‘job’ feels like so much more than a job.”

Dean began her career at the conference in 1978, and spent her first 15 years as a teller in the credit union housed in the former Florida Conference building on McDonald Street. She was part of a staff of two, and found herself called on to help out with tasks beyond keeping up with money.

“We did all tend to do a lot of teamwork back then,” Dean recalled in a phone interview. “You do what needs to be done as it comes up. … I was taught to be kind and try to get along with everyone.”

She got to know people in what was then the Division of Ministry and joined the staff there in 1993.

Her tenure has spanned six bishops in residence, and she has helped ministry candidates toward ordination or licensing for 20 annual conferences. Among the biggest milestones: converting recordkeeping to an electronic system in 1998.

“We converted 14 four-drawer filing cabinets that you could not get another piece of paper in,” she said, noting that the work took two years and help from a part-time assistant. “Once that was done, it was a breeze.”

Besides technological advances, the biggest change she has seen is “the transition from a Board of Ordained Ministry that just looks at people’s paperwork to a Board of Ordained Ministry that looks at the whole person. … They see the whole picture, as well as their possibilities to be in ministry in the Florida Conference.”

Keeping the paperwork straight and making sure no one stumbles on the path to ordination is part of Dean’s job.

Rev. David Dodge, who led the Clergy Excellence office for 16 years before becoming the bishop’s assistant this year, said Dean is unmatched in her knowledge, dedication and attention to detail, but her biggest gift is “a genuine love for people.”

“Time and time again I would hear candidates for ministry say, ‘I would not have gotten through this process if it wasn’t for Winnie,’” Dodge said in an email.

Rev. Dr. Wayne Wiatt, who became Clergy Excellence director in July, said he has known Dean since he joined the conference in 1982, and she has always been involved in helping others. Recently he had the opportunity to watch her interact with the conference’s residents in ministry.

“You could tell it wasn’t just a job for her,” Wiatt said. “She enjoyed getting to know the new clergy and watching them grow.”

Dean said helping clergy along their chosen career tracks is her favorite part of the job.

“I almost feel like their mom.”

-- Susan Green is the managing editor of Florida Conference Connection.

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