Thrive

Last updated: July 11, 2024

Growing up as the child of a pastor can be incredibly challenging. For better or worse, pastors’ kids can see the best and the worst of the church as it attempts to follow Jesus and they are forced to reckon with the often taxing toll of their parent’s position. Emily Allen knows this experience very well. She grew up with both parents as full-time pastors in the United Methodist Church (UMC). While such exposure to the workings of the church can have a negative effect on some pastors’ kids, her unique experience only encouraged her own eventual calling into full-time pastoral ministry.

Because of her parents’ vocation, Emily was frequently at the local church and regularly attended services. “The church was really my second home,” Emily says. “You know, I’d come home from school and stay at church with my parents or I was there tons of days of the week and then come Sunday morning and be there all morning.”

Much of the Allen family’s lives revolved around the church. One of the biggest challenges Emily recalls from this way of life was the frequency with which they had to move. In the UMC, as in other denominations, bishops appoint ordained elders as pastors in the churches they see fit. Emily recalls having to move several times as a child.

“The role of itinerancy in the life of a pastor was probably one of the hardest things for me, but also one of these places where God showed me the most grace growing up in the church,” she says. “I can say that in each of those congregations that we were a part of there are people who are still having an impact on my life today.”

Thankfully, at each of the congregations her parents pastored, Emily felt that people intentionally poured into her, showing her the love of Christ and contributing to her discipleship. “Which doesn’t always happen, I’m fully aware,” she says. “And yet that was such a privilege for me.”

Not only that, but she says that her parents put up effective boundaries to protect a sense of private home life. She says that she never felt in competition with her parents’ ministry and felt completely free to be herself as a kid. This was supported by her parents’ commitment to prioritizing rest through Sabbath and vacation time. They regularly kept Fridays as a Sabbath day, took time off work for major holidays, and spent a couple of weeks each summer in the White Mountains of New Hampshire at Emily’s grandparents’ house. These traditions of rest were sacred to her family. On one occasion soon after they had transferred to a new church, Emily remembers her parents rescheduling a previously scheduled Vacation Bible School because it fell on the dates they annually went on vacation. “That definitely helped me to feel as a kid that being a part of my family was an integral part of my parents’ ministry,” Emily says.

Emily saw both “the good and hard sides of ministry” because of her parents, and she became aware at a young age that the church is made of people who “come with all the good that God has given us to be and all the difficulties that the sin has brought into the world,” as she puts it. However, she says that being able to encounter that reality in an environment that made her feel safe made it possible to withstand some of the harder things and even encouraged her desire to work in the church.

“I want to be part of that because I think I could make a difference,” Emily says. “So that actually kind of drew me in, in some ways, to say, hey, I know what this is like, and this is how things are not supposed to be. So how can I be a part of making a difference in the future of the church?”

Emily started taking her first steps toward that ministry calling in high school. Her highly church-integrated life naturally led to many opportunities to be involved in the local church and in various leadership opportunities. She recalls singing in the church choir, sharing her testimony in youth group, leading the youth worship band, teaching Sunday school, and more. “So the external call was kind of confirmed through some of those things,” Emily says. “And people would say to me after a leadership opportunity that they’d given me, ‘Hey, great job. This is something that you are really thriving in.’”

The internal, personal sense of calling developed over a long period. However, she felt it was confirmed at one influential moment in her teenage years. When she was in high school, Emily attended a UMC annual conference at which there was an ordination ceremony for newly ordained ministers. She witnessed many people decide to commit their lives to the work of ministry. 

At the end of the service, the bishop invited anyone who was feeling a call to ministry to come forward and receive prayer. “And it was one of those moments where you just stand up and you’re moving before you even necessarily realize what’s happening,” she says. Emily went forward and her youth leader prayed for her and gave her a pin, which she still has to this day. “That was kind of a moment where I said, okay, I think I actually am called to ministry,” she says.

After receiving this call, Emily spent the next few years of her life discerning if this was a full-time vocational call to ministry or a call to minister to her students as a math teacher, a career she was considering. She began her undergraduate degree at Houghton University, then Houghton College, still in this discernment process. She began taking education classes during her first semester at Houghton but quickly found that she loved her bible class. She discovered a love of theology and the Bible. Through further studies, she felt the Lord was telling her that she would go deeper into His word.

Then, while having coffee with a professor, he told her the fact that she had been in church her entire life and was still excited about ministry was rare, perhaps even a sign of a calling. He offered to be her advisor if she decided to become a theology major. “And that just felt like the confirmation to me,” Emily says. “I didn’t know even at that moment that I wanted to be a pastor, but that I wanted to learn about theology in the Bible and wanted to study and wanted to be excited about the church.”

While at Houghton, Emily joined the inaugural cohort of a discipleship program called the Emmanuel Scholars. The members met once a week and read books together on subjects such as calling, vocation, work, and relevant issues for the church today. Members also met with mentors and spiritual directors, took assessments like personality tests, and discussed in the group to discern and name their calling. Through the formational program, Emily felt the best description for her giftings and calling was that of an encourager. 

