Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are thrilled to interview, Jenny Call. Jenny IS what a minister looks like!
Jenny, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My ministry journey began with a closed door. I was a junior at the College of William & Mary, studying biology and chemistry with the goal of becoming a medical researcher. Although I struggled to get mediocre grades in these subjects while acing my others, I was somehow still surprised when my advisor and research supervisor gently told me that I was not cut out for research. I graduated without a plan for the first time in my life, feeling lost.
I had found my community at the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM), though, where my mind opened and faith deepened as I witnessed the diversity and vitality of Baptist theology and practice. I followed BCM friends who were moving to Richmond for seminary, knowing I would at least have a place to land. Over the next year I wandered through the void of meaningless jobs to pay the bills until I discovered my true passion volunteering with the youth group at my church. At a youth retreat, I finally saw the door that God had been holding open and answered the call to ministry.
I had never considered vocational ministry although I had grown up as a leader in the church. All the pastors of my fundamentalist Southern Baptist church had been men. Nancy Stanton McDaniel, who served as education minister in the church where I had attended preschool, was the only woman in ministry that I had (briefly) encountered. When I excitedly announced my calling to my church, my pastor replied that God doesn’t call women to be pastors. I was not deterred as my passion was strong and the peace and support I found through discernment was enough affirmation for me.
My next door opened to Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond where I saw a woman preach for the first time. I met and married my husband (as I like to joke, I found my second call, my John Call, at BTSR). I had the opportunity to intern as a youth minister at Northminster Baptist in Richmond and to return to William & Mary as a BCM intern. My first full-time ministry position was at the Virginia Baptist Children’s Home (renamed HopeTree Family Services) in Salem, Virginia where I served for eight years as chaplain and director of Christian Education. I then served as University Chaplain at Hollins University for the past nine years.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest joys in ministry have been walking alongside young adults who are discerning their identity, faith, and vocation. Whether it is counseling at-risk youth through trauma or mentoring college students who are seeking meaning and purpose outside of a religious tradition, I feel a particular compassion for those on the margins, the spiritual but not religious who have not found the church to be a welcoming place or have been excluded because of their identities. I coined the phrase “find sanctuary” to invite people to seek connection, explore practices that nurture the spirit, and serve in faith. Creating these sanctuary opportunities for renewal, meaning-making, community building, and wellbeing have opened doors for me to see and understand God in new ways with and through my students.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
It has been my joy to help others discern their true self and calling just as it has been a challenge for me to find my own. While I have experienced external challenges (having both my calling and ordination questioned), the bigger challenges have been internal. Early in my ministry, I struggled to see myself as a leader. As an introvert and a woman, I had few examples of someone like myself in charge. But over time I have come to recognize my gifts for nurturing, for listening, for creating a space in which others can authentically share and community is built.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
Having a community of women clergy friends (whether in local clergy groups, the Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry, or BWIM) has helped me to learn how to live out my calling without losing myself. The issue of work/life balance is ever elusive, particularly for women. Perhaps the best ministry advice I’ve received from women minister friends is around setting good boundaries—knowing what is and isn’t mine to carry and how to establish limits. I’ve learned that while balance is an impossible goal, I can strive for integration and harmony in the different areas of life, understanding that the needs are always shifting.
It is certainly a season of shifts. In this phase of life and ministry (in a pandemic, no less) I stand once again in front of a closed door. I have come full circle as my family and I have returned to Williamsburg, following a calling that remains unrealized. As I wait out hiring freezes for an opportunity to open, my challenge is to understand my vocation in this moment. What does it mean to minister without a title, without a congregation, without a ministry setting (besides my home)? What does faithful waiting look like when I’m certain of my calling and yet the door is not yet open? While it is much more comfortable for me to support others through their waiting and discerning, I know God has much to teach me in this time. I look forward to the journey, especially seeing what is on the other side of the door.
Jenny Call is a chaplain and national board certified health and wellness coach.