Background as pastor prepared Renfroe for GU role
Published: August 09, 2023
Author: Dave Bell
Though Rev. Elliott Renfroe has spent most of his career in the pulpits of Free Methodist churches in New England and northern Illinois, his job the past three years focused on spiritual formation and diversity in a medical setting.
He sees his new role as Greenville University’s Dean of Students and Chief Diversity Officer as a natural extension of those experiences. Only different.
“In those positions, especially at the retirement facility, I often ministered to people late in life,” he said. “As a result, I got a reputation for doing great funerals. But here, I have the exciting opportunity to serve younger people; to walk with them as they seek their vocational and spiritual calling. I consider that a real privilege.”
Renfroe has been employed by GU only since June 1, but he’s no stranger to the Free Methodist denomination or the University. He joined the denomination more than three decades ago, and he’s been on the GU campus numerous times – speaking at chapel services and serving on the University’s Board of Trustees since 2018.
“I feel that my personal journey and God’s walk with me has brought me to this place,” said Renfroe, a native of East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. “He’s prepared me for the work that needs to be done here. I have a high level of empathy and a reasonable level of grace. But I don’t take lightly the fact that I can impact students’ lives by holding them to high expectations.”
That “tough love” attribute comes from his experience working with men coming out of incarceration. It was his job to help them be successful in the outside world and steer them away from patterns that would land them back in prison.
In his role as Dean of Students, Renfroe wants to build relationships with students. “I want to walk with them and encourage them at a formational time in their lives,” he said. “I want to help them deal with the changes, challenges, and losses that life presents to them.
“There is a disciplinary leg to the position,” he added, “but I hope to build relationships and make changes before a crisis occurs.”
As the University’s Chief Diversity Officer, Renfroe will advocate for increased diversity within the staff, faculty, and student body, and will oversee programming to involve those diverse elements of the campus community more fully. “Some of the diversity we seek has to do with race and ethnicity,” he said, “but real diversity is so much broader than that. Again, I want to build relationships and grow together as a campus community.”
His vision for appreciating diversity is drawn from “The Free Methodist Way” booklet, which states: “When we understand the beautiful uniqueness of others, when we see the image of God in them and realize their tremendous value to the Father, we behave differently toward them.”
“That quote speaks to how we should view diversity in our world and on our campus,” Renfroe said. “If we recognize the image of God in everyone, we can learn much from each other.”
According to Katrina Lopez Liss, GU’s Chief Culture Officer, Renfroe’s position “expands our capacity to serve the growing needs of students across campus.” She noted that Ross Baker, former Dean of Students, now will be able to focus his attention on broader student retention efforts across all of community life in his role as Chief Student Experience Officer.
Renfroe began his educational journey at East Stroudsburg University in his hometown, earning a degree in hospitality management. Later, after feeling a call to Christian ministry, he attended Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, New York, and then completed a Master of Divinity degree at Northeastern Seminary in Rochester, New York.
He also holds certifications from the University of Southern Florida College of Business – Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion certification (2021) and Mental Health First Aid (2017). Renfroe has also volunteered in various capacities with the Free Methodist Church, including serving as president of the Free Methodist Urban Fellowship. He also has served with Teen Challenge Peoria, Peoria Health Department, and The Timothy Project.
Renfroe has more than 20 years of urban and multicultural ministry experience, including leadership roles in discipleship and outreach. He has facilitated leadership courses for ministerial students pursuing ordination.
At GU, he will serve on the President’s Council and will have three direct reports – Kelli Pennington (Spiritual Formation), Charity Stafford (Diversity/Student Success), and Shawn Foles (Community Standards/Safety).
Renfroe and his wife, Deborah (also a Pennsylvania native), have been married 31 years and have one son and two daughters. Deborah works from home, doing accounting work for the Dairy Farmers of America cooperative.
They love to travel, Renfroe said, and he’s had opportunities to preach in several countries. In his spare time, he enjoys riding his bike and teaching himself to play the piano.