Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Geneva Metzger. Geneva IS what a minister looks like.
Geneva, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I grew up in a large family in a small farming community in southeastern Missouri, and our lives revolved around school (segregated and not equal), church and, for me, 4-H Club. My family attended an American Baptist Association (Landmark) church, but my parents did not become members until I was in college. Our pastors were usually older men with little, if any, Bible college training, and too often the sermons were meant to scare us from hell, not help us follow Jesus. I did learn that God loved me and wanted me to be a follower of Christ, but I got little help, other than Sunday School, in learning how to do that. I was on my own until college. Even though I now know that the leaders in my church were teaching me what they best understood about God, I learned that it is difficult to interpret a request or a “call” when you don’t have any experience to understand the language or words.
My dream, from the age of eight, was to attend the University of Missouri and become a County Extension Agent. While earning my degree, I found help to grow as a believer through my college church and especially through involvement and leadership opportunities in the Baptist Student Union. During my sophomore year, I felt called to “full time Christian service” and concluded that meant I was supposed to be a missionary since “only men could be pastors.” By my junior year I knew that I was being led to campus ministry, and by then I had met a few women, including Pitts Hughes and Nell Mcgee, who serving on campuses. Plus no one told me I couldn’t be a campus minister. Even though most Baptist ministries on campuses were begun by women, I believe that when the title was changed from BSU director to campus minister and a salary was attached, schools began hiring men rather than women.
The students involved in BSU at the University of Missouri who went to seminary generally attended either Southern or Southwestern. When I needed to make the decision about seminary, Southern was embroiled in the Genesis Controversy, so I chose Southwestern. I had some great classes and professors, including T. B. Maston, but the administration treated the single women living in the dorm as if we were children. There was only one woman in our dorm who was pursuing a theological degree. All the other women were on a music and/or education track. The school discouraged women who sought to study theology. When I graduated I was glad to have the degree, but I was ready to leave.
My first job following seminary was at East Tennessee Baptist Hospital in Knoxville, Tennessee. I served as the director of activities for the School of Nursing. My biggest “take away” from this job was the realization that students can speak to power. My style of leadership was not appreciated by the director of nurses, and I became the eighth member of her staff to be dismissed in two years. As a naive first-year seminary graduate, I was devastated that I was not even allowed to say goodbye to the students. I learned later that the students called every board member and pastor in the state and complained about how they and their teachers were being treated. Within a year the School of Nursing had been restructured.
I was scared and thought I would never get another job, but within three weeks I was interviewed and hired as associate to the BSU director at Clemson University. I served there the next six years and found it a good place to grow as a campus minister. On the local and state level campus, ministers were given great freedom to program for their students, and we tried to expose students to as many local and national issues as we could. There were a lot of changes going on in the nation and on the campus, including the admission of Harvey Gant, the first black student. Although we were South Carolina Baptist Convention employees, we had offices in Clemson Baptist Church and were supported by the congregation both with finances and personal attention through a student “adoption” program. We reciprocated by being responsible for the Sunday School programs for both single and married students. It was one model of church/campus cooperation. Many of the BSU students served on weekend “revival” teams and as summer missionaries. I began working with international students and continue that currently. During my six years at Clemson, I worked as associate to four different men and decided it was time for me to find a place where I could be the campus minister.
In 1966, I was hired by Radford (College) University, an all female college, in Virginia. We had strong statewide interaction among students from other campuses at Eagle Eyrie for fall convention and spring leadership conference. These gatherings and local and statewide summer mission opportunities sparked the interest of both men and women to pursue seminary education and church ministry. While serving at Radford, I was able to participate in a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) at Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. While taking a leave of absence to complete a CPE internship in 1970-1971, I discovered that the Virginia convention paid women campus ministers less than their male counterparts. I resigned and accepted a CPE residency so I could prepare to become a full-time counselor.
I then pursued a master’s degree in counseling at Wake Forest University. Near the end of my three years pursuing this degree, I was hired as the director of campus ministry by the North Carolina Baptist Convention to serve at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. I was assured that salaries were based on job title and tenure.
During these years, I was denied approval for ordination by the association ordination council. Thankfully, First Baptist Church of Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1974 revised its constitution and by-laws to affirm the ordination of women as both deacons and ministers, and a year later, I became the sixth woman in North Carolina and the fifteenth in the United States to be ordained by a Southern Baptist church.
Since retiring I have worked with Habitat for Humanity on the weekday construction crew and served two terms on their board,including serving several years on the Family Selection Committee. Even though God did not call me as a missionary I have been on five building trips in the United States, six building trips to Chile, three to the Ukraine, and one to Jordan. I served as an English teacher in Bangkok for three months. For the last nine years, I have been the coordinator for First Baptist, Greensboro’s Winter Emergency Shelter for Women. I continue to work in the citywide International Student Ministry, which reaches students at all six of the campuses in Greensboro, and now teach a women’s class.
As I age, I am developing some health problems that cannot be cured so I am having to learn to live and serve in different ways. There are always ways we can serve, but some physical problems will develop no matter our wise decisions. Adapting to limits is an ongoing struggle for me.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
A great source of joy for me has been seeing my students mature as people, leaders, and Christians while in college; knowing that alumni are still active in church years after graduation; watching couples who met in BSU live in happy marriages; and observing my students who have gone into ministry. I have found joy in mentoring many seminary students who served as interns at UNCG. I have enjoyed friendships with other campus ministers, which have lasted over years, and I have had opportunities to work with other denominational groups on campus. Being able to be involved in mission activities with the students, on my own as a campus minister, and since I retired has been a joy.
Other joys including helping organize Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina and spending a year in Japan teaching English.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
In the past, I found it challenging to deal with pastors, churches, and people who don’t accept that God can call anyone to do the work of God. These days I face health issues that limit my being able to serve in ministries important to me. I am making adjustments in my life which allow me to stay active.
What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
My experience in CPE helped me to value myself, to monitor my own actions based on my feelings, and to support others as they do the same.