Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister, and this week we are proud to introduce Kristen Pope!
Kristen, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
I didn’t fully accept and respond to my calling to ministry until my senior year of college, when I quickly added religion to become a double-major and began frantically looking at seminaries. The primary experience that helped me take that leap were the three summers I spent working as an intern at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. These summers were full of usual ministry activities in addition to a summer school run for the large population of refugee children at the church who needed some educational catch-up.
When I began seminary at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, I also began as an intern at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain. The people in that place loved me into the minister I am today and provided me with invaluable mentors and life-long relationships that continue to be life-giving. The May before my final year of seminary I embarked on two important journeys; one to Kampala, Uganda to serve with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel and the other with the search committee at First Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia. After a few months of navigating time zones to plan Skype interviews, I returned to begin my final year of seminary and also to begin a year of commuting and more multitasking than I could have dreamed possible as I was called as the minister of faith development at First Baptist in Rome. As I approach the one-year mark of serving in my first full-time ministry position and having graduated with my Master of Divinity, I know for certain that it has simultaneously been the most difficult & rewarding year of my life. I now find myself in a phenomenal church family that encourages me and loves me through my successes and mistakes, and it is a church home I am lucky to be a part of. It has been a journey, and I am most grateful for every mountaintop and valley.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
Kids. As they come running down the sanctuary aisle to join me during children’s worship, as they smile down at their new Bibles on Promotion Sunday, as they put pudding on my forehead in the Fellowship Hall on a Wednesday night to practice for the Ash Wednesday service. At the end of the inevitably hard, long, frustrating days, it is their love and joy that reminds me that there is nothing else I would rather do. To share one moment in particular, this summer at Passport camp during a worship response time, we were talking about how “we are enough” because God created each of us to be exactly who we are. I asked the kids to tell me something marvelous about themselves, something that made them who they are. Surprisingly, they struggled to give me an answer, but then something neat happened. They began to answer for each other, reminding one another about how funny one of them is and how great another one is at playing soccer. They held one another up when it was hard to point out the good in themselves.
Children teach me a lot about God and remind me often that they have even more to share with me than I do with them. As a three-year old told me recently, “I talk to God during nap time. God tells me to brush my teeth.” See, right there we have a reminder to talk to God more often, AND a reminder to have good dental hygiene!
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Accepting that I felt called to work in the local church was a hurdle I faced for a long time. Growing up a member of a minister’s family, I was weary of the harm that churches can do. While I am still aware of the pain churches have caused and the toxicity that they are capable of, I have also opened myself up to the beauty, healing, and transformation that can and does happen in church communities. I have witnessed the ways that churches can be forces of good in the world. Besides, it’s easier to make an institution like the church better by working from inside it than by standing outside throwing rocks at its stained glass windows.
Another challenge I have encountered that I did not expect is singleness as a minister. I mean this on two levels. First, people don’t realize that sometimes they talk about a person’s singleness as though they are less than whole somehow until they have a partner. Churches are full of well-intentioned people who imply in saying “you’ll get there someday honey, he’s out there” that a Master’s degree, my cat, and friends aren’t enough to be fulfilling right now (they are!). The best route to take when commenting on a minister’s relationship status is probably…not to comment. The second level that makes this difficult is that ministry can be lonely, especially if you have just moved to a smaller town where all of the young adults are married and most have children. Finding intentional ways as an extrovert to connect with people and maintain a social life has been difficult for me, but those connections are very important. Having a fantastic church family that seeks out connection with me as well has made this challenge much easier.
What advice would you give to a girl sensing a call to ministry?
Surround yourself with people who support you and your call. When I was figuring out my calling there were people in my life who didn’t believe I was (or could be) called, and they almost had me convinced too. Entering ministry is a brave thing to do, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of key people in my life who saw something in me and pushed me to see and believe it, too. Shout-out to Carole Barnsley, Andrea Woolley, Rebecca Caswell-Speight, and too many church families to name along with my own family for being voices that encouraged and pushed me when I needed it most. Without these and so many other people over the past few years, I would have turned and run when it seemed like an easier route was available. If you are in a situation where you don’t feel like anyone supports your calling, reach out to Pam Durso, and I guarantee you’ll have a champion in your corner! She convinced me to enjoy preaching, so she’s a miracle-worker, that woman.
Know that it’s okay to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing and to ask for help. After internships, a Master’s degree, and almost a year serving full-time as a minister, I am often still shocked and overwhelmed when I see the word “reverend” in front of my name. Be honest about when you need help, and soak up every ministry experience you get like a sponge. Along with that, know what you’re good at, and be proud of your ministry strengths and accomplishments. Keep encouraging letters, texts and emails that remind you that you are called. If you work with children, keep the artwork they give you. Keep listening to the still small voice that says you are called, because the church needs you!