When I went to college, I was concerned that I would not find a worshipping community. I was worried that the love and care I had from my home church would not be found in the small town I was moving to for school. On the first day on campus, while students were in mandatory meetings, my parents were wandering around and met the college chaplain, who quickly introduced them to the new associate pastor in town.
By the time I got to lunch and met up with my parents they dragged me over to these two people. Looking at me, my parents said, “This is Nancy. She is the chaplain. She will take care of you. And this is Leslie, she is a pastor in town, and she too will care for you. Get to know these two women.”
It is a moment that is ingrained in my mind and is a pivotal moment for my college years. When I stood in front of them as a timid freshman, I had no idea just how much I would rely on these two women to help guide and nurture me through those four years. It did not matter the subject matter or the time of the day, these two women were there for me as I wrestled with the joys and challenges of college life.
Nancy was there for me as my dad underwent emergency heart surgery during my first semester of college. She hosted my roommates and me for afternoon coffee. She would spend hours chatting with me in her office, as I was wrestling with what major I had chosen and the challenges it brought. She asked me to assist in chapel planning and allowed me to be the lead on service projects around campus and town. She made the image of what a woman in ministry could be — she was honest, caring, passionate, fun, and full of life.
She had a mischievous smile and would beam with pride when students like myself found our calling and dove in headfirst. I’ll never forget her smile and giggle as I told her that I had figured out life and that I was going to go to seminary and do what she did. And I’ll cherish her visit to my office when I became a college chaplain, where she brought memories, laughter, wisdom and hope for my new position.
Pastor Leslie also played a huge role in my college life. She took on this freshman as a volunteer to help with the youth group. In her invitation to this, she opened the world of ministry to me. Her passion, joy, and love of education were contagious. I saw myself enjoying Sunday evenings more than studying for biology classes or writing essays. She was the one to encourage me to take on a youth director job at a local congregation during my time at college and offered support when I felt overwhelmed as I navigated the new leadership role.
When I graduated college, Leslie showed up with a gift for me and a hug. She checked in with me while I was in seminary and provided encouraging words throughout the call process. When I took my first call, she was the first one there to welcome me. She became a colleague in the presbytery we serve and a dear friend.
What Leslie and Nancy showed me was the way in which you can and should embody your call and care for people. They let me into their lives — the good, the challenges, the mundane, the hope. It showed me what a pastor could be. These two women have shaped me more than they will ever know, and for that I am grateful. As a woman in ministry, working in the role of a college chaplain, I think about our first encounter often. The warm welcome and invitation was all I needed to feel safe, loved and cared for. It is something I hope I model every day for my students and community.