Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Andrea Edwards.
Andrea, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
As a person with a science background, I think about humanity as the substrate, or layer upon which ministry is done. Because people are everywhere, the opportunities for ministry are, indeed limitless. I can now apply this concept in retrospect as I think about my own experiences in ministry. With that, although my first formal ministerial experience was when I served as graduate assistant to the Dean of the historic Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University, I came to understand that many of the ways that I was accustomed to existing in the world and walking alongside others in community and the work I engaged in was, indeed, ministry.
As far as what I now recognize as the beginning of a call to ministry, I remember being at home over Christmas break as a junior while I was an undergraduate student at Wake Forest University. I had a series of “strange” dreams. Thank God these dreams did not announce themselves as a “call,” nor did I realize that this was one way to understand what I had experienced. I am confident that I would have been far less agreeable, to say the least. In the dreams, I had started a faith-based counseling practice that focused on holistic wellness and integrative care. I knew of no one who was doing this kind of work and had never heard of anything like it at that time.
After graduation, I returned home for a couple years and worked as a licensed personal trainer. As a trainer, I applied what I had learned as a Health and Exercise Science major in practical application. I witnessed and perhaps, even helped to bring about, healing for my clients. We worked to achieve their fitness goals and rehabilitation, but there was also something less tangible at work — they also seemed to find themselves in a better state psychologically, emotionally and perhaps spiritually than when we started. They talked; I listened. It appeared that the very act of sharing that which ailed them, but was unseen, enabled our professional relationship and commitment to attending to their physical concerns (injury or rehabilitation need) to become stronger.
In that time, questions were raised for which I had no answer, which brought those strange dreams from college back to the forefront of my mind. I wanted to prepare to develop a clinical/pastoral/counseling ministry that would attend to these needs—both the seen and unseen in a holistic approach to health and wellness. With those questions in my head and heart, I went to Howard University School of Divinity to get a theological basis for this integrative work. I needed to delve more deeply into the questions that had been raised through my experiences at the intersection of faith, health, spirituality and healing.
After graduation from Divinity School in 2012, I went back to my hometown in Greensboro, North Carolina where I served my home congregation. Upon returning, I was licensed to preach and became involved in the life of our faith community. I was later appointed as an associate minister, and have had the privilege of serving in this capacity since that time. This has been a learning lab for my development as a public religious leader and fellow journeyer with those who hurt, seek meaning, question, rejoice, and desire to be well. I was ordained as a Baptist minister in 2014.
At the same time, I also worked in student services at North Carolina A&T State University. In that communal and individual work, I encouraged my students to ask the difficult existential questions in life and seek answers within themselves in light of their own beliefs. I found meaning in helping each student to navigate life by meeting them where they were and ensuring them that, while their particular circumstances were unique, adolescent struggles are universal.
Because I worked at a public institution, the ways I guided and helped them to explore their spirituality was not direct, but I encouraged them to be thoughtful each day by reflecting and making sense of their experiences through their core values and beliefs. I found that this opened the door to a meaningful encounter and created a safe space for the exploration of needs. I later came to understand that this was ministry. Today, in my work as Assistant Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Wake Forest School of Divinity, I hold space for prospective and current students in similar ways. My title has changed, as have the goals and vehicle of my work, but the processes and tools are very similar. I am privileged to journey with those seeking answers to the hard questions, and more specifically—how divinity school can help them to connect the dots in their own lives. I find meaning in walking with these seekers of opportunities for transformation, not just for themselves, but also for the communities and people they are called to serve.
How has your understanding of calling and discernment changed, grown, expanded in these last few years as you have worked with students at Wake Forest?
I have experienced an evolution in my understanding. Prior to working in student services at North Carolina A&T and in Admissions at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, my experiences with the notion of discernment and calling felt very personal, because they were. I was trying to “figure it out” both quickly and definitively as a student. I felt enormous pressure to do so because that’s what society tells us. In my work with college, graduate and prospective students in the throes of similar circumstances, things became more clear for me. Each person’s journey is truly unique. Because of the ways the School of Divinity is innovating theological education, I have been witness to our students exploring, taking ownership of, and seeking to live into the unique ways that God is calling them forward. As the recruiter and someone who is often privy to parts of the strangely beautiful, sometimes scary, often messy, process of discernment as it unfolds, I have learned to be a participant observer as people listen for the voice of God along their journey.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
One of greatest challenges I have encountered in ministry has been in making sense of the fact that God has and is calling me in ways that do not resemble “traditional” ministry. When I was in divinity school, many of my classmates and closest friends felt called to congregational ministry—I did not. That was difficult because I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I knew that God had called me to the work I was passionate about. I felt like the perfect “misfit” as a seminary student. Because of that discomfort, I grew and I began to flesh-out what God was up to. I began to embrace this and have long since discovered that ministry looks different depending upon the work it’s meant to do and with whom it’s meant to be done.
Where have you found encouragement and inspiration in ministry?
Gosh, I am encouraged and inspired in both the major and the minor, the big and small, and in the ordinary and extraordinary. I try to be intentional in how I live from moment to moment, and in that, I have found that I can be fully present to the ways God is speaking through and in my life. I am also encouraged by the hope I witness in others daily, which helps to ignite something in me, especially when life is tough. I am encouraged when I see and experience others living into the fullness of their own callings in all the ways that means for them. In that, I am inspired to be and do the same.