“That has really framed a lot of the way that I see my ministry since then,” Emily says. “That role of encouragement that I saw for myself was really about helping people to integrate into their lives the story of who God is and what God is doing in the world and to see how that touches their lives as well.” 

This inspiration of being an encourager was met with encountering many hard issues of the world she hadn’t met before college, including struggles her friends grew up with and social and racial injustices. She felt encouraging people with these struggles was also a vital part of pastoral ministry. “So that kind of element of calling really helped to clarify for me that I wanted to be a pastor because in my mind, at least at that time, that’s what pastors do, you know?”

For that reason, Emily decided to enter the ordination process for the UMC. But to step in that direction of her calling required more theological training, specifically in the form of a Master of Divinity degree. When it came time to decide what seminary she wanted to attend, she was torn between the more theologically familiar Asbury Theological Seminary, of which her parents are alumni, and someplace new that might be more personally stretching. 

“I visited and looked into a few schools,” she says. “I think the tipping point for me honestly came down to formation.” She had grown to appreciate chapel services in college and loved being part of worship and partaking in the sacraments. She felt that Asbury Seminary was a place where her spiritual formation could continue to be shaped while she was receiving her education. 

“I want to be the best pastor that I can be and that involves letting God do some work in my heart and life while I’m a student,” she says. “So, going to a place where I feel like I can really entrust my heart and my formation to the leaders that are there I think will be pivotal for me and it really has been.”

Her love of worship and desire for spiritual formation instinctively drew her to chapel at Asbury Seminary. She started at the Seminary in Fall 2020, right in the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, which came with many challenges. However, she found that chapel was a place where she could feel connected. “I remember saying when I interviewed for the chapel team that I would be walking to the library and realize that it was almost chapel time and think, well, I really need to get my work done,” Emily says. “And then it was like, my feet would just sort of direct me into Estes Chapel. And so I just really wanted to be involved in worshiping the Lord.”

Emily asked Rev. Dr. Jessica LaGrone, the Dean of Chapel at Asbury Seminary, to coffee and felt a kindred connection with her. She applied for the chapel intern team the following spring, which led to her being approached to apply for the Coordinator of Worship position. She knew it would be a sacrifice to take on a full-time role while getting her degree. However, she was excited about the potential opportunity to learn all she could from Jessica and be involved in chapel services at that influential level. 

Emily served as the Coordinator of Worship for Asbury Seminary for 3 years and sees it as a privilege to have been involved in leadership for worship on the Kentucky campus. She helped lead a team of about 15 interns and worked with the student workers and volunteers who all contribute to the success of chapel services. 

The coordinator position offered many great opportunities to grow in leadership and contribute to what the Lord is doing at the Seminary. She was able to interact with chapel guest speakers and personally hear more about their lives. She also carried out her role during the Seminary’s centennial year, which was a massive undertaking for such a one-time occasion. She was also able to participate in partnering with Asbury University when the Outpouring occurred in February 2023. One of her best friends and a former roommate had the equivalent job at the University at the time, which contributed to a beautiful partnership and all the more showed Emily how God had been working providentially for that special occasion. 

“I’ve just grown in my own leadership skills, coming as a 22-year-old right out of college to one year later leading a team of people who are mostly older than me,” Emily says about being Coordinator of Worship. “And really asking God, okay, why have you given me this opportunity? Because I don’t feel equipped for it. That first year especially of working this job, God really helped me to see how my identity was in Him and not in what I was able to achieve or the labels that people might give me.”

As she has grown in leadership, education, and spiritual formation as Coordinator of Worship and as an M.Div. student, she has seen how the Lord is shaping her for future pastoral ministry. This past year, Emily made the decision to join the Global Methodist Church (GMC) and was ordained as a deacon in April 2024. Her journey to join the GMC was filled with opened doors and opportunities that she felt only the Lord could have orchestrated. She was on the planning team for a conference hosted by the GMC specifically for young adult pastors and seminarians and had the privilege to preach at the conference. She also had the opportunity to speak at the annual conference for the Northeast Conference of the GMC and was elected as a delegate to go to the convening general conference this coming September in Costa Rica.

“Holding on to that historic orthodox faith while also being excited about some of the fresh expressions that are available for the church in this generation felt like an intersection that I really wanted to hold on to,” she says about joining the GMC. “I want to not be against something, but I want to be for something. I want to be for who Jesus is and how I’ve experienced him in my life and how I’ve seen so many others experience Jesus.”

Emily recently decided to transition out of the role of Coordinator of Worship to finish her education at Asbury Seminary. She will graduate with her M.Div. in Spring 2025 and then hopes to be ordained as an elder in the GMC in the Northeast Conference.

“Those are my people,” Emily says. “I’m so excited for the opportunity to go back and bring nine years of theological education and leadership experience to be a faith leader in my community… to help people to know who Jesus is and to bring the story of God to bear in people’s lives through preaching, through pastoral care, and through leadership opportunities in the church.”

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