By Lesley-Ann Hix
1. What is your ministry position and what are you asked to do in a given week?
I am currently in my seventh year as youth minister at First Baptist Church, West Point. My primary responsibilities are teaching middle and high school students and accompanying them in their spiritual development. I also teach Sunday school, lead weekly youth worship services, and schedule regular events and programs. The congregation and leadership at the church have offered me a place to explore my call and grow in ministry with a rare measure of grace and support.
On top of congregational ministry, my wife Noelle and I participate in an intentional community called Hillside. This ministry allows us minister to the needs of a local community by participating in activities such as a community garden, weekly dinners, bible studies, child-care initiatives, open forums, etc. These events are held in an outdoor space called The Gathering Place. We believe building intentional relationships in a place as ethnically, economically, and culturally diverse as Hillside is a wonderful way to share our gifts while experiencing the abundant gifts of others.
2. What exactly is the Gathering Place? In what ways do you get involved?
The Gathering Place is so unique. It was formerly a furniture store but has since been reclaimed by nature and repurposed as a true open-air community space. The Gathering Place hosts community festivals, meetings, events, and even a free yoga night facilitated by an instructor who lives down the street. The lot houses the Hillside community garden and also serves as the location for a free children's day camp created by a group of neighbors.Noelle and I try to invest in the community through our relationships with other families and by being active in community events. We enjoy working with children and youth and have helped lead children's activities at the summer day camp and various festivals and events. A lot of the neighborhood kids really like our dog Einstein, so we enjoy walking and meeting new people or interacting with old friends when we can. Working in the community gardens is a personal hobby. I've also enjoyed helping coach a softball team in the neighborhood summer league.
3. How do you balance being a husband, student, minister, and community organizer?
Each of these roles is important to me. Some days my priorities might have to change given the circumstances, but I've learned to be flexible as I try to balance the demands of each. Practicing good self-care has been extremely important (yet difficult) over the past couple of years. Whether it's spending an afternoon in the garden or playing tennis with McAfee students, being outside helps me maintain my sanity! I've also benefited from good coaching and counseling as well as from being part of a fantastic peer group for young ministers.
4. What are the biggest challenges you currently face?
During my third semester at McAfee I was diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder after struggling with depression for some time. Two of my professors were actually quite instrumental in helping me begin to cope with this challenge. I have since sought help in managing my depression, but it can still present challenges to excelling in my various contexts.
I think that the main challenge, though, is something that any minister or seminary student can relate to—just trying not to fall behind. I've gotten pretty good (maybe even a little obsessive) about managing a calendar, and that has helped me keep up with most of the responsibilities important to my various roles.
Another challenge is finding time to rest, meditate, and maintain my own spiritual health amongst the busyness that characterizes my life right now.
5. Despite the challenges, how do you experience the divine in the midst of all of these roles?
Many days I experience God most keenly in the grace and support offered by the communities in which I'm immersed. My wife and family, neighbors, friends at McAfee, and fellow church members are all as much benefactors of divine love and fellowship as they are beneficiaries of my ministry. Initially I found myself surprised at how much I rely on the care offered by those to whom I minister, but this kind of mutual edification is, I think, what Jesus envisioned when he talked of the kingdom.
Being part of the body of Christ at McAfee has also been a really special experience. The depth and diversity of giftedness among the students, faculty and staff are truly profound. I have experienced God by being part of the McAfee community through countless conversations and holy encounters. This has been a wonderful compliment to my theological education, although perhaps the education has been the true compliment. I suppose that this quandary demonstrates as well as anything, what exactly makes McAfee so unique.