Brown says Journey Toward Ordained Ministry offers freedom to be oneself, along with practical approaches to ministry.
By Barbara Dunlap-Berg.
The youngest of four children, Alexis Faith Brown grew up in a fun-loving, nurturing home in Baltimore. Her mother is an ordained elder in the Baltimore-Washington Conference and her father, who died in 1996, was a blue-collar worker.
“My parents ‘adopted’ a family of brothers from my mother’s previous appointment. Our house was always full of people,” recalled Brown. She remembers being a preacher’s kid, particularly one of a woman preacher, was difficult to navigate, as well as being the only girl.
As a young adult, Brown dreamed of becoming a news broadcaster. She headed to Howard University to pursue that goal. After graduating from college in 2006, however, Brown found herself “in a wilderness.”
“Things were not working out for me,” she said. “I had no peace in my life.” It was at this crossroads that Brown felt nudged to follow in her mother’s footsteps. Having witnessed firsthand what she termed “the weight of the call,” she shied away from pursuing ordination. The man who would later become her husband encouraged her. “His affirmation helped give me some perspective,” she said. “I could not run anymore.”
“I wanted to take my time,” Brown continued, “so I started the journey and remained patient…I found support at all levels of the church.”
Checking out opportunities through The United Methodist Church’s General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), Brown decided to apply for a Journey Toward Ordained Ministry (JTOM) scholarship. JTOM is open to undergraduate or graduate racial/ethnic minority United Methodist students who are at least 30 years old and pursuing a career in ordained ministry.
“Journey Toward Ordained Ministry gave me neutral support toward the ordination process,” Brown said. “This, in turn, created a safe space to truly develop my sense of calling within The United Methodist Church.”
The $5,000-per-year scholarship and mentor support also includes an annual retreat at GBHEM headquarters in Nashville, Tennessee, to learn more about the ordination process, self-awareness and interview skills. Brown especially enjoyed informal activities during the retreat, led by the Rev. Dr. Trip Lowery, director of vocational discernment and candidacy, and the Rev. David Martinez, director of contextual leadership formation.
On one evening during each retreat, JTOM participants celebrate the students who will graduate from seminary that year. “All the scholars walk to Ben and Jerry’s, and we have ice cream while sharing stories and gratitude,” Lowery said. “The tour of Nashville happens after the ice cream celebration wraps. David walks from the office to downtown with the scholars who want to go. The next day, they may walk to the Parthenon during the dinner break. Low-key events like these,” he said, “invite scholars to ask directors and mentors random, unfiltered questions about seminary, the ordination process, tips and tricks.”
“These optional, built-in components for fellowship,” Brown said, “allow the mentors and mentees an opportunity to get to know each other more deeply as we share our stories.”
In 2015, Brown graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. Today she is a Journey Toward Ordained Ministry mentor.
“JTOM has had a huge impact on my life,” she said. “In my first year as a mentor, several of us came back to the retreat after being delayed or failing our first attempt toward our commissioning exam. David and Trip quickly shifted gears, and we were able to have mock interviews to help prepare us for the journey.
“I have been changed because space is cultivated for 360-degree engagement,” Brown said. “The journey toward ordination can debilitate one’s ability to be themselves. I have found the freedom to be myself without the fear of offense. It has given me a practical approach to recreate those spaces in my ministry.”
Brown was commissioned in 2016 and ordained in 2019, the same year her mother, the Rev. Kay Albury, retired after 40 years of active ministry. In retirement, Albury continues to serve as a local church pastor.
Now a campus minister at Howard University, Brown said the COVID pandemic has proved challenging. Most of her ministry is conducted online in collaboration with other chaplains. Yet, she sets high expectations for herself.
“I hope that those who are in my care find support and grace to be themselves,” Brown said. “I hope that I can impact the world by pushing back on the norms of lack and competition by demonstrating that with God we have more than enough. I hope to encourage and cultivate space for those to work in the harvest.”
Furthermore, Brown is a strong advocate of the UMC’s Ministerial Education Fund. “The church needs leaders,” she said. “The hardship of paying for the tools to be able to lead God’s people can cause a delay to someone God has called. I know that I was going to delay my initial acceptance to Wesley because of the funding.
“The UMC’s process . . . causes one to sacrifice,” Brown added. “I believe we must invest in good leaders to provide a space for future generations. During this pandemic, we have not been able to gather and fellowship. I believe we now understand the importance of a space like the church to serve God, especially since we may no longer have the choice to enter its doors.”