Leader Sarah Jobe: Promoting Inclusiveness For Everyone
May 7, 2003 --
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when she learned
about the devastating terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center
and the Pentagon, Sarah Jobe instinctively felt that people everywhere
should pull together, not withdraw to themselves. She began rounding
up friends and sending e-mails to organize an interfaith prayer
service that drew 5,000 people that night to the University of Virginia
all accounts, the candlelight program was a moving experience that
revitalized a deep sense of community among people of different
faiths, races and backgrounds. A year later, Jobe helped organize
a memorial vigil at U.Va. and, more recently, a peace rally on the
religious studies major who will graduate in May with a scholarship
to Duke Divinity School, Jobe has long felt called to promote mutual
caring and social justice in an often-divided world. “It’s
where I’m most comfortable,” she said.
spent the past two years volunteering as a volunteer intern helping
start a new American Baptist church in Charlottesville. On a given
Sunday, the small congregation gathering at a downtown community
center might include former prison inmates, students and academics,
homeless people, recovering alcoholics, and others of different
races, ages, backgrounds, sexual orientation and even opposing political
beliefs. Jobe’s duties include everything from visiting prisoners,
tutoring and teaching children’s Sunday School to planning
services, preaching sermons and picking up snacks for church activities.
honors student, Jefferson and Echols scholar and a Student Council
leader, she has a remarkable ability to make things happen.
simply got the most potent and productive combination of brains
and will that I've come across in a student at U.Va., graduate or
undergraduate,” said religion professor Charles Mathewes,
one of her teachers.
On Sept. 11, 2001, as concerned University officials were considering
urging students not to go out at all, they discovered a cascading
snowball of invitations asking diverse groups not only to go out
but also to come together. Student Affairs administrators called
Jobe in, found out just how eye-popping her e-mail list was and
cautiously went along with the prayer service.
previously organized a citywide service in her native Memphis that
drew national media attention to the widespread support for women
in the ministry.
she discovered the University’s revered “Good Ol’
Song” was marred at athletic events by students shouting a
chant offensive to gay spectators, she set up a committee to gauge
student opinion and change the trend. The group began an education
campaign about the chant’s negative effects on community life
and has helped make it a thing of the past.
her interest in religion, Jobe spent a summer in France researching
how ancient cathedrals affected their communities. Then she wanted
to learn how new churches were started today in American inner cities.
She applied for and won a prestigious Harrison Undergraduate Research
Award to define the different models that small start-up churches
are using in inner-city Richmond.
she works about 30 hours a week as Student Council’s chief
of staff -- overseeing some 14 student committees -- and takes a
course load that has included rigorous graduate-level courses.
her New Beginnings Christian Community Church, “We’ve
been partly trying to reach people who have been turned off by church
and provide a place where they’ll feel safe,“ Jobe said.
“We provide a community where people feel loved, and that
is something we are missing in our society.”
an early age, attending a prominent Southern Baptist church in Memphis,
Jobe felt a call to enter the ministry. One of her grandfathers
was a clergyman. Although she has won a prestigious Duke Divinity
Fellowship, her Charlottesville “church planting” experience
“has been an opportunity to learn as an undergraduate some
of the things that people don’t learn in seminary,”
doesn’t know if she’ll wind up pastoring an inner city
church. But, “I think it should be the calling of every pastor
to deal with the issues in their city,” she said.
Her goal of becoming a minister was threatened in 2000. When she
arrived home on her first summer break from college, she learned
that the Southern Baptist Convention was proposing to declare that
having women in the ministry was “unbiblical.”
spent the next several months garnering support to fight the proposal,
which originated with a Memphis pastor. The campaign backing women
in the ministry drew widespread news coverage and showed support
for women ministers in all denominations.
Southern Baptist statement passed anyway but isn’t binding
on individual congregations, who may still ordain women. And the
effect on the denomination’s 1,600 or so clergywomen isn’t
clear. But the symbolism was discouraging, and Jobe still bristles
when she discusses the issue. The denomination was founded on the
principles of democracy and local autonomy, she said, and to have
a written rule imposed from on high was offensive. “I’m
fine if people don’t think they need diversity,” she
said. But codifying it “was a very un-Baptist thing to do.”
radiates both calm and intensity as she talks. Stacks of books and
a tall harp she likes to play take up much of her Lawn room. Although
she has been involved in countless projects in her student career,
from big-sibling mentoring to serving as a University tour guide
to helping organize fund-raising dance marathons, “I don’t
think of myself as busy,” she said. “I think of myself
Lee Graves, (434) 924-6857