Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with an amazing minister. Today we are thrilled to introduce Tiffany Triplett Henkel. Tiffany IS what a minister looks like!
Tiffany, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Looking back, I would say that both my faith and ministry journey have been significantly shaped by the seasons of my life when things did not go as I would have planned. My parents’ divorce when I was young was the catalyst that introduced me to the church, a place where I found loving community and an understanding of grace that instantly transformed and continues to transform me. It was in the context of my early years in church life that I acquired a hunger for scripture and conversation, and where I began to recognize my budding gifts of leadership and teaching. Ironically, that setting (a Southern Baptist church) was also the place where I would learn my gifts and calling would inherently have restrictions because I was a girl. Nevertheless, I had a clear sense of a calling to ministry quite early in my life.
I attended Samford University and was on track to attend Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville in the mid-1990’s when my plans were disrupted by the fundamentalist takeover of the seminary (and all the SBC seminaries). That disruption led me to shift gears and spend three years teaching middle school, one of those years in one of the most impoverished school districts in the nation. In retrospect, I recognize how very significant that time was in shaping my sense of justice and community that is very much a part of my call today.
Eventually, I found my way to Princeton Theological Seminary for my Master of Divinity studies. Spending three years in a denominationally-diverse seminary outside of the South certainly broadened my view of how and where God could call me.
My first full-time ministry position out of seminary was as minister of youth and young adults at Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. In addition to the rich experience of congregational ministry at Immanuel, I was also afforded the opportunity to continue to pursue my passions in theological reflection and classroom teaching through adjunct teaching opportunities in the Religion Department at Belmont University. My ministry time at Immanuel and Belmont was an ideal setting for me feel further affirmed in my gifts and call, all while I could safely re-pack some of my theological baggage post-seminary.
Since 2005, I have served as one of two pastors at Metro Baptist Church in New York City and on staff of the church’s community service non-profit, Rauschenbusch Metro Ministries (RMM), which provides services and programs to tens of thousands of our city’s most vulnerable individuals. In 2007, my role shifted so that I also now serve as executive director of RMM. This unique ministry context and role is constantly challenging but immensely life-giving. I cherish the creative and open spirit of a community committed to furthering justice and mercy.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
The privilege of being invited into someone’s journey – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Like pastors in most settings, it is a gift to be able to stand with people through some of their greatest joys (baptism, graduation, marriage, birth of a child), as well as through some of their deepest darkness (death of a loved one, loss of a job, illness). In my context, each story and journey is so very unique, as my ministry involves everyday interactions with individuals of various cultures, religious beliefs, and experiences. I experience great joy in the diversity surrounding me and the vastly different ways I get to experience God from day to day.
I also love the range of ministry opportunity at Metro and RMM! On any given day, I get the chance to step into our sanctuary where children are being tutored and mentored, to sit down to dinner with survivors of domestic violence who have come to Metro for support and life-skills training, to pass by the drop-in center for formerly incarcerated individuals meeting in our building, and finally to make my way to the roof of our building to check out the fifty-two kiddie pools in which vegetables are growing, vegetables that will eventually make their way to 800 individuals who come to our food pantry each month
I have also had the honor of working alongside of amazing and gifted individuals in my ministry life. I have especially enjoyed the opportunity to be a part of ministry teams, like the one I currently serve in. Over the last fourteen years at Metro, our team has been made up of a myriad of artists, lawyers, students, shelter residents, social workers, teachers, administrators . . . some who were ministry trained, but all of whom have added something vital to our mission.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
There are a lot of challenges in a setting like Metro and RMM, where there is an intensity of need in a dynamic and transient community. Our building is literally in use 24/7 with community services, arts programming, and direct support. Managing this work, honing the appropriate skills (most not taught in seminary), and discerning how to best prioritize my energies and focus, as well as that of the ministries, is a daily task!
What advice would you give to young girl in your congregation who might be sensing a call to ministry?
First and foremost, trust your sense of call! If you don’t have examples of women ministers around you, seek them out. We are out there. Listen to and read the stories of women’s calls. In your studies, make sure the voices of women and minority theologians, pastors, and justice workers are amply represented. Believe and value the unique ways God wants to be known through you – through your experiences, perspectives and your voice!