After 16-plus years as a K-8 guidance counselor in the Blue Ridge school district, RENEE ANTROSIO answered the call to join the 75-member New Covenant Fellowship in Champaign in June 2016.
“I felt God calling me in a different, surprising direction,” the 46-year-old pastor remembers.
Staff writer Tim Mitchell sat down with the board-game enthusiast for a wide-ranging conversation about her experience as a foreign exchange student in Russia, helping her parents with missionary work in South Africa and much more.
How did you receive the call to become a minister?
In most churches, people serve in lots of ways even if they are not a pastor. I didn’t actually think that I would be a pastor. I thought my commitment to following Jesus wold lead me to become a missionary. That seemed to be the only accepted ministry where women could be strong and gifted leaders.
I was working at Blue Ridge and had been there for more than 16 years, and I loved it there. I loved the people, and I loved my job. Then I felt God calling me in a different, surprising direction.
The senior pastor here, Ron Simpkins, retired, and our church wasn’t really sure what we were going to do. The leadership team asked me if I would help out a little bit and do a sermon here, a sermon there. I said I would try. It turned out to be a really good fit for me and for the congregation. There was a year of transition where I was wrapping up things at Blue Ridge and getting things started here.
Your dad was pastor of an independent church in Montana when you were growing up. What was his reaction when you told him you’d be following his footsteps?
He was really glad about it. There are things that we talk about now that we never talked about then. We have a lot in common. My dad and I had always talked about the Bible, but we talk about it a lot more. My parents come to my services here once a year.
What’s your first memory of church?
When I was really little, we actually went to a Methodist church in the morning and we would sit as a family. The church that my dad pastored met in the afternoon. So we would go to the other church where my dad would preach. I thought it was normal to go to two church services every Sunday.
Where’d you go to high school?
I went to Choate Rosemary Hall, which is a boarding school in Connecticut. It helped me to grow up fast. I had grown up in such a remote part of Montana that the educational opportunities were limited. My older brother went to one boarding school, and I went to another.
I was a basketball player. Our team was called the Judges. Now the team is called the Wild Boars. I was a forward for the Judges. During my sophomore year, our team won the whole division. I was not the star. I was a supporting player.
I took Russian in high school, and for my junior year I was a Russian exchange student, living in Moscow. It was also a boarding school. By the time I arrived in Moscow, I had only taken two years of Russian, so I really learned fast. It was 1987, and it was right before the fall of the Soviet Union. Mikhail Gorbachev was President. It was a tumultuous time, but it was an exciting time in Russian history. A lot of things were opening up.
How did you end up in South Africa?
Because I was in boarding school, when my parents became missionaries in South Africa, I didn’t go with them. But I spent three different summers helping out in the missionary school.
In South Africa, the climate is flipped, so their summer is our winter. I helped out in the school during those summers. So there were three years when I didn’t get a real summer because I went from our winter in the United States to winter in South Africa.
How did you meet your husband, Jubal Croegaert?
I was attending Amherst College, and he was at the University of Illinois. During the summer following my junior year in college, we met in the upper peninsula of Michigan. We were both attending a month-long leadership training program. For our first date, we went out for coffee.
And then I did my graduate work at the University of Chicago. We made a lot of trips back and forth between Chicago and Champaign. We were married in 1996. Today, Jubal works for the Unit 4 school district here in Champaign. He does truancy intervention and mentor coordination with Garden Hills and Dr. Howard schools. We have two children, 19-year-old Josiah and 16-year-old Grace. We have four drivers and three cars.
What do you remember about your ordination day?
It was August of 2016, right here. The staff from Blue Ridge came. It was really nice. The two senior pastors who had been here most of the time I have been here were the ones who ordained me.
Do you remember your first sermon?
My first sermon was about Passover. My parents’ best friends, that I grew up with, live in Jerusalem. They are Jewish. The Jewishness of Jesus and Hebrew scripture is a lot of what I bring to the understanding of the Bible.
I talked about the part that Passover played in Easter.
What ministry are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the collaboration we have done with different people in the community.
Daily Bread was leaving here just when I was becoming pastor. They were here for seven years and ran their soup kitchen out of here. Now we have the Greater Community AIDS project. They have their food pantry here.
We have been able to open up our building to lots of organizations. We had the men’s shelter here for over a year. We have had the Good Friday Streetfest here. And we have started doing joint services with Restoration Urban Ministries. We went there on Martin Luther King Sunday, and they came here on June 23. We plan to return there at the end of September.
If you could meet anybody from the Bible, who would it be?
I would like to meet Jesus. But I would love to have dinner with Paul. That would be fascinating. He is brilliant. I would love to hear what he has to say about our culture.
Do you have any hobbies?
I enjoy playing board games. I like to win at cribbage and lose at backgammon.
How about a favorite vacation destination?
Going to Italy. I have been there three times. I have family that lives there.