People ask me on a regular basis what my “call story” looks like. As I listen to other people share their call stories I sometimes become frustrated because I don’t have a succinct story that is in any sort of orderly fashion. I don’t have one of those stories that make people say “Aww” when I am finished talking. I don’t have one of those stories that makes people cry tears of joy. I don’t have one of those stories by which people are moved because I fell away from God’s calling and then fell back onto the right track. I’m just ME. My story is one where God asked me to join the journey and I said, “sure, that sounds alright.”
I have known since high school that God was, “calling me to ministry,” but I was never quite sure what that was going to look like. I went through a time period when I thought I was going to be a missionary in Africa. There was a point in time where I wanted to be a youth minister, and for a brief second, I even thought about learning how to play the piano and become some sort of church musician. I quickly realized though that the keys on the piano don’t just turn into a beautiful melody overnight. The thought of being a school teacher and a lay minister tickled my imagination for some time. Being the chair of deacons was an idea or even a medical missionary . . . you name it, and I probably thought about becoming it. There was something in the back of my mind all along though that I should become a pastor, but that notion never made it to my lips until much later because the idea of standing in front of a group of people on a weekly basis terrified me. Sometimes even now I become a bit afraid when people ask me what my future plans are, and I have to say the words, “I’m going to be a pastor.”
Thankfully, Derik Hamby, the pastor at my home church in Madison Heights Virginia, knew that God was going to do something incredible with my life, and he pushed me to try new things in worship services such as leading children’s sermons, teaching adult Sunday school classes here or there, and praying pastoral prayers. Derik allowed me to go on hospital visits and to see shut-ins with him. There were times when he would ask me to do things and say something along the lines of, “you’ll need to know this one day when you become a pastor.” I would shrug my shoulder, laugh, deny that I was going to be a pastor, and complete the task that was laid before me. Looking back, I am very thankful for the leadership of my pastor who gave me and continues to give me opportunities to serve the church so that I could accept the gifts that God has given me.
My calling became embedded in concrete as I sat in the Ashe-Henderson lecture series my freshmen year at Carson-Newman and heard Rev. Julie Pennington-Russell deliver a series of beautiful sermons that made my heart dance with joy for the first time in a long time. It was then, through hearing a female preach for one of the first times in my life that I knew God was calling me to pastor a church. It was in those moments of seeing with my own eyes a woman preach that I knew it was all going to fall into place. It was in those moments that I was able to break off the chains of fear and start falling into my calling to become a pastor. As I sat in the audience, I took in every word. I sat in awe even after the services were over because it was as if fog had been lifted from my soul and finally I could see and feel the presence of God in my call to preach.
This calling then continued and as the name defines itself, God keeps speaking to me and giving me opportunities to live out what I have been gifted to do. I’m excited about this adventure. I’m excited about the next stop on the journey after my time at Carson-Newman is finished. I can’t wait to see what is next with seminary and job opportunities.
Over the past year or so I have seen the slogan,“This is What a Preacher Looks Like.” Some of my female minister friends wear the T-Shirt with that slogan. There is also a book published by Baptist Women in Ministry with that title. Over the past year I have made many wonderful preacher friends. As I look back on the past year, I am reminded that it was only a little over a year ago that I preached my first sermon. It was a little over a year ago that Randolph Memorial Baptist Church asked me to be their Martha Stearns Marshall preacher. On February 5, 2012 I stepped into the pulpit for the first time, and in that moment that God’s calling was confirmed. God is calling me to share the gospel and the love of Jesus with everyone I come in contact with.
As I stood in the pulpit for the first time, I didn’t realize that over the next year I would have the opportunity to preach five more times. During those moments of standing in front of the congregation, I did not realize that preaching was going to be something that was going to be a part of me for the rest of my life. I did not know that I was going to have the opportunity to meet so many Baptist women ministers. Over the past year I have had so many beautiful conversations with other women ministers and it brings me great joy to have the ability to learn from them and to grow and be challenged by them. Thank You! Thank you Julie Pennington-Russell, Christine Jones, Pam Durso, Molly Brummett, Nenette Measels, Kali Freels, Rhonda Blevins, Katrina Brooks, Julie Gaines, Kristen Koger, Lauren McDuffie, Molly Shoulta, Meagan Smith, Sara Robb, Ruth Perkins-Lee, Marilee Betz, and so many others who are preaching the Gospel of Love to a broken world. Preach on Sisters!
As I think of all of these beautiful women though, I can’t help but think of the men who have been there to support and affirm me and so many others. Thank You Derik Hamby, Dave McNeely, Ross Brummett, Todd Blake, Adam Tyler, Grant Carter, Mark Beck, Chad Hartsock, Gene Wilder, and the many others who do not just affirm women in ministry through words but more importantly through their actions. Their actions speak so much louder than words written on a page or spoken.
In early January 2013, I had the privilege to be a part of The Academy of Young Preachers festival in Atlanta, Georgia. It was such a wonderful week. During the week I heard numerous powerful and authentic sermons from some young Baptist women like myself who represented Baptist Women in Ministry well. I’m thankful to be a part of a community of faith that affirms women in ministry. There were so many talented young women and men at this festival, which gives me great hope for the present and future of the church. I can’t wait to see the new life that will be brought into congregations very soon.
Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching is coming soon in February. It’s not too late to ask a female minister to step into the pulpit to deliver her first sermon or her 100th sermon. It’s not too late to inspire the children of your church by asking a woman to preach so they can see and truly know that they can do anything that God calls them to.
Jaime Fitzgerald is a student at Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tennessee. She will be the Martha Stearns Marshall preacher at First Baptist Church, Jefferson City. Reposted from Jaime’s blog Every Day is New.