Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Kate Hanch.
Kate, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I felt a distinct, almost mystical-like call to ministry when I was sixteen, and haven’t wanted to do anything else since. I majored in religion in college and went straight to work on my M.Div. at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. I’ve tried (at times more successfully than others) to consider every job as a preparation for ministry. I often prayed in college: “Let everything I do be an act of worship toward you, O Lord.” I still believe this. Since the time of my calling, some of my jobs have been as administrative assistant, a bank teller, a childcare worker, a cashier, a student activities assistant, a children’s and communications pastor, and a seminary and undergraduate instructor. These positions have taught me empathy, compassion, and organization. Along this journey, in church life, I think I’ve filled in teaching for Sunday School in almost every age group (from preschool to adults), set up chairs, decorated for Vacation Bible School, and preached sermons. Each position and job, both paid and volunteer, shaped me as a minister. (And, if we think about it, aren’t all followers of Christ ministers?) Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I teach adjunctively, work at a small non-profit organization, and serve on the leadership team at my church.
What are your hopes and dreams for living out your calling in the future?
I’m constantly discovering my call anew. I perceive my academic calling and ministry calling as intertwined. My goal in pursuing a Ph.D. in theology is to foster thoughtful theological action and thinking that leads to flourishing in the church and the world. As I’m reminded by liberation theologians, our theological commitments often mean life or death (manifesting spiritually, emotionally, and physically). That is, what we believe about God and one another affects how we prioritize, live, and act in the world, from the smallest decisions to the big ones. In ministry, I want to help people realize how the Holy Spirit is present and active in their midst, and encourage their participation in the work of the Triune God. In academia, I hope to listen to and highlight the voices that have been overlooked by traditional systematic theology. This is a tactic I’ve learned from Womanist and liberation theologians. For instance, I’ve presented papers on the theology of Julian of Norwich, Anne Dutton, Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, and Sojourner Truth. Their voices depict a God who desires all persons to flourish and often serve as correctives to the theologies of their day. I hope to live out this calling wherever and however it manifests—in the church, the classroom, and the world.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Myself, honestly. It can be easy for me to turn inward and disengage when I’m frustrated, or when many doors seem to be closing. When I encounter something difficult, I want to procrastinate. I often lack the self-discipline required for graduate studies. I have difficulties being vulnerable and authentic. I still confront imposter syndrome in both ministry and academia. The fears of inadequacy, the sense of pretending, the worry of being discovered as a fraud—these feelings have inhibited my ability to be present to and for others. Maintaining good friendships has helped me face these weaknesses. Community helps me realize that my shortcomings don’t mean that I am a failure.
Another challenge in ministry would be the inherent sexism that often does not announce itself boldly, but presents in more insidious ways. For instance, it manifests in the form of persons remarking on my appearance rather than the content of my ideas, or lip service to women in ministry without a consideration of larger systems which push against that ideal. I have often not been bold enough to call it out when I see or experience it, which I regret. I’m grateful for preceding generations of female ministers who have done the groundwork in calling out and resisting such sexism, and still more is to be done.
Who has inspired, encouraged, and affirmed you as you have lived out your calling?
How much am I allowed to write? This would take a small book, and I’m only sharing a part. My parents, knowing the ministry journey would be difficult, encouraged me anyway and demonstrated what hospitality and curiosity look like. The churches where I grew up—Centertown Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Jefferson City—had wonderful Sunday School teachers and pastors who loved me well. My youth minister, Melissa Hatfield, demonstrates a sense of humor, justice, and compassion in her approach to ministry. In seminary, Holmeswood Baptist Church—both the clergy and congregation—was a great teaching congregation. They gave me the space to test new ideas and make mistakes. My mentors, Kathy Pickett and Keith Herron, gave me permission to experience the full range of ministry—the beautiful, the mundane, the difficult. Kathy’s own call story still sits with me and inspires me, and our conversations promoted a deeper self-understanding. Keith encouraged me to apply at Garrett for my Ph.D. I sat in their offices as we worked out conflicts, planned worship, and discussed pastoral care. I consider them dear friends today.
On my journey in academia, I received another mystical-like experience while sitting in Molly Marshall’s constructive theology class at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, when she and another student affirmed my questions and prompted me to consider further studies. Molly was the first woman with a Ph.D. in theology whom I had met, and her commitment to both the academy and the church was something I wanted to be and do. As a student, she, along with the whole community at the seminary, offered me opportunities to test both my ministerial and academic gifts.
My friends and family have encouraged and affirmed me, even if they do not live in ministry or academia worlds. For instance, when I was ordained, some friends from college, from a former job, and extended family members showed up for the service. They were not necessarily familiar with Baptist ordination, and some did not attend church regularly, but they were present with me and ministered to me.