Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. Today we are pleased to introduce you to Jenny Call.
Jenny, tell us where and how are you currently serving in ministry?
I am in my fifth year at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, where I serve as university chaplain. Prior to this, I ministered for eight years as a chaplain and Director of Christian Education for HopeTree Family Services, a residential group home for at-risk youth and developmentally disabled adults in Salem, Virginia. I love the variety in college chaplaincy, and it is a sacred gift to walk with students on their journeys, supporting them in the transition to adulthood as they discover their identity and calling. I see myself as an advocate for students and one who reminds our entire campus of the importance of spirituality. I advise them to “find sanctuary”, to make time and space for practices that renew and reconnect them to God and to the people that surround them.
How did you discern your sense of calling to ministry?
My call to ministry has been a roundabout journey, one that I didn’t plan, but makes complete sense in hindsight. I had decided by third grade that I wanted to be a scientist, and by college I was set on being a medical researcher, mostly due to the influence of passionate science teachers. I was on the pre-med track at William and Mary, my dream school, so all had gone according to plan. Until I became a research assistant in a biology lab, that is. I was a dismal failure. I hated the long and late hours in a lab without seeing another soul. It was lonely work, and it was technically and intellectually difficult for me, although it seemed to come easy to everyone else. My advisor pulled me aside one day and gently told me, “this is not for you.” I was crushed. I had always been told that I could be whatever I wanted to be, but she was right; it was not a good fit. I continued to push through and graduated with a B.S. degree in biology with a minor in chemistry. I moved to Richmond, Virginia with some college friends who would be entering seminary at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. After I moved, I commuted to Williamsburg twice a week to continue volunteering with the youth group at my church. I found that was where my thoughts and heart were most of the time, especially when I was working one of my two menial jobs to pay the bills. During an altar call at a youth camp with the group (at Liberty University, of all places), I prayed saying, “God, I love this so much. Why can’t I just do this as a job?” And the still, small, snarky voice in my head replied, “Well, why can’t you?” I felt a deep sense of peace and joy for the first time in years.
What/who have been sources of inspiration for you along the way?
I have been inspired by many women who have made a way for me, either through their support and love, or through their example in ministry. My mom and grandmother couldn’t have been prouder when I shared my call to ministry, even though we were in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church that didn’t support women in pastoral ministry (which the pastor made abundantly clear to them). They were great advocates and were stubborn and feisty enough to step out of their assigned submissive role and argued with him on my behalf!
My own college ministry experience helped to guide me along the path to ministry, and helped me to see the Baptist faith (and faith in general) in a much more inclusive and open way. My Baptist campus minister at William and Mary, Pete Parks, fully supported all students’ gifts in ministry regardless of gender, and invited me to do an internship there when I had little idea of what that even meant. Thanks to campus ministry leadership retreats, I had the opportunity to explore and be affirmed in my gifts and met other ministers who would later become friends and colleagues.
In seminary at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, I heard women preach for the first time. I had female professors, including Tracy Hartman, who would end up officiating my wedding to my seminary love.
My husband, John, and our kids, Brady and Maryn, are always so encouraging and supportive of my work (particularly John, who became the stay-at-home parent so that I could manage the long and irregular hours of the job I love). I have been grateful for my connection to Baptist Women in Ministry and Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry, which have gifted me with supportive peers on the journey and the inspiration of the cloud of witnesses that have opened up the path. I’m grateful for a great group of clergy women friends in Roanoke, and particularly for Donna Hopkins Britt, who remains a pastor to me as well as a good friend.
What advice do you give college women who are sensing a call to ministry?
Working at Hollins is a wonderful opportunity as we are a women’s liberal arts school at the undergraduate level. The students inspire me daily as they have a far larger vision of what women can do than I had at their age. There are some that come from more conservative backgrounds like I did, and I love to see their hope grow as we talk about how God’s calling is so much larger than the rules and barriers that people create. The students help me to grow in my feminism and to see how God has gifted us all in different but complementary ways. One of my favorite parts of my work is when students come into my office terrified as they have no plan for what they will do after graduation. I try not to smile, as I don’t want to minimize their struggle. And yet, I offer my story as illustration of how God works in unexpected ways to help us find our passion and calling. Several of those students have found themselves exploring vocational ministry, and I enjoy being a mentor to them. My advice is for them to spend time in discernment, not being limited to what others say of their gifts and possibilities, but to what awakens their spirit and passions. How is God present and working in their lives? What could they spend all their time doing, even without pay? God creates us with our interests and gifts for a reason, and calls them to use them in service in ways that are life-giving and not completely draining. I also advise them of the importance of finding a community of faith and friendship that will support them along the way.