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U.Va. Student 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 Lawn.

By 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 Lawn.

A 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.

She’s 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.

An honors student, Jefferson and Echols scholar and a Student Council leader, she has a remarkable ability to make things happen.

“She's 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.

She’d previously organized a citywide service in her native Memphis that drew national media attention to the widespread support for women in the ministry.

When 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.

With 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.

Meanwhile 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.

At 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.”

From 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,” she said.

Jobe 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.”

Jobe 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.

The 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.”

Jobe 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 as active.”

Contact: Lee Graves, (434) 924-6857

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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