Debby Burton celebrates 25 years as Wilshire staffer

by | Nov 18, 2022 | Feature

Debby Burton celebrates 25 years as Wilshire staffer.

On Nov. 17, Ministry Assistant Debby Burton became the latest Wilshire staffer to celebrate 25 years on the job. For most of her tenure — all but the first year — Debby has served in the senior pastor’s office, working with George Mason for 24 of his 33 years at Wilshire.

George says: “We call her a ministry assistant on our organizational chart. For a quarter century at Wilshire, Debby Burton has been both minister and assistant. She has been my right hand in pastoral work, often the first contact for individuals and families, committee chairs and deacon officers, staff colleagues and community enquirers, wedding planners and memorial mourners. Her caring manner has been more than an assist to ministry; it has been ministry itself. I am forever grateful to have worked so closely and so well with my friend, Debby, and Wilshire is the better for her faithful work.”

Debby came to Wilshire in 1997 from First Baptist Church of Garland, where she had been secretary to the associate pastor since 1982. She says, “At that church I discovered I had people skills and that I wanted to be a helper.” She also learned how churches work: “I sat across the hall from the pastor’s secretary, and I watched her run a church office. It was very inspiring, and it motivated me to be that type of person.”

The Garland job was part-time, and Debby was seeking full-time work when a friend told her about an opening at Wilshire. David Norris, Wilshire’s business administrator at the time, had worked at the Garland church, knew Debby well and hired her over the phone. “God kind of placed the job in my path,” Debby says.

Her first role was supporting a group of Wilshire’s education ministers. About a year after starting, George’s assistant retired and Debby accepted an offer to “move upstairs” to the pastor’s office. Around that time, Debby and her family — husband David and their two sons, Josh and Andrew — became members of Wilshire.

Debby says her detail-oriented nature complemented George’s big-picture focus. “In our working style,” she says, “George was A and Z, and I was everything in between — B though Y.”

The job of “keeping up with George,” maintaining his calendar and dealing with phone calls and messages, became more complex over the years as he became more of a public figure. Debby says working with the senior pastor requires knowing which phone calls or messages to put through and which ones to direct to other staff. “From benevolence calls to a salesman wanting to sell us a copier, those calls all come to the pastor,” she says. “You have to be a good listener and let the person on the phone or standing in front of you know that you’re going to take care of them. You’re not going to dismiss them.”

Debby’s empathetic nature has been key in another area, coordinating funerals, which she calls her favorite part of her job. “With funerals,” she says, “I can meet people where they are. There are hard ones, and I’ve been able to function and give gentle guidance. And that is very rewarding. That’s a ministry that has been gifted to me here, and I don’t take that lightly.”

Debby also manages the Columbarium and serves as church clerk, taking minutes at church conferences and keeping track of members coming and going. She’s the staff liaison to the Baptism, History and Deacon Nominating Committees and the Lord’s Supper and Funeral Ministry Teams. Over the years she has supported or coordinated outreach and care ministries, worked closely with deacons, and managed annual events like the Preaching Practicum and the men’s ski trip.

One point of pride for Debby is that she was heavily involved with administration of the pastoral residency program in its earliest days. She says, “It was really cool to be present at the birth of that program, which was a dream of two pastors, George and Bruce [McIver]. I got to see the dream come true and watch it continue to grow.”

As a Wilshire member Debby is involved with women’s ministry, helping lead the Tuesday Evening Book Club. She’s been on mission trips and for a while taught children’s missions classes. On Sunday mornings she can be found in the main office, where she coordinates a team of volunteers. “That’s my Sunday School,” she says.

Since George’s retirement in August, Debby has stayed busy coordinating with guest preachers, preparing the pastor’s office for a new occupant and helping the staff in multiple areas. “George said something recently to a family at a funeral, ‘Debby is — I can’t say she’s my assistant, and that’s really hard for me to say.’ And I said, ‘Well, it’s hard for me to hear,’ because that’s what I’ve been for 24 years.”

As for the future, she says, “For now, I am where I’m supposed to be.”

Debby values her relationships with members and her fellow staffers: “It’s like another family. I enjoy the people around me, and they support me in all kinds of things. If I’m having a bad day they’ll come in and say ‘you can do this.’ The friendships I’ve gained here are a treasure to me, and lots of those will probably go on after the work here is done.”

■ Debby expressed a preference for personal rather than public congratulations and therefore will not be recognized in worship. She welcomes calls, emails, lunch invitations or hugs when you see her at church.