Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister on this blog. Today, we are thrilled to interview, Sharon Downer. Sharon IS what a minister looks like!

Sharon, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving. 

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry? 

My ministry journey began at an early age in Montego Bay, the second largest city in Jamaica West Indies, where I served in several capacities in church & parachurch ministries. As the daughter of two Pentecostal pastors of the New Testament Church of God, I grew up in a conservative household where several paradigms of ministry were practiced and modeled for me in the Music, Christian Education, Pastoral and Counseling ministries.  This model later became an evolving reality in my own life as I answered the call to ministry. 

While serving in my local church as the organist/youth choir director, Sunday school teacher and youth leader, I became involved with the Jamaica Youth for Christ where I served as the program director for the local chapter in Montego Bay, ministering to several hundreds of young people from many different faith communities at Saturday night rallies. Young people have always been at the heart of my ministry from its very inception, so my immense concern and passion for mentoring the younger generation served as the impetus for pursuing doctoral research in the area of “Blockages to Faith Formation in the lives of Youth in a Postmodern World.” Witnessing the transformation in the lives of young people whom I have mentored over the last forty five years, has been one of my greatest sources of joy.

Relocating to the United States of America in 1979 became a significant milestone on my ministry journey. Shortly after arriving in Brooklyn, NY, I began serving at the Lenox Road Baptist Church as Youth Choir director, Youth Counselor and later as the Christian Education Director. While occupied in these positions, my call to pastoral ministry was formalized when I attended the New York Theological Seminary in 1989, earning a Masters of Divinity degree in 1993, followed years later with a Doctor of Ministry degree at the Palmer Theological Seminary in 2006. It was after earning the Master’s degree that I was licensed and ordained in the American Baptist Church (ABC) in 1995 and 1996 respectively and since then, I have been serving as the Associate Pastor of the Lenox Road Baptist Church for the past 25 years.

In addition to assisting the senior pastor in general pastoral duties, I oversee several ministries such as the music, mentoring and small group ministries of the church. When not occupied with the demands of local church ministry, I frequently serve as a pulpit supply minister for the ABC Metro New York and also as an itinerant preacher/teacher and seminar facilitator at retreats and conferences, across a wide range of settings, addressing issues particularly related to “Women, Youth and Singles.” 

Although so actively involved in church life, yet there was a void within me that needed to be filled; and after a season of seeking the Lord in prayer for that “something more,” I was led on a path to chaplaincy, an aspect of ministry, outside the walls of the church, which was never on my spiritual radar, but definitely in God’s designed purpose for my life; it has now become the greatest source of joy for me in ministry. 

January 2011, I began the journey of becoming a chaplain at the Northshore University Healthcare System and later at the Veterans Administration New York Harbor, where I completed two residencies earning a total of 9 units in Clinical Pastoral Education, subsequently achieving board certification. For two years, I served as a chaplain to veterans from all branches of the military who fought wars dating back to WWII, to the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan. This was truly a huge paradigm shift in ministry that completely took me out of my comfort zone, but prepared me for a more extensive chaplaincy role within the wider community. Currently, employed by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York as a hospice chaplain/Spiritual Care Counselor in Queens, NY, I serve in the homes of patients and families from every race, class or religious affiliation, who are dealing with the final stages of life.

For the first time in all my years of ministry, I feel a sense of complete fulfillment by reaching people across diverse backgrounds with the ministry of presence, validating their fears and pain and bringing God’s love and care to them at the end of their lives. The experience gained in chaplaincy over the last ten years has transformed the way I do ministry; it has enabled me to see people through the eyes of Christ, who saw the suffering and pain of people and did something about it. Now I feel engaged in serving people in a more authentic way, meeting their needs right where they are, just as Christ did.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?

Managing and balancing my time between church and community while making room for self-care, are the greatest challenges I have encountered in ministry. Since God has assigned and entrusted this awesome responsibility to me in this season of my life, it is incumbent upon me to serve responsibly to the honor and glory of God, following the example of Jesus, who retreated and rested after ministering to the people.

What is the best ministry advice you have received?  

The best ministry advice received and followed-through to this day, was from my father before he died, reinforcing in me that ministry is a calling from God and not from “man”, therefore whatever I do in ministry must be to the glory of God and not for the praise or reward from “man.” This advice has helped to shape my commitment and expectation in ministry, recognizing that the God who calls, is faithful to accomplish God’s best in me.

Sharon Downer is hospice chaplain/Spiritual Care Counselor at Visiting Nurse Service of New York in Queens, NY.