All In The Family

The family of God is a phrase often used to convey the feeling of togetherness in Christ. In the case of brother and sister seminary students Mary Kathryn Allen and Jack Allen, the family part is quite literal. Both Jack and Mary Kathryn are preparing to graduate from seminary this Spring and pursue ordination as Elders in the United Methodist Church.

Sister and Brother, Mary Kathryn and Jack Allen, are pictured at Candler School of Theology.

Mary Kathryn and Jack grew up in a family that was incredibly active as members of Trinity United Methodist Church in Fort Walton Beach, Fla. Their parents, Kim and Mary Allen, modeled for their three children what it meant to be congregational servants. The importance of weekly church life to their family even led the children to playfully argue over who got to put the tithe check in the offering plate.

“We grew up watching our parents serve God through our church in a variety of ways including committees such as staff-parish relations, finance, trustees, and administrative board,” said Jack. “My mom taught children’s church, led Vacation Bible School, and even created a ‘Junior Youth’ program when a middle school ministry was needed. My dad taught the middle school Sunday School class for seven years and led various youth activities throughout our entire childhoods.”

As a result of the influence of their parents’ strong commitment to their church, both Mary Kathryn and Jack also felt a strong pull to serve others through ministry. “I first began feeling called to ministry during my high school years while involved with the youth group at church,” said Mary Kathryn. “As I grew older, graduated, and then returned as an adult volunteer, my call continued to grow. I found a profound fulfillment in helping the youth understand the love of Christ and God’s forgiveness,” she said.

It became clear to Mary Kathryn that working with the youth of the church was not just her own passion, but a divine call from God to serve the whole church. While discerning her call to ministry, Mary Kathryn says clergy with whom she came into contact supported and encouraged her. “Their guidance and wisdom helped me in innumerable ways,” she said.

For his part, Jack recalls watching the pastors who served at Trinity while he was growing up and realizes now their influence on his call before he even knew he had one. “Each one was planting seeds within me simply through my being able to witness their work as good, effective pastors,” he said.

A testimony to the influence clergy can have on the young people in their congregations, one particular church leader prepared Jack to be open to hear the call of God upon his life. “No one helped me discern my call more than my youth director, Matt Hull,” he said. “I worked with Matt for three years in youth ministry at Trinity UMC, and he was constantly encouraging me to find my place in ministry. His gentle nudging was what made responding possible.”

Shortly after responding to God’s call on her life, Mary Kathryn transferred to Huntingdon College and earned a bachelor’s degree in Religion. Attending seminary was the natural next step after graduation and she was encouraged by realizing she would have a community taking that step along with her – a community that included her older brother. Both Mary Kathryn and older brother Jack were accepted to Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta; yet, they took different approaches to seminary life.

Jack is married to Heather Allen and together they have a son, Bruce. Rather than move to Atlanta, Jack commutes to Candler for his courses on a weekly basis. “I currently serve as an associate at First United Methodist Church in Montgomery while attending seminary,” said Jack. As a pastor/student, Jack spends more than 10 hours per week commuting between Montgomery and Atlanta.

Jack Allen and Mary Kathryn Allen

Mary Kathryn chose to move to Atlanta and experience Candler as an on-campus student. This arrangement allows her to host her brother when he needs a place to land in-between classes. “While commuting has been tough at times, it has been literally comforting to have my sister at Candler – as Monday and Wednesday nights I sleep on her couch,” said Jack.

Attending seminary alongside a sibling has had other mutual benefits. “My sister has been a great support system throughout this journey,” said Jack. “From lunchtime theological discussions to critiquing each other’s papers, I can’t imagine what these past three years would have been like without her.”

“Though we have had very different logistical journeys, I believe my time in seminary has been enhanced and blessed by sharing this experience,” said Mary Kathryn. “It is comforting to walk into a huge lecture hall for ‘Introduction to the Old Testament’ and know that my brother will be there with me. It is reassuring to know that I always have a person to whom I can voice my questions and doubts after a particularly difficult ‘Systematic Theology’ class. And, of course, it is motivating to know that when those tests get handed back in ‘Church History’ we will be looking over each other’s shoulders to see who scored higher – not that we’re competitive or anything.”

Something else the siblings have in common is that they both will graduate from seminary debt-free this Spring, due in large part to their scholarships from the Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation. “While my sister and I have shared other burdens during our seminary journey, one that we haven’t had to deal with is the stress of a financial burden,” said Jack. “We have been given the gift of being able to focus on our classes and education rather than worrying about the debilitating financial burden seminary can sometimes be to students.”

The sentiments of gratitude are echoed by Mary Kathryn. “This wonderful time of learning and growing together would have never been possible for us without the help of the Stegall Foundation,” she said. “This scholarship has been a key contributor in alleviating my financial worries and allowing me to focus fully on maximizing my time at Candler. As I look forward to returning to the Alabama-West Florida Conference, I am thankful for the love and support from my home conference that has undergirded my time here at Candler.”

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One Response to “All In The Family”
  1. Karen Sue Baker says:

    The ALLEN’s have inspired more young people than they could have ever imagined- kudos to their family, youth Director Matt Hull, their parents, to Mary Katherine, to Jack & his Precious wife & Baby Bruce.

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