Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a woman in ministry, and today we are thrilled for you to meet Julie Gaines Walton.
Julie, tell us about your current ministry role.
I serve part-time in two capacities. I am a chaplain at Lakewood Retirement Community in Richmond, Virginia, as well as an associate for development and grant writer at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, where I graduated with my Master of Divinity degree. I have been in these two positions for just over a year now. As chaplain, I minister alongside another wonderful Baptist woman in ministry, Louise Mason, to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of our residents, staff, and their families. We lead worship services and Bible studies, offer care through visitation, provide bereavement support, officiate memorial services, and do our best to encourage each person in our community to find wholeness and resiliency through their relationship with God. In my work at the seminary, I mainly do behind-the-scenes support work with database management for our advancement office. Recently, I’ve gone through training as a grant writer and look forward to using that in support of BTSR’s ministry and students.
What challenges have you encountered along the way in your ministry journey?
Answering God’s call to ministry was not a smooth path for me. I had received two degrees from Longwood University in liberal studies and music education and had trained for most of my life to become a teacher in a public school. I was licensed and ready to teach when I graduated, but I was unable to find a job. Hearing “no” so often felt like major rejection, and when, during that season, I felt a call to seminary, there were many in my life who wondered if I was simply running away from failure.
Finding ways to make ends meet during seminary and after was a challenge. I’ve worked as a lifeguard, swim coach and instructor, and marching band instructor in addition to serving ministry internships at Farmville Baptist Church in Farmville, Virginia, and Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. I’m thankful for the diverse training and experiences I’ve had along the way, though, because through them, I’ve gained confidence; learned how to be flexible and enjoy the surprises; and I have seen that God can use each part of our lives in beautiful ways.
Serving bi-vocationally in two very different settings has both incredible advantages (I’m always doing something new!) and some challenges as well. Finding balance between my two areas of service, my marriage to Jeff (who also serves as a chaplain in a local hospital), our family and friends, and my hobbies can be difficult. It’s been like learning how to ride a bike–starting off, wobbling a while, falling down, dusting myself off and getting back up to try again, a little wiser for the wear and with a few bumps as gentle reminders. Remembering that ministry isn’t just what I am paid for–it’s all of my life and offering all that I am back to God each day—and living out of that offering, rather than living out of a mindset of scarcity, allows me to hear God’s encouragement and to find the joy each day has to offer.
Who has inspired you along the way as you have lived out your calling?
I’ve found encouragement in so many people and places throughout my journey. My internships at churches introduced me to amazing people who have cheered me on and challenged me to follow God’s leading, particularly in the earliest times as I sensed God’s nudging toward vocational ministry. Wanda Kidd and Tommy Justus affirmed my call and offered advice. Judith Myers, Jaime Fitzgerald, Lauren McDuffie, and dozens of other interns shared the ups and downs of ministry with me and helped me remember what really mattered along the way. Michael Cheuk, my youth minister who then turned into my senior pastor at my college church, offered me my first internship as a pastor and became a great equipper in my journey to seminary. Judy Fiske at Tabernacle Baptist Church called out my gift with senior adults and encouraged me to look at ministering with them full-time as a chaplain. My family patiently took the journey with me and has always reminded me that women can be anything they want to be, especially ministers, and the congregations in which I grew up in did the same. More recently, my husband has been an incredible source of encouragement and support. I love that I can talk with him chaplain to chaplain one minute, and then go on a date with him the next! I also find encouragement in following my passions outside of my ministry work setting as well, particularly in playing flute in the Richmond Pops Band, continuing to serve as a flute instructor at a local high school during band camp each year, and training for my first half-marathon in November with Jeff.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is sensing a call to ministry?
If you’re a teenage girl who senses God calling you to ministry, take the next step. Don’t try to look at the whole picture and predict how it will all turn out. Don’t try to get it all figured out at once. Take the next step, and then the next, and then the next as God leads. Listen to the people around you who tell you truth–about yourself, about your life, about your gifts and skill sets. Be discerning about those voices that just need to keep floating on past your ears. You may experience some changes that feel difficult at the time, like dynamics in friendships and relationships changing as you tell others about your call, but in the long run, those moments won’t be what you remember or spend your days thinking about. Find good mentors. Seek them out, whether they are in your community or whether you connect via the Internet across the country or world. And seek out opportunities to use your skills and grow in ministry. Don’t be afraid to take pieces of your life that seem like they don’t go together and find ways to make them work when you have peace about where you are. Don’t be afraid to do something a little different. Surround yourself as much as you can with people, activities, and opportunities that give you life and allow you to give back in return. And lastly, pray. Pray often, pray for God’s guidance, and pray for courage. You have skills and gifts and words and vision that we all need to hear. Share them with us.