Interview: Judy Fentress-Williams

April 14th, 2014

Rev. Dr. Judy Fentress-Williams is Professor of Old Testament at Virginia Theological Seminary and Senior Assistant to the Pastor for Teaching and Preaching at Alfred Street Baptist Church. She is the author of the book of Ruth in the Abingdon Old Testament Commentary series and a contributor to Covenant Bible Study.

When did you feel called to ministry?

I think the first distinct call to ministry came when I heard Prathia Hall Wynn preach. I was in college, and I had never seen or heard a woman preach. She spoke with such power and I thought back on that moment many times. The next time came a few years later when I spoke for a chapel service at the high school where I was teaching. Something amazing happened in that moment and even though I didn't have the language for what was going on at the time, in retrospect these were the earliest stirrings that God was calling me to ministry. As is the case for many women, I was in no hurry to acknowledge that call. I was able to acknowledge a call to teaching and to lay leadership. For many years the only time ordination came up was when someone wanted me to officiate at a wedding or funeral, or baptize/bless their baby.

Years later, when our family joined our current congregation, I began to feel the stir of God's call on my life. After years of making excuses and ignoring that still, small voice, I finally surrendered. I was ordained in July of 2012.

Who was your greatest supporter and encourager as you explored your call? Was there ever a time when you questioned God’s call in your life?

As you can tell from the first answer, I questioned God's call on my life for years. I had a number of supporters and I have to say my husband consistently supported me. Outside of my family, I could name a few people. My friends James, Donna and Bernard, and all the ministers listened to me patiently, prayed with me and encouraged me. In addition to that my friend Bernard challenged me to step out on faith into the path God set before me even though I didn't know where it was going.

You are a wife, mom, Professor of Old Testament, and a pastor, how do you balance time for family and ministry?

I am still working on this. It helps considerably that my youngest child is a freshman in high school (my oldest is a freshman in college). His schedule, with sports, allows me to work a full day. I try my best not to be away in the evenings more than once a week, even though sometimes I have to be away twice a week. I am committed to us having meals together. With my husband's work schedule that means we have dinner together three times during the week, breakfast on Saturday and lunch and dinner on Sunday.

Weekends, as you can imagine are crazy. We have a Saturday night service and two services on Sunday. My biggest challenge these days is to re-establish date night with my husband. I miss that!

What spiritual discipline do you practice that nourishes your soul?

Prayer and Spiritual Direction. I also have a thing for old devotionals. I am reading Streams in the Desert this year. Last year it was My Utmost for His Highest.

You are a contributor to the new Covenant Bible Study how was that experience for you? What excites you about this new study?

Working on the Covenant Bible Study was an exhilarating experience. I discovered things about the Song of Songs that surprised me. I loved the opportunity to make the videos as well.

I am excited that congregations will have an opportunity to engage the Bible with this study. It is our responsibility as teachers and preachers to give folks the opportunity to know the Bible for themselves, and to encourage them to wrestle with the text so that they, like Jacob can be transformed.

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