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Lofty executive decision, a fateful meeting, a changed life

A retired businessman trades in his golf shoes for a pastor's robes.

Published May 24, 2007

[Times photo: Joseph Garnett, Jr.]
Pastor Norm Hatter (right) prays with Phyllis and David Watkins. Hatter is the first African-American pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Dunedin.

DUNEDIN - One glorious day nine years ago, Norm Hatter was playing a round of golf.

As can happen on the links, his mind wandered away from his game and onto more general matters of life.

The retired DuPont executive had a wonderful family, a good income and the opportunity to travel abroad. His name had appeared in BusinessWeek magazine. He volunteered on the boards of various charities.

"Then I said, 'You know, God, you've given me such a good life,'" Hatter said. " 'What can I do for you?' "

A year later, Hatter enrolled in Princeton Theological Seminary to become a pastor, something he had never imagined himself doing.

He graduated in 2002, and in January he joined the staff at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Dunedin.

Hatter, 64, is the church's first African-American pastor, and he and his family are also the only black members of the congregation.

Church leaders said in announcing Hatter's hiring that he "is ushering in a new era" in a "community without sizable racial diversity."

First and foremost, though, they say he fills a key leadership position at the church.

"Rev. Hatter is filling a very important role," said church elder Earle Brown, a St. Andrews member for 26 years. "The fact that we may be able to bring more African-Americans into the church is frosting on the cake."

Hatter is in charge of congregational care; his primary job is to visit homebound church members and those in nursing facilities and hospitals. Once a month, he gives sermons at the church, and he preaches at other churches as a fill-in minister.

For Hatter, too, the fact that he's the first black minister in an all-white church is beside the point.

"We are to model the kingdom of heaven," Hatter said. "I think the kingdom of heaven is very diverse. ... Diversity will happen. I leave it in God's hands."

- - -

Hatter grew up in Flint, Mich., the son of an autoworker.

He attended Metropolitan Baptist Church, which was all black. It was the 1950s, and very few churches were integrated.

After high school, he joined the U.S. Air Force and served from 1960 to 1964. One summer, he worked on the assembly line at a Chrysler plant. He made good money, but the work persuaded him to complete his college education.

For Hatter, 1965 was a big year.

That year, he said, he went to Montgomery, Ala., where he met and marched with Martin Luther King Jr. That weekend changed his life.

"It was fearful, it was inspiring, it was full of hope and somewhat full of anguish," he said. "Marchers were beaten by the state troopers. A state trooper (deliberately) hit a person in front of me in the kidneys. I still wonder why I wasn't injured. God kept me from harm that day."

When he returned to Michigan, Hatter decided to "work as an insider to effect change in a positive way, to work within the existing corporate structure and to be a role model for other African-Americans," he said.

He attended the University of Michigan and graduated with master's degrees in electrical and computer engineering.

Also in 1965, he married his sweetheart, Phyllis, and began working as an engineer at DuPont in Wilmington, Del. The couple had two children, Kimberly and Gregory.

It didn't take him long to join the executive ranks, and he eventually became the company's director of human resources.

After Hatter spent 24 years with DuPont, the corporation was restructured, and he was offered an opportunity for early retirement, which he accepted.

For five years, Hatter traveled, read and played golf. He and his wife also found a church that they liked, the predominantly African-American Community Presbyterian Church in Wilmington. It was different from the Baptist church he was accustomed to.

"I loved the theology and the ecclesiology," Hatter said.

He became a Sunday school teacher and Bible study leader. His wife became a deacon.

After some encouragement by the clergy, Hatter decided to attend the seminary.

When he graduated, Hatter served at churches in Wilmington, Daytona Beach and Clearwater before coming to Dunedin. In 2006, he was appointed stated clerk, or chief administrative officer, for the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, a position he still holds.

The Rev. John Fullerton, the senior pastor at St. Andrews Presbyterian, said the church did not hire Hatter in an attempt to become diverse.

"Race is a nonissue," he said.

Rather, Hatter was hired because he is an exceptionally compassionate man, Fullerton said, adding that the church members have embraced him.

"We don't have an agenda to do any racial balancing," he said. "Norm happens to be a black guy and I happen to be a white guy. I look forward to the day when a visitor walks in and says to a church member, 'I think it's really great that you have an African-American pastor,' and the person looks at Norm and says, 'Yeah, I guess he is.'"

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or

[Last modified May 23, 2007, 21:12:14]

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