They say, “write what you know.” And the two things I have always known are books and church. My dad has been a Baptist minister all my life, so church has been a part of the normal routine; church members have been like extended family. Likewise, shelves and stacks of books filled our home. Both my parents read voraciously, and they tell me stories of reading to me before I was born. I would like to think that this influence is more than coincidental to my voracious love of books from a young age. As constants in my young life, church-going and books translated into a life dedicated to education and the work of the church. Because these passions have followed me as I have grown, learned, and matured, it is difficult to point to a “starting point” of faith. I see both my Christian faith and intellectual interests as interconnected pieces of a journey of seeking, listening, trusting, sharing, and ultimately of calling.
Growing up, I loved going to church. The fact of life for a preacher’s kid of, “being-at-church-when-the-doors-were open,” rarely felt like a burden; church was my home. Though I grew up across the street from the Southern Baptist Seminary as it was shifting away from its moderate-liberal theological roots to the more fundamentalist stronghold it is today, and though I do not remember hearing a woman preach until I was in college, no one ever told me that I “could not” do anything. Despite having few examples from which to draw, it never occurred to me that a woman couldn’t or shouldn’t do anything, or everything, that men did, including ministry.
The biggest source of contention in my relationship with my dad during my adolescent years was where I would attend church, not whether. I desperately wanted to go to church, and I wanted to choose where. We were able to compromise (though it remained a touchy subject), and at my ‘second’ church I found leaders whose impact in my faith journey and spiritual identity remains profoundly felt, even now, more than a decade out of my ‘youth group’ years. I met two women of deep faith and good humor who taught me to welcome questions of all subjects. We built friendships based on trust and confidence and I count them both as dear friends today.
Because I come from a pastor’s home, I resisted embracing my ‘vocation’ as ‘ministry’ because I needed to find my identity outside of my background; I did not want to be in anyone’s shadow. Part of that process involved studying at a Presbyterian seminary in the northeast. I returned to the Baptist world for my doctoral studies, though I remained physically quite far from home. During my time at Baylor I found a church home, which was no small matter. Until then my church membership remained at whichever church my dad pastored, or whichever church I held ‘associate’ status as a ministerial intern. Through my membership at Lake Shore Baptist, I had the freedom to be involved in ministry as a member, not as the pastor’s kid or intern. This freedom was instrumental in helping me develop my own identity and understanding as minister.
Before I had words for such, I felt the pull towards education as a vocation—I wanted to learn and I wanted to teach. Responding to the influence of educators in my life, I knew I wanted to help others learn, understand, analyze, and write—to curate curiosity and critical thinking. Early in my life I understood my vocation through the lens of education—I have intellectual gifts, and I want to guide others to open spaces of questioning and understanding. Though I never felt like I left the church, I did not see my vocation overlapping with the church. My call to ministry, then, is a bit of a second movement.
In discerning what it means to pursue ‘formal’ ministry, I have felt an irrepressible and irresistible call towards a ministry of solidarity, hope, and resistance. I want to walk with and among others. I want to offer the ministry of presence, to listen when it is needed, and to speak on behalf of those who are unable to speak for themselves. In the face of forces of pain, death, and despair—whether it be institutional, psychological or spiritual—I seek to respond with the message of hope, love, and justice, made real in the promise of Resurrection. As I encountered these realities of pain and joy, in the context of a church community, I realized that as important as study and the intellect are to my own formation and call, they are only made meaningful in community with others. This I believe is the work of the minister: to walk alongside others, offering peace, for both sorrow and joy, and finding solidarity in the hope of community with Christ.
My call to Christian ministry is to be a voice of hope, love, justice, and peace in the face of a human reality that would otherwise lure us towards fearfulness, hate, violence, and despair. While we live in the reality of Ash Wednesday, knowing the inevitability of death, I am called to respond with the reality of Resurrection of, and in, Christ—that death does not have the last word in our lives. My understanding of this is not at all complacent in (only) an eschatological understanding of Christ’s victory over death, but is in the prophetic words against all the powers of death and fear that ensnare us in our earthly lives.
I certainly see my vocation and call as parts of the same whole, I see my call to ministry as an outgrowth of my vocation of education. In the local church I see my call particularly geared toward the education and discipleship ministries—and preaching, advocacy and facilitating conversation all fall under these parameters. The Christian vocation for all of us is to speak authentically to the range of human life and experience. We know that life is difficult and that it will entail struggle, fear, pain, and death. Christ calls us to respond to those things, not simplistically, nor superficially, but in a way that takes seriously the complexity and depth of the range of human experience and emotion. In the same way that my sense of call, at its earliest and simplest, emerged out of a love for books and church, it has developed out of a clear sense of vocation to educate, question, and respond with Christ’s compassionate justice, and radical hope.