Volume 17 • Issue 1
Southwestern @ Georgetown

The Rev. James W. Foster, Class of 1972

— Ellen Davis
The Distinguished Alumna/us Award is the highest honor annually awarded by The Association of Southwestern University Alumni. Recipients exemplify the qualities of excellence as taught and represented by Southwestern.

From the moment he first visited Southwestern University with a minister from his church in Houston, Jim Foster says he “knew immediately that’s where I wanted to go.”

It’s a decision he has never regretted.

“I came not realizing that I had come to the best possible school in the whole state of Texas,” he says.

Foster entered Southwestern in the fall of 1968 knowing that he wanted to pursue a calling to the ministry. He took a combination of courses in religion, English and history that earned him a concentration in the humanities.

“It is important to look at life in as many different ways as possible, and studying humanities taught me how to do that,” he says. Among the faculty members who particularly influenced him were Norman Spellmann, professor emeritus of religion and philosophy and holder of The Bishop Seth Ward Professorship in Religion; John Score, professor of religion and philosophy; English Professor Jeff Campbell; and Chaplain Charles Neal.

He says Martha Allen’s Colonial History class also was significant to the development of his thinking.

“She is a great example of the individual attention and the compassion I felt from all my professors,” Foster says. “The semester I took her Colonial History class I also took American Christianity from Norman Spellmann, Early American Literature from Jeff Campbell, and Social and Intellectual History from H. Ren Kent. The interaction of those classes made for my most exciting semester and may be the one time I set aside my theory of not letting class interfere with my education.”

Foster says he also enjoyed Professor Bill Jones’ reading course in his last January term. “I had about 12-15 books to read and discuss with him in a three-week period,” Foster recalls.

Foster was elected president of his Pi Kappa Alpha pledge class his first week at SU, and went on to become involved with numerous other organizations on campus, including the University Christian Movement, the International Student Association and Blue Key Honor Fraternity. He was vice president of the Student Union his junior year and president of the Student Congress his senior year. Upon graduation, he was elected by his class to serve a two-year term on the SU Board of Trustees.

“The professors who taught and mentored me, the opportunities to learn and to do ministry, the friendships I made and have maintained have helped me be better than I ever thought possible,” Foster said when asked to give a presentation about his Southwestern experience at Parent Orientation last fall.

Continuing his determination to pursue a career in the ministry, Foster accepted an appointment to serve as a local pastor on the Thorndale Circuit for one year before beginning formal theological training at Austin Presbyterian Seminary. He later transferred to Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, receiving his masters of theology in 1977.

While attending Perkins, Foster interned at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Houston, where he reconnected with former Southwestern classmate Rosemarie Williams ’70, whose father was the senior pastor at St. Paul’s. The two were married in 1976.

“I always tell people I got more out of my internship than anyone I know,” Foster jokes.

Foster also served as youth director at St. Paul’s during his seminary years, and several of the high school students he worked with during that period remain close friends today.

“Jim was always telling us about how much he loved Southwestern,” recalls Sunday Walzel Coffman ’83. “One summer he took us to visit the campus and at least three of us from that youth group decided to attend Southwestern as well.”

Upon graduation from Perkins, Foster began a 20-year career as a United Methodist minister in Texas, including appointments at Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston, Pleasant Retreat United Methodist Church in Tyler, Ashford United Methodist Church in Houston and St. Peter’s United Methodist Church in Katy.

During his tenure as senior pastor of St. Peter’s, average worship attendance doubled from 530 to more than 1,070. Foster also led the congregation through two successful building campaigns that provided additional sanctuary and education space.

In June 1997, Foster left his ministry as a local pastor and accepted an offer from Bishop Woodrow Hearn to become Area Provost for The Texas Annual Conference, the largest of the six United Methodist Conferences in Texas. In this position, he serves as a liaison between the Annual Conference and its 760 churches spread over 54 counties of East Texas. After Bishop Hearn retired, Foster served Bishop Alfred Norris, who he says remains a good friend and confidant. Foster is now working with Bishop Janice Huie, his third bishop as Area Provost.

Foster also was elected to represent the Texas Annual Conference at the 1996, 2000 and 2004 General Conferences.

“No one can tally all the contributions Jim has made to The Texas Annual Conference because he is engaged in so many different arenas,” says Don House, chair of the conference’s Council on Finance and Administration. “When it is time to be tough, he is tough. When it is time to be compassionate, he is compassionate. With both humor and dignity he displays a wisdom that is a rare find in United Methodism.”

In addition to serving The United Methodist Church, Foster has been a longtime servant of Southwestern University. He was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1997 and is now in his third term on the board. He was a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1980 to 1989 and served as vice-chair of the board in 1989.

Foster is a trustee of Wiley College and a former trustee of Lon Morris College, both United Methodist institutions of higher education. His support for United Methodist colleges in Texas earned him the Texas United Methodist College Association Award in 1982 and 1989.

Foster holds leadership positions with several other United Methodist-affiliated institutions, including the Texas Methodist Foundation, Methodist Healthcare Systems, the Methodist Retirement Communities Board and the Methodist Children’s Home.

The Fosters had their first daughter, Stacye, in 1978—the same year Rosemarie completed the one remaining class she needed to earn her degree from Southwestern. Stacye is now teaching pre-kindergarten for the Spring Branch Independent School District in northwest Houston. Their second daughter, Stefanie, will receive her degree in psychology and communication studies from Southwestern in December and hopes to pursue a career as a child psychologist.

In his spare time, and on a recent sabbatical, Foster has been researching the life of John Wesley. A presentation he gave titled “John Wesley: An 18th Century Vision for the 21st Century” served as the basis for a panel discussion during his Distinguished Alumnus celebration. Foster says he particularly admires Wesley for his lifelong pursuit of doing good works and the discipline he demonstrated throughout his life.

“For me, those are still goals I’m trying to attain,” he says modestly.