Anna Kate Shurley: Serving a Congregation of Two

“So . . . what do you . . . do?”

I have been asked this question a lot lately, and with good reason. My family and I recently moved to south Mississippi, where my husband was called to be the pastor of a Presbyterian church. Only a few people know me, but thanks to an article about us that ran in our local paper during Easter weekend, many people know a bit about me.

They know that in addition to being the mother of two small children, I am an ordained Baptist minister and a recently-minted Ph.D. Most folks who mention my credentials find them interesting and want to know how I am putting them to use.

More often than not, though, when people ask me what I do, I want to say something like, “Well, today, I scraped scrambled egg off of a high chair, changed a bunch of diapers, did four loads of laundry, put supper in the crock pot, got the oil changed in our minivan, paid bills, arbitrated a couple of sibling disputes, and made my third trip of the week to Wal-Mart (and it’s only Tuesday).”

Thankfully, a still, small voice always compels me to offer a different answer: “I currently work at home, where I serve a congregation of two.”

I serve a congregation of two. I nurture two little lives, and try every day to do so in ways that reflect God’s love. It is quite a privilege, yet it is, by far, the most challenging ministry I have ever had. While much of this challenge comes from my tiny parishioners acting their ages in every possible way, the biggest part of it lies in what I often perceive as a great disparity between my credentials and the current shape of my life and work.

I don’t need a Ph.D. to read a book to my son. I don’t need to be ordained to help my daughter finger paint. Did Sallie Mae really need to give me all those loans for graduate school so that I could host play groups once I was finished? Am I living a life right now that is faithful to the God who, once upon a time, called me to ordained ministry?

The same still, small voice that enables me to answer other people’s questions about my work also answers my own: “My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord” (Isaiah 55:8, NRSV). Indeed.

Far too often, my thoughts tell me that I have a resume to build with the education and training that I have. My thoughts tell me I should be teaching, writing, publishing, and serving as a chaplain on the side. My thoughts tell me that I would be much better at those tasks of ministry than I am at caring for my children each day.

These are my thoughts.

Left alone with them, I forget that it wasn’t until I began my doctoral program that I met and married my husband and had our children. I forget the ministry that my infant daughter and I did together as I pushed her in her stroller down the halls of the facility where I served as chaplain. I forget that motherhood and ministry are beautifully intertwined throughout each and every day of my life.

And I forget that God has fashioned it this way. It is God who shapes my vocation as a disciple of Jesus Christ. It is God who has given me our precious children and who has included, as part of my vocation, the calling to nurture and love these little lives as only I can.

It is God who sustains me and brings me joy as I live out my current calling as the Rev. Dr. Mama. And it is because of God that it all makes sense. Thanks be to God—for all of it.


Anna Kate Shurley is an ordained Baptist minister. Prior to beginning her current ministry as a stay-at-home mom, Anna Kate worked in campus ministry, youth ministry, hospital chaplaincy, and, most recently, in ministry with people with developmental disabilities. A native of Radford, Virginia, she holds degrees from the College of William and Mary, Duke University Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. She lives in Gulfport, Mississippi, with her husband, Will (a Presbyterian pastor), and their children, Virginia

3 thoughts on “Anna Kate Shurley: Serving a Congregation of Two

  1. Really needed this today. I am currently serving as an associate campus minister and director of a local children’s outreach. I am ordained, have an MAR, and I’m a board certified pastoral counselor. I’m also the mommy to a precious 15 month old that I love more than I could have ever imagined. I’m currently battling the stay at home or keep working fight. I feel a lot of what you wee saying and I am so thankful for your words.

  2. I think that Anna Kate is doing the most important thing that she could be doing. Her children will not be babies long, it is amazing how quickly they grow up. She will still have all her degrees and certifications then. And she will know so much more because of her children!

  3. Yes, Anna Kate is answering the most important call God has on her life right now. Children today need a Christian “moma” that will nurture them. Believe me they will grow way too fast. I was blessed to have Anna Kate in my class when she was in the three years old preschool class. It was so exciting to read this article and see what a beautiful young woman she has become. I too am an ordained minister and thankful that i was able to stay home with my sons. Bless you Anna Kate.

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