I went to Southwestern College expecting to get a good education in a Christian environment. I did not expect to be called to ministry. I started college as a Biology major, planning on being a physical therapist. Southwestern had a great program and wasn’t terribly far from my hometown. On the first Sunday that we were in town for college, despite the fact that my twin sister and I had grown up American Baptist, we decided to attend one of the local United Methodist churches with some our new friends. The second Sunday we were in town, we planned to go to the American Baptist church right next door to the UM church we had attended, but unfortunately discovered that they started at 10:40. Since it was 10:43 and we didn’t want to walk in late, we just went to the UM church again, this time by ourselves. It was Youth Sunday and I was hooked! I was impressed by what I saw from the youth of the church and decided that it was a place where I could call my church home.
During my freshmen and sophomore years, I volunteered with the youth ministry at this UM church. The summer after my sophomore year, I even agreed to be the full-time summer intern. Our senior pastor retired from ministry during that summer and though he didn’t know me very well, said to me as I walked out of church on his last Sunday, “Ashlee, keep your ears open for the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry.” I was baffled! Why would he say something like that? He barely knew me! And, I was a woman! Despite the background of the American Baptist tradition, I had not seen role models of women in leadership positions in ministry in my local church. And, I had been exposed to some very narrow teaching of some of the “hard passages” found in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians about women in ministry and had been left thinking my role was a “supportive” role in the home or church. My summer as a youth intern radically opened up my eyes to the fact that I might actually have some gifts that God could use in a way that brought glory to him! The youth pastor, Bill, encouraged me and said that if I ever wanted to be a youth pastor, he would recommend me to a church. I politely laughed it off and didn’t think much more about it.
The fall of my junior year of college brought an opportunity for me to serve in a leadership capacity with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) on my campus. The ministry really began to boom during that time! After one night of having nearly 80 people at an FCA game night, the Director of Student Life, Martin asked me, “So…when are you going to go on staff with FCA?” I was floored and said, “Well, that would be awesome, but that will never happen. I’m going to be a physical therapist.” He smiled and said, “We’ll see.” That semester I also had signed up for a New Testament class “for fun” taught by the Campus Minister/Religious Studies professor. After I did an exegetical presentation, the professor kept me after class and asked if I had ever thought about seminary. I laughed at him and said, “Baptist girls don’t go to seminary!” He smiled and said, “Well, maybe you’re not Baptist.” Within a couple of weeks I was given an opportunity to attend Exploration ’96, an event held for young people exploring ministry in the United Methodist Church which was held in Dallas that year. The only problem was that it was the same weekend as the big “grudge match” against our biggest football rival and I was an Athletic Trainer for the school. Even though I really didn’t want to miss the game, ultimately, I felt a sense of purpose and expectation about Exploration. Honestly, I don’t remember specific things that people said during that weekend, but I do remember that at the end, if we felt a call to ministry, we were asked to come forward and pick up a piece of fabric at the altar. I carried mine in my bible for years! I went to the weekend with a sense of uncertainty about whether or not I was called to ministry. I went home from the weekend still with a sense of uncertainty about ministry, but I did know one thing for certain: God had indeed been calling me to ministry and though the details were hazy, I could trust that in the right time, God would show me what to do. For me, saying yes to the opportunity for ministry meant saying no to something else that I wanted. In this instance, that was working at a football game, but it represented much more. It really meant laying down some of my plans and previous desires and being open to…well, I didn’t really know what I was being asked to be open to. I knew that I could trust God’s heart and that God would use me in the world, but I wasn’t exactly sure what all that would entail.
That lesson has served me well as I did end up going on staff with FCA, then on to seminary, and now ending up in campus ministry at the very campus where I was called! God has shown me that when we do keep our ear open to the call of the Holy Spirit to ministry, God is going to use us in ways that are beyond our imagination. I love Frederick Buechner’s quote about vocation: “Vocation is where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” I’m sure happy that God cares about my gladness! It has truly been a joy to serve God by serving youth and college students over these last 13 years! For me, the world’s deep need is that young people are often sent mixed messages from their peers, their family, or the world, about who they are. My gladness has been building relationships with young people and helping them see who God is calling them to be. God placed people in my life who gave me a word from God in the right moment to make me keenly aware to those ways that God was at work. The questions asked by people who cared about me were revealing the things that God was saying to me internally, if not through words, through desires and thoughts. I’ve seen God confirm my obedience after I step out in faith. I may not always know where I am going to end up, but I definitely trust the God who has called me there.