Rev. Dr. Jeremy L. Spencer serves as pastor of Odessa Baptist Church in Odessa, NY
1. What was your life or faith or ministry journey before coming to seminary and how did you decide to attend Central?
I grew up in the home of an American Baptist minister who served small churches in the Midwest, and after I received Christ as Lord and Savior in late elementary school, I felt a strong call to full-time ministry. I did admire my father, who served local churches for over 40 years, and my mother, who was a homemaker and an especially skilled Christian educator. At William Jewell College, east of Kansas City, in Liberty, MO, I created my own major, combining Biblical Greek with theological courses and an honors project, so I was well-prepared academically to attend Central. I chose Central because of its American Baptist affiliation, because at that time Central was a bit more conservative than some of our denominationally affiliated schools, because I received a significant full-tuition scholarship, because its professors (especially Dr. Robert Unmack and Dr. Fred Young) were well known to my parents, and because several graduates had highly recommended the school. How could I say “no” to all that?!
2. What memories, courses, or professors formed you as a pastor?
Probably the single most impacting of my professors was Dr. Fred Young, who was then the Professor of Old Testament and the Dean of the Seminary. Dr. Young’s gentleness and love of students was impressive. I remember a dinner at Perkins Restaurant once with a number of students where Dr. Young picked up the entire tab. Dr. Young once arranged for me to teach a course on “Jesus and the Gospels” in the evening division of William Jewell College. I received a number of credit hours for teaching that course at my former alma mater, and Dr. Young encouraged me when I became overwhelmed by the task of preparation. (I still have a large notebook full of teaching materials.) Finally, I should say that Dr. Young made the Old Testament come alive by sharing stories of his travels in Israel and the Middle East with his classes. I’ve retold some of his stories again and again in Bible teaching—never as well as I first heard the stories, of course, but Dr. Young did impart a “feel” for the world of the Old Testament and a love for Biblical languages.
3. After seminary, what has been your ministry journey and what is your current place of ministry?
After graduating from Central in 1983, I journeyed to Iowa City, IA, where I served as a campus ministry assistant at the First Baptist Church and went to graduate school at the University of Iowa. In September of 1987, I became a full-time minister, serving two small churches in north-central Iowa. Then, in 1992, I changed directions for a time. I became a Navy Chaplain, first attending Chaplain’s School in Newport, RI, and then becoming the command chaplain (and a “plankowner”) aboard USS Vicksburg (CG 69) from September of 1992 to December of 1994. After one tour aboard USS Vicksburg, I decided to leave full-time naval service. In March of 1995, I became the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Herkimer, NY, and then in 2001, I came to my present position as pastor of the Odessa Baptist Church in Odessa, NY. I have served my present congregation for nearly 20 years, and I have been an ordained minister for nearly 34 years. I married later in life, in 2003, and my wife, Susan, and I have adopted two sons, the first son from Vietnam, and the second from China.
4. What joys and challenges have you experienced during your years in ministry?
Probably my greatest joys have had to do with the people with whom I have worked across the years. My life has been enriched by the laity of my churches as well as by the sailors I met in the Navy. It has been a joy to watch children with whom I have worked grow up, have children of their own, and live their lives for the Lord. A few have even entered into more formal religious ministries. I have always enjoyed teaching; teaching the Bible has been a special joy. Finally, I would mention that the church I presently serve constructed a 5,000-square-foot church building, debt-free, on just over 4 acres of land here in Odessa. The construction process was not without its challenges and even sorrows, but overall, the celebration of the building’s completion back in 2019 was a great joy. One of the challenges I have faced has been to complete a doctoral degree, including a lengthy thesis, while serving as a full-time pastor, but I completed that work in 2019 as well. Another recent challenge has been to learn how to video-record, edit, and post our worship services online during the pandemic, since I knew nothing about video-editing before simply “plunging in.”
5. What are you looking forward to in the next phase of your life or ministry? How can Central support you in that?
I have about four years to go before retirement, and I hope to consolidate any gains our congregation has made and build for the future. Preaching and teaching God’s word have been “central” to my ministry ever since Central. Beyond those foci, I hope to enable my successor’s ministry in this wonderful congregation. Central might be helpful to persons serving in long-term ministry positions by helping us develop new visions for our ministries.
6. You have recently attended some alumni events and meetings. Why have you decided to engage with Central and other alums at this point in your ministry career?
Early in my ministry, I enjoyed returning to Central for graduations and alumni events, and I became a “lifetime” member of Central’s Alumni/ae Association (and have a wall plaque to prove it). However, there are few graduates of Central in this part of New York State. Nevertheless, Central helped me to serve the Lord for many years, so I wish to do what I can to help Central prepare the next generation of ministers.