In my first week as president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, I quickly realized that there are stories from the Central community that need to be heard—not heard just by me but by all who love and are committed to the seminary. To share those stories with you, I am “interviewing” students, alums, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters, and each week I am sharing an interview with you on this blog titled THIS IS CENTRAL. I look forward to getting to know this community, and I invite you to join me on the journey.
My interview today is with Melissa Dowling, a 2011 graduate of Central.
PD: Melissa, tell us a bit about your Central origin story. How did you come to be a student at Central?
MD: During my undergrad at William Jewell College in Liberty, Missouri, I was invited to a dinner that Central co-hosted with our religion department. This was the first time I met Dr. Molly Marshall, and I still remember large swaths of her speech that evening. A few years later I decided to pursue more theological education, and after visiting the campus (which at the time was a single building sans library or chapel) and having a conversation with Stephen Guinn, I enrolled. I graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity degree.
PD: Tell us about your call story and your ministry journey—how has God been at work in your life?
MD: As a young child, about seven years old or so, I asked my mom if girls could be preachers. She answered that I could be anything God called me to be. My path was not as direct as it looks on paper perhaps due to my own fear and self-doubt, but I always knew deep in my core that I was called to ministry.
The summer of 2011 great changes happened in my life. I got married in May, graduated from Central one week later, and moved to Austin, Texas in July. By the grace of God, I was a last-minute addition to an Austin-based Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) cohort that commenced in August. I completed a year of CPE and through that experience discovered the work of hospice. I was hired as a chaplain at Hospice Austin, and there had the most challenging and rewarding ministry of my life.
During those years, I was ordained by First Baptist Church of Austin and became a board certified chaplain. I stepped back from full time chaplaincy when our first daughter was born in 2017 and am currently a full-time stay at home parent to our almost three-year-old Clara and one-year-old twins Andrew and Adeline. However, freelance opportunities for ministry have continued to arise throughout this time. For example, I have had the privilege of providing pastoral care to residents of a local senior living facility on a recurring basis. I feel fortunate to have the option to be a full-time parent and feel that I am right where I am meant to be during this season. A desire to once again serve in a professional ministry role is still present, and I look forward to returning to that particular call in a few years’ time.
PD: What have been the best resources and experiences you had in your time at Central?
MD: The people have been the best resources and my experiences both during my time at Central and afterward. The professors poured themselves into my mind and heart with a commitment to both my learning and my personal growth. In class I was always struck by the depth of their knowledge and their desire to do everything they could to assist me. I am tempted to list them by name . . . and I can’t resist: Dr. Hartsfield, Dr. May, Dr. Johnson, Dr. R. Rosell, Dr. T. Rosell, Dr. Olsen, and Dr. Marshall. I find myself to this day reflecting upon their teaching.
The diversity of my classmates was also a huge blessing to me. There were several classes in which I, as a white person, was in the minority. Likewise, the gender balance was usually very equal. My learning was enriched because of my classmates and their willingness to bring their unique perspectives and experiences to our dialogues.
The very best experience with Central was a tour of Greece and Turkey with the leadership of Dr. David May. For reasons unbeknownst to me, I was selected to receive a scholarship to go on the tour, which proved to be enlightening and fun and challenging and unforgettable. While we followed Paul’s footsteps through Greece and Turkey, our education was not limited to Christianity. In Istanbul, for example, my world views were broadened via the observation that something as simple as the architecture screams conflict between the various religions and regimes that long battled for control. The insights that Dr. May provided throughout that tour provided an incredibly meaningful experience.
What are your hopes and dreams for Central in this new season of the seminary’s leadership?
I know this answer is probably not very “dreamy” but my honest first response is for the continuation of Central’s track record of good financial stewardship. Without that continued success everything else falls away. Central narrowly escaped closure once, and I am so grateful to those who stepped forward with substantial monetary gifts as well as the leadership of that time that corrected the course. I was thrilled with the news of your appointment as president, thereby further supporting the advancement women in ministry, a cause that is near and dear to my heart. I have great conviction in Central’s vast opportunity to grow not only in enrollment, but also in stature and prestige throughout the world. I look forward to participating in that forward march over the years to come!