Weekly, as we share the experiences of clergywomen across the country and world, it is important to hear from women serving in a variety of ministry venues. Today’s blog features The Reverend Donna Hughes-Hargraves, Executive Director of United Protestant Campus Ministries. Never hearing a woman preach before and majoring in Agriculture and Horse Science, one may wonder how Rev. Donna became a campus minister! God, however, guided her unique journey to prepare her to minister to young people on college campuses nationally and internationally.
Shepastor Blog Interview with
The Reverend Donna Hughes-Hargraves,
Executive Director of United Protestant Campus Ministries
At what age did you first “hear” a call to the ministry?
I was 28 when I heard the call to ministry.
Did you share your call experience with anyone? If so, how did they respond?
Yes - while in graduate school studying another subject, I immediately changed my emphasis to the Master of Divinity program. I contacted my annual conference to tell them I was studying to become a pastor. The most interesting thing about their response (year 1990) was their suggestion to find another conference due to the conservative-ism of the seminary… so I did. When I changed to the M.Div, women were only 10% of that major’s population. I had lots of male and female seminary students who questioned our enrollment in the program. So the seminary was accepting of women, but the student body was not.
How long did it take after acknowledging your call to become licensed and or ordained?
After finishing three years of seminary, I was ordained a deacon. Two years out of seminary I served a church and then it was two more years until I became an elder. Since then the system has changed.
How would you describe your journey into the ministry?
I was always involved in church, but like I said before, I had no idea women could be pastors. I was dedicated to being a veterinarian and or just working with livestock as a county extension agent with some horse work thrown in. Being a pastor never occurred to me even though I did youth ministry for a few years.
While I was in graduate school majoring in Agriculture and Horse Science (at Texas A&M) I went to a large Methodist church. They had part- time junior and senior high youth workers. Both workers left and they were in need of a youth leader, so I was asked to fill in part-time. I also worked in student affairs at Texas A&M. Upon graduation, I went to China for a year to teach English at an Agricultural college. I knew that I liked working with youth and animals, but wasn’t quite sure how the two blended together. During my studies, I ran across research that suggested animals have been helpful in working with disturbed youth. While my interest and desire to work with youth began to grow, I never thought of being a pastor.
When I came back from China, I could not find a job. A friend encouraged me to come to seminary to learn about the Bible and possibly find a job working with youth. I studied in the youth program. While at the seminary (only two months) I heard a female minister preach. Upon hearing her preach I “heard” God say, that is what I want you to do. I had never seen a woman preach even though I was born and raised in the United Methodist Church and we have been ordaining women for a long time. Although she was in Christian Ed and was not an ordained clergyperson, I’d never seen a woman in the pulpit before and seeing her drew me to accept my call to preach.
What role models impacted your perception of ministry (male and female)?
One of my pastors was a great preacher but did not have a personality outside the pulpit, I didn’t want to be that person. I had more “what not to do” role models as far as pastors go.
I did, however, have two great mentors and friends that served as positive role models. When I first went into the pastorate, I had a three- point charge (serving three small, rural congregations). I lived in South Dakota and there weren’t that many folks around. Two pastors from the local community saw me struggling and clue-less about doing the practical, day to day things of pastoring. They took me under their wings, met with me every week for breakfast for two years and mentored me through.
What is your current area of ministry? How did you become who you are (multifaceted question I know!)
I am a campus minister. I served rural churches for three years in North and South Dakota. Realized I am not a small town/rural pastor so pursued campus ministry since I had worked at Texas A&M in Student affairs for awhile. I served at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology for 6 years. I then went back into parish ministry and served in Iowa for 7 years, had a pretty difficult church experience and went back into the type of ministry that has fed my spirit the most, working with college students. I have been at United Protestant Campus Ministries of Cleveland for 15 months.
Is it your experience that female pastors are strong advocates for other female clergy? Why or why not?
Often I find that women do not mentor other female clergy. We often get so involved in our own ministry or being part of the men’s club we forget that women clergy need encouragement and mentors. I remember when I was in seminary, there were not that many female clergy around. When I’d hear them preach, I wanted to talk with them about how they got to be where they were, tips for preaching, doing ministry, etc., However, many of them were somewhat “put-off-ish,” and were too busy to share or provide guidance or support. It felt like they were saying, ‘I had to climb up both ways through the snow – I had to fight to make it on my own, so just suck it up and get out there on your own.’ Even in the church, some of the most difficult people (unfortunately) were middle age women, working age – educated even more so than the men.
What challenges have you faced in your role as a clergywoman?
People still have issues with women in leadership, often other women have the most difficulty with us. I am also small in stature and that with being a woman makes it difficult to always be taken seriously.
What suggestions do you have to help create greater opportunities for females desiring to become pastors?
We need to make ourselves visible so that young women know it is an option for ministry. We also need to be in places that may be difficult for us as a female pastor so that we have a voice. We can’t be shy or give up the fight.
What words of wisdom or advice would you share with women who feel called to the ministry (pastorate or other ministries)?
Trust that God is in the process, find a good clergy mentor who is female, surround yourself with a good, faithful and encouraging committee.
Have you “heard” God calling you to serve in ministry, but not necessarily as a senior pastor? Are you a campus minister, pastoral counselor, chaplain or serving in some other area of ministry? We want to hear from you. Post a comment or send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,