Moorestown Religious Leaders Series: Reverend Linda Pepe

Reverend Linda Pepe is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Moorestown where she is spreading a message of acceptance.

Pastor Rev. Linda Pepe sits in front of the sign at First Baptist Church of Moorestown on Wednesday, July 12. Pepe has helped issue in a tide of inclusivity with a message of compassion for minorities and the LGBT community.

Before the Rev. Linda Pepe was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Moorestown, she was working as an interior designer, and her coworkers agreed there was just something inexplicable about Pepe’s interaction with clients. She said strangers would come in and just open up to her without hesitation. One day a client walked directly up to Pepe and asked her if she thought God loved her.

“My coworkers would always say to me you’ve got something on you,” Pepe said with a laugh.

- Advertisement -

She realized she had a capacity for getting people to open up to her. Today, she is using that skill to cultivate an atmosphere of inclusivity and acceptance as she enters her sixth year as pastor at First Baptist Church of Moorestown.

Pepe grew up just outside Newark and was raised Presbyterian. She came of age during the tumultuous race riots of the 1960s, and she said she thinks that contributed to race relations becoming such an emphasis in her ministry work later on.

She was married with four kids when she began working in interior design. At the time, Pepe and her family were living in Central Jersey and attending a local Baptist church. She said her family had always been actively involved in the church, but it was circumstances unfolding outside the four walls of the church that began pushing Pepe toward a life of religion.

With four kids, she said her house somehow became a go-between home for “stray” children. Her children’s friends or kids aging out of foster care often made their way to Pepe’s home for a temporary reprieve. The constant influx of children got Pepe thinking she wanted to somehow open a children’s home or give children a place to go.

Then, in her early 30s, a friend invited Pepe to attend a commitment ceremony, a celebration between two men. She spent the trip surrounded by members of the homosexual community, and she was disheartened to find for many, church was not a welcoming place.

“I felt so bad because the church had always been such a rock for me,” Pepe said.

Through her conversations, she found herself reassuring the men she was attending the ceremony with that God loves them — no matter what. She said it was the first time she felt herself breaking through to people with this message.

“I just thought I need to do this the rest of my life,” Pepe said. “I need to tell people that they’re loved because people don’t believe it.”

With a desire to reach out and help spurring her forward, Pepe enrolled in New Brunswick Theological Seminary. She said she was in her early 30s at the time, but her plan wasn’t to become a pastor. She focused her studies on urban ministry and anti-racism work, and in fact, in her senior thesis, she staunchly expressed her disdain at the idea of becoming a pastor to a small, country congregation.

Life had other plans, however. Pepe found herself preaching once a week as part of her time at seminary school and was shocked to discover just how much she enjoyed the experience. Upon graduation, she became a pastor at a small, country church in Rocky Hill, where she would serve for five years before coming to Moorestown.

Since coming to Moorestown six years ago, Pepe has issued in quite a bit of change, bringing with her a progressive style. The banner that hangs at the entrance to First Baptist is Pepe’s mantra of sorts. It reads: “God loves you just the way you are … no matter what.”

“Once you internalize that, it just changes your life,” Pepe said.

She said what makes First Baptist different from some other churches is members of the LGBTQ community walk in and are truly accepted. She said some churches just tolerate homosexuality. At First Baptist, no one is challenged for being gay; they’re just accepted, Pepe said.

The church’s message of acceptance extends beyond the LGBTQ community as well. She said First Baptist’s congregation of more than 200 is diverse in both ethnic backgrounds and ages, bringing in people from communities outside of just Moorestown.

An important part of Pepe’s work has been opening people’s eyes to white privilege. Her goal is to get people examining the systems in place in the country that enable racism. With that awareness, people can begin examining the world through anti-racist eyes, Pepe said.

She gets her congregation engaged with sermons that are interactive. Some weeks, this means having everyone write a message of hope on a leaf and assembling these leaves into one piece of art on display during Sunday service. Other weeks, Sunday service may include an Adele song or a movie clip. She said some people are more visually oriented, so it’s about incorporating a number of learning styles into Sunday services.

Pepe said her favorite part about being a pastor has undoubtedly been the connections she’s formed along the way. She finds a deep sense of fulfillment in getting to know people and watching them transform as they use their gifts.

“Every day it’s different; I think that’s the best part about pastoring,” Pepe said. “The people in the church are always growing and changing.”

For more information on First Baptist Church of Moorestown, visit

- Advertisment -