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New pastor back on college campus


This is the fifth installment of a yearlong series that will follow newly appointed United Methodist clergy as they begin their ministry.

7:00 A.M. EST Oct. 15, 2010

The Rev. Mara Bailey
The Rev. Mara Bailey
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A year after graduating from Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, the Rev. Mara Bailey finds herself back on a college campus. Only this time, she’s not a student – she’s ministering to them.

The 26-year-old pastor is in her first semester as university minister at Nebraska Wesleyan University in Lincoln.

“I always felt called to work with young adults and campus ministry was intriguing to me,” Bailey said. “I experienced my own call to ministry through the campus ministry at my college. I’m excited to be able to share that with other students.”

Due to the United Methodist itinerant system, where bishops appoint clergy to their positions, Bailey wasn’t sure if she’d get to pursue campus ministry.

“I assumed I wouldn’t have much say in where I was appointed, and I figured I’d start in a local church and would have to keep my eyes open for a campus ministry opportunity,” she said.

But a chance encounter with another bishop opened a door for her.

“I was speaking at Perkins for a breakfast for the Council of Bishops. Afterward, Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson of the Nebraska Conference introduced herself and said, ‘I don’t know if you’re interested in campus ministry but I have a position I need to fill.’”

Since Bailey is ordained in the Iowa Annual (regional) Conference, she had to request permission from her conference to apply for the Nebraska job. Both conferences came to an agreement, and she started in July.

“It did take me a while to get the feel for it because students weren’t on campus yet when I started. I was wondering ‘what am I here for?’ but since the students showed up it’s been a whirlwind. I love it because every day is different and I don’t know what to expect.”

Those daily duties could include supervising a staff of eight student interns, planning weekly worship services or being available to counsel students or even faculty.

“The biggest challenge is figuring out where best to spend my time,” Bailey said. “I have a job description, but there’s always something on campus I feel I should be doing.”

Youth is an asset

One wonders if being so close in age to the students would make it hard to be seen in an authoritative role, but Bailey sees it as an asset.

“I think in general it helps me be seen as someone easy to relate to; I understand the young adult mindset. There have definitely been times when I serve as the ‘religious figurehead’ of the college and I wonder what people think of my leadership being so young, but I've never had anyone mention anything like that.”

Actually, Bailey thinks her age makes her a better role model. She says her position as a young clergywomen has intrigued other young women in college who are interested in ministry, and “that has been the basis for some great conversations about young adults who feel called to serve God.”

Bailey is waiting to see how she reacts when her current crop of students starts to graduate, but she is also excited at the thought of meeting and ministering to new students.

She doesn’t know what the future holds for her or her ministry, but for now she feels she’s where God wants her to be.

“I came in thinking I should give myself a year to evaluate whether I have a gift for campus ministry, and so far I just love it! I suppose I could be called away by the bishop at any time but I hope I can live this out for a little while.”

*Butler is editor of young adult content for United Methodist Communications, Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Joey Butler, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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