Carrie Veal’s calling to ministry was a “mix of Jesus and defiance,” accompanied by a strong desire to effect change.
The McAfee School of Theology 2003 graduate is now executive minister of community and engagement at Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where she strives to empower and engage congregants and help them form meaningful connections.
Growing up, Veal always wanted to be a lawyer, so she began her higher education as a double-major in history and English at Stetson University. But by junior year, she realized ministry was the path for her and switched majors to religious studies.
Having grown up in the South without seeing any women in church leadership roles, she was unsure what this work would be like for her. But as people started to challenge her and tell her she couldn’t be a pastor because she was a woman, she felt the pull to ministry all the more.
“I went into seminary knowing I wanted to do local congregational ministry, and then my desire increased because I knew I wanted to be an instrument of change,” she said. “I didn’t have the lofty heartfelt reasons for it. For me, that’s the only way you can make it happen. I’ve always had this drive. I knew I was going to do it differently, and I knew I would from a gender perspective. For me, it’s been a really interesting journey. My call to ministry has not changed, but the way that lives out is always evolving.”
At McAfee, Veal learned how to work on a team, discovered the best ways to engage with congregants and forged deep bonds with people she is still in touch with today. She learned how to spiritually connect with her peers, which paved the way for her to do that as a minister.
“(McAfee) had a huge impact on me,” she said. “For me, it was a lot more about community and the conversations in the classrooms than the academic work. The academic work was amazing and great, but I think back more on how I observed the professors engaging with students and students engaging with students. McAfee was three of the most wonderful years of my life.”
Following graduation, Veal served as associate pastor of children’s ministry at First Baptist Gainesville in Georgia for five years and then at Morningside Baptist Church in Spartanburg, S.C., for four years. Feeling it was time for change, she went to Myers Park Baptist in May 2014. She started out as the minister of children and gradually took on more responsibilities until she became executive minister of community engagement earlier this year.
“Over time, the staff and lay leadership started asking me questions around my gifts, passions and interests, and my role expanded,” she said. “Nothing was taken off my plate. I’ve just had more things added. It’s been fun to live in this new role in a place that gets me, and I get them. It’s been a good venture.”
Veal is the minister to children and the minister of community life, where she works with guests, new members, small groups, deacons, leadership and the ministry council. She focuses a lot on member engagement and creating an inviting environment. She has begun to do more staff leadership development and hopes to broaden that in the future.
“I love empowering volunteers to become their best selves,” she said. “Equipping them in whatever area they are serving — greeting, teaching, event planning — means that I am doing my part to give them a wonderful experience. I love teaching kids and adults, helping them learn something new about God, the world and themselves. I am energized when I connect people to one another, helping to build new relationships. In working with staff and volunteers, I love hearing their stories, discovering what energizes them and then finding ways to engage those passions.”
The church’s senior minister does a lot of work around racial reconciliation and designed a nine-week course, which Veal has helped take out into the world. So far, more than 300 people across the country have participated in the training, mostly through Zoom, and Veal helped organize the first conference for the course at the church in November. The curriculum is set to be published by Upper Room next year.
Veal no longer feels like she has to prove something as a female pastor, and she’s put emphasis on other elements that she’s become more aware of. Her work comes with its share of challenges, but those hardships can also bring some of the greatest rewards, she said.
“I’ve realized how much every piece of ministry really does impact the other,” she said. “I’ve started realizing what really matters. People may come to church because they like the sermon or music, but it’s the connections that make them stay.”
She strives to be a lifelong learner, and she’s constantly working to adapt her knowledge to her ministry and to help others apply those lessons to their own lives. She has come to see that it’s OK to not always know the answers, despite that expectation.
“I never want to stop learning. I never want to stop being curious,” she said. “I never want to feel like I have the answers to everything because then where’s the mystery? Even with all the things we do know, there are still some things that are mysterious. I never want to lose that.”
The McAfee School of Theology was founded 25 years ago on Mercer’s Atlanta campus. The Den is sharing alumni profiles throughout the year to mark this milestone anniversary.