As I get to know the Central Baptist Theological Seminary community, I want you to hear some of the amazing stories that I am hearing. To share those stories with you, I am “interviewing” students, alums, faculty, staff, board members, and supporters and sharing an interview on my blog, THIS IS CENTRAL. I invite you to join me on the journey of meeting members of our Central community.
Today’s interview is with Jessica Williams, Central’s registrar, international student officer, and retention coordinator.
Jessica, tell us your Central origin story. How did you come to be connected to Central and how long and in what ways have you served at the seminary?
I have been on staff at Central four years this month, serving as the registrar, international student officer, and retention coordinator, but I have been connected to Central literally all my life. I was born when my father was a student at Central. I spent the first few years of my life, formative years of learning to speak and to walk, while living in Connelly Hall on Central’s campus in Kansas City, Kansas. Later when our family moved to Oklahoma, my aunt and uncle became students at Central and so I was still able to spend a lot of time on the old campus as a child when we came back to visit. It was a great joy for me to reconnect with Central when my husband, Justin, and I moved to Kansas City in 2012, and in the years since my sister has also studied at Central—twice! I enjoy the ministry of theological education and appreciate the many ways I get to serve at Central.
Tell us about your life’s journey.
I was greatly influenced by being the child of an American Baptist home missionary. The ministries of Bethel Neighborhood Center (Kansas City) and Anadarko Christian Center (Oklahoma) and our time in Erie, Pennsylvania greatly influenced my understanding of the work of the church in the world. At the age of nine, I started attending Camp Judson on the shores of Lake Erie, first as a camper and later as a staff member, where my call to ministry began to unfold. These experiences formed in me a passion for community ministry and addressing social issues. This was further shaped by my time with the Poverty Initiative, now Kairos Center for Religions, Rights, and Social Justice, at Union Theological Seminary. I was blessed to pastor and minister with congregations in West Virginia, New York, Iowa, and Kansas before beginning my time at Central. I am now finishing up a PhD in Adult Learning and Leadership from Kansas State University in hopes that I will be able to continue to grow and serve in the ministry of theological education.
What do you believe are Central’s best gift and greatest strengths?
Central’s greatest strengths are resilience, reflection, and relevance. I appreciate Central’s willingness and ability to be curious about our ever-changing world and to adapt to meet the changing needs of adult learners, of ministry, and of society. Central’s best gifts are the scholar-practitioners, and by that I mean faculty, staff, and students, who seek to embody Central’s values of love and justice in their lives and ministries.
What is bringing you joy in this hard season of COVID? What hobbies, activities, adventures, family connections are keeping you healthy?
I appreciate this question and before moving on to talking about what is giving me joy and hope, I want to acknowledge how difficult this time has been, not just for Justin and me, but for many people and many communities. Some days in the midst of the last ten months it has felt almost impossible to find joy and hope. Earlier this spring Justin and I had once again expected to be parents and once again that did not happen. And we know that such deep loss and grief has also been felt by so many others who have lost jobs, income, health, and loved ones during this season of COVID.
Joy and hope often feel like things of the past. But what has sustained me more than anything in these times is the reminder and care from colleagues, friends, and family that we don’t ever have to walk these journeys alone. It is in the care from others in my life that I am reminded of God’s care for us. And so I have found joy in practicing my gluten free baking skills, especially when I get to do so with my mom and sisters over Zoom. I have found peace in taking walks with Justin in the many beautiful parks and trails in the Kansas City area. I’ll admit that I’ve, also, enjoyed watching my Pittsburgh Steelers do so well this season.
In the times of my deepest pain, in calling out “How long, O Lord?” I have also found my deepest hope in the promises of God. That God will never leave us or forsake us. And I have deep hope through the work of leaders in the Kansas Poor People’s Campaign and the Freedom Church of the Poor in which we declare that things don’t have to be this way—that poverty and racism and other interlocking injustices can be ended. I find hope in our collective work to build a world that God desires—a world that offers abundant life for everyone and all creation.