Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Hannah Coe.
Hannah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
As a child, I was fascinated with missionaries and always envisioned myself becoming one. Corrie Ten Boom was (and is) a deeply influential figure in my life, particularly during my most formative years. I fully expected to serve God and others in an international medical missions program as a physician.
God invited me to consider other options for ministry during my college years. I served in a program called Arts in Medicine at a local hospital in Rome, GA to help patients achieve their therapy goals using visual art therapy activities.
I worked at the Winshape Retreat Center, a marriage and couples’ ministry of the Winshape Foundation, on my college’s campus. Through these opportunities, I saw God’s healing and empowering presence in the lives of others. I began to wonder if God might be calling me still to a lifetime ministry of healing, but through different means than I originally expected.
In 2007, ten years ago this summer, God invited me to my first local church ministry experience at First Baptist Church of Athens, Georgia, my home church, working with Matt DuVall as a youth ministry intern. When FBC Athens called to ask if I’d consider coming on staff full-time upon my college graduation, I felt led to say yes. I worked at FBC Athens for nearly seven years during which time I had the opportunity to minister with youth, college students, and children. FBC Athens gave me opportunities to experience church leadership at many different levels, gave me time and encouragement to complete my seminary education, and ordained me to gospel ministry in March of 2011.
In April of 2015, I made the bittersweet decision to end my time at FBC Athens and transition to First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri where I serve as associate pastor of children and families. I’ve again found myself on a wonderful team of pastors experiencing tremendous opportunities, not only to pastor with children and their families, but also to preach and serve in various church leadership roles.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
When I worked with the Arts in Medicine program during college, I met a young woman on the rehab unit. A serious infection left her paralyzed from the shoulders down and she spent weeks in the hospital doing therapy to establish a “new normal”. She was in her mid-twenties, a mother of three, and cleaned houses for a living. We became friends over the weeks and would often discuss the dreams she had, dreams about being able to walk again. In our times together, I was deeply humbled by her courage, specifically the emotional and spiritual courage she worked to build during her time in the hospital. I found great joy in journeying with her through rehabilitation, watching how peace and healing somehow found her in the midst of great loss. Even though her life would never be the same, she found the strength she needed to move forward, strength she professed to come from a power higher and greater than herself.
This story is a great example of what I love most about ministry: journeying with others, even and especially through the hardest of life’s seasons and questions; searching for and finding the healing and empowering presence of God. A child discerning a call to faith. A parent working through a difficult situation. A team of church leaders grappling with a challenging issue. I find joy in searching for God together.
What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
My greatest challenge in ministry has been learning to trust myself. I often struggle with what others will think about what I say and do (or don’t say and do). I’ve struggled to speak up when I disagree, to be patient in seasons of conflict, and to assert healthy boundaries in ministry relationships. These insecurities and anxieties keep me from hearing and trusting what’s in my heart. A while back, I found myself ready to make the commitment to practice trusting and using my voice. The more I do so, the easier it is to use my voice and “claim my seat at the table.” Guess what, the world hasn’t fallen apart yet (wink, wink). Being able to trust ourselves, to trust God-in-us, is part of what guides us during the most challenging seasons of ministry.
What advice would you give to a young woman just starting out in ministry?
Over the years, I’ve been given three pieces of advice I carry with me to this day:
You are in charge of your own self-care. In the earliest days of ministry, a friend told me that the church will not take responsibility for my self-care, that’s something for which I’m responsible. Practicing self-care has become increasingly important to me as I’ve become a mother and taken on additional vocational responsibilities. Because self-care is vital to my ability to be the kind of mother and minister I feel called to be, I intentionally build self-care into my weekly, quarterly, and annual routines. Keeping routine doctor’s appointments, seeing a spiritual director, getting exercise, regular times of solitude and silence, pampering myself…these are a few things I do to practice self-care. The more time goes by, the more I actually believe that taking care of myself is one of the best things I can do as a minister and a mom.
Even people who love Jesus will let you down. My friend Lee Ritchie says, “There’s no hurt like church hurt.” It’s the truth. Even though I know that not a one of us is perfect, it still hurts when people speak harshly, don’t keep their word, or worsen conflicted situations. This is part of journeying together in faith. When I find myself hurt or angry, it helps me to pause and say, “Sometimes people let you down.” These words have often been a gateway to grace.
Do what keeps you closest to God. Julie Pennington-Russell offered this advice to me one day several years ago. I’d shared with her my struggle to “know” what type of congregational ministry God might be calling me to. She encouraged me to go where I could be closest to God and to do what keeps me closest to God. I think about these words nearly every day.They have carried me through many questions and decisions. My future in ministry holds many unanswered questions. I find the strength to patiently hold these questions with God by focusing on God’s presence and leading in my life.