It was the fourth night of the spring revival at Little Union Baptist Church, which sits atop a small hill in Prince William County.

Church members filed in one by one, greeting each other. Their laughter cut the cool evening air as they talked about the previous night's sermon. Newlywed judge-to-be Janice Brice Wellington sat on a wooden pew next to her husband, Leonard E. Wellington Jr., six rows from the pulpit.

Janice Wellington, in a crisp suit she had worn that day at the office, clapped as the youth choir in red bow ties sang, "I found strength to run this race in the word of God."

It was a fulfilling night for Wellington. Church is where she goes to revive her spirit, she says, to renew her faith, to give her God His glory and thank Him for her accomplishments. She was in church on a Thursday night, skipping dinner and driving directly from her law firm's office in Manassas, and it made perfect sense to her.

"Coming to church on Sunday is fine," she said leaning over a pew, "but there is something special about a revival . . . . It uplifts you, gives you an opportunity to get revived and get clear on God's power and strengthen your faith. Keeping God first. If we do that . . . everything else falls in place."

Life seems to have followed a well-laid path for Wellington, who was Prince William's only black practicing lawyer when she came to the county 11 years ago. After focusing her practice on domestic relations and personal-injury cases, she recently was appointed by the General Assembly as a judge in Prince William County's Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court. She'll be sworn in Friday.

When Wellington takes the bench, she will be the county's first woman judge and its first black judge. She will also be the first black woman judge in Northern Virginia and one of two black women judges in the state.

Wellington, however, doesn't dwell on those firsts. In fact, she said, she was surprised by all of the talk.

"There is no doubt in my mind I would not have been appointed had I not had the qualifications," she says confidently as she sits at a table in the plush board room of her law firm, Merchak & Brice, which she helped found last year. The firm now has six lawyers.

Wellington says she recognizes that her appointment is historic. It was something she prayed for, something she set her mind on, something, one might say, that was destined. Her parents gave her the middle name Justina, whose Latin base means law. To her mother, it meant greatness.

Janice Justina Brice was born 37 years ago in New York City and grew up in a low-income neighborhood in the Bronx. Her mother was a seamstress from Manhattan and her father, a milliner and merchant marine seaman from Honduras, carried on a wrinkled piece of paper in his pocket a presidential commendation for his part in the World War II Normandy invasion.

She and her older sister were told education came first. "It was clear," Wellington said. "The importance of education was always there. I guess you can go back to that old quote, 'They can't take away your degree.' Once you get that piece of paper, they can't hold you back."

The happenings of the world, including the civil rights movement, that touched Wellington as a child helped form her dreams, she says, helped define for her what she needed to do to contribute to society. That, too, was something her parents expected: When you got where you were going, you were expected to give society something in return.

Today, Wellington remembers those words; they sprinkle her conversations. Her voice becomes emphatic when she talks about how she cannot understand the people who "go to work, come home, and sit back and watch TV."

"It was always, 'Look, never mind if you're not the richest person in the world or the most beautiful or that you didn't grow up in a mansion,' " Wellington said. " 'God has given you a brain. You've got a healthy body. You take that and do with it what you will, but let it be a contribution.' "

Wellington said she looks forward to working with the youths who will come before her in juvenile court, helping to expand their dreams to give them something to hope for and reduce the chances of their returning to court.

"For many of them, their dreams tend to be very small," she said. "College, many don't think about that as an option. It's just a defeatist attitude. The juvenile court judge has a mandate not just to enforce laws, but to rehabilitate, to turn this person around."

Wellington, who gave birth to her daughter, Tonya, when she was 18 and reared her as a single parent, graduated in 1975 with a degree in Near Eastern history from Lehman College, part of the City University of New York.

Three years later, she graduated from the National Law Center at George Washington University.

"I recall very clearly as they called my name {on graduation day}. I remember getting up and embarking on stage. I looked up and there were 45 to 50 members of my family cheering. I got clear that day wasn't my day. It belonged to my family . . . . A lot of folks had dreams tied up in my dreams."

Twelve years later, the dreams of a community are hooked on Wellington's robe.

The county's churches played a crucial role on Wellington's behalf, collecting 700 signatures on a petition after the local bar association included her as its third choice among recommended candidates to the General Assembly. The legislators usually select the bar association's top choice.

"One problem here is they always say they can't find someone black who is qualified," said Deacon Leon G. Cruse, who has lived in Prince William for 21 years. "This was a case where here was one qualified."