Rev. James Pennington was born and raised in Booneville, MS until he moved with family to the South Side of Chicago when he was 11 years old. James completed his education at the University of Chicago and Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois. He Majored in Educational Psychology, Theology and Philosophy. James attended Concordia Seminary and Washington University in St. Louis, MO for his Master of Divinity (MDIV). Later in life, James went back to secure his Masters of Social Work (MSW) at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee. Here is a snapshot (not exhaustive) of his Social justice and spiritual leadership throughout his life:
- Served as Campus Pastor at University of Nebraska for 5 years and campus pastor at University of Wisconsin for 1.5 years, where his focus was primarily on International Ministry.
- Spent 1.5 years in Novosibirsk, Siberia working with the emerging church. Specifically worked with students at the University of Novosibirsk, Academ Gordoc.
- Case Manager, Prevention Specialist for the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. Focused primarily on prevention for targeted populations: Specifically Women of Color, youth and Men of Color who have sex with men.
- Director of Pathfinders and Street Beat. A shelter and street outreach program for at risk youth experiencing homelessness. The program served homeless, throwaway and runaway youth through Wisconsin and the north side of Chicago.
- Director of Services for AIDS Network in Madison, WI. Directed Life Care Services, Clean Needle Exchange, HIV Counseling and testing in the prison system, Harm Reduction Model with meth addicts, and STI Prevention services for targeted populations in 13 counties in Central Wisconsin.
- Executive Director of the LGBT Community Center in Milwaukee. On the fore front of Marriage Equality in response to the Ban on Civil Unions and Gay Marriage in Wisconsin.
- Found a home in the United Church of Christ in 2007 and planted and re-visioned a new progressive spiritual community in Minneapolis called “Living Table United Church of Christ”.
- Called to First Church United Church of Christ 7 years ago with a focus on racial reconciliation and equity for growing majorities (minorities and underserved populations).
- Finally, James was called to serve as the Executive Director of Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, MS and started service there on February 22, 2021. Confident that this is the opportunity to serve utilizing all of his previous experience he perceives this as “coming full circle”.
Pastor James’ constant companion is Jackson, a “boxador” who loves to offer therapeutic pets and licks. James’ observations are peppered with the insights of the Deep South, the Upper Midwest and the Sonoran Desert of Arizona.
He is more likely to be encountered in sandals and shorts than a Sunday suit (with quirky socks); his leadership approach is low-drama, challenging people by speaking boldly while asking more questions than he tries to answer.