Surrendering to the Call

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Rev. and Mrs. Jay Cooper

“Responding to God’s call into ordained ministry was a lengthy process for me. My wife, Susan, and I were married at a young age and began a family shortly thereafter. While enrolled as a fulltime student at Auburn Montgomery, I also began working for my father-in-law in a timber processing plant. For nearly five years, I shared each day between work and school.

I grew up in a different denomination, so I became a United Methodist when Susan and I were married. When Jim Dannelly at Aldersgate asked me if I promised to be loyal with my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, it affirmed the ways I wanted to be loyal to Christ through the church. One of the earliest commitments we made to each other was to pour ourselves into the life of our local congregation. For me, it meant volunteering my time to help with the youth program. After leading a youth group one Sunday evening, my associate pastor asked me a question I had never considered: “Jay, have you ever considered seminary and ministry as an option for your life? Do you think God might be calling you?” I could not shake that question and it even kept me awake at night, so when we graduated from college and a youth position came open at First United Methodist Church of Ozark, I took the opportunity to seize this calling. It would not be the last time God was trying to reach me.

After a period of thirteen years, twelve of which were spent working for my father-in-law’s family business, God continued pursuing me by calling me into ordained ministry. Our membership was now at First United Methodist Church of Montgomery, and God’s call was as strong as ever. The only challenge for me was to figure out how to leave behind a lucrative job and a comfortable way of life for a call to ministry, which places my life and my family in the hands of an itinerant system. How would we survive? Our children, Caroline and Ella Cate, were no longer crawling around the house. They were 14 and 9 years old at the time. Asking them to understand a career change, lifestyle change, and that our residence now depended on where our appointive process needed to send us was not exactly an easy conversation to have.

In May, 2008, I traveled to Israel with Dr. Karl Stegall, at which time God’s call became stronger than ever. I shared with Dr. Stegall that I would not run from God’s call any longer. It was time to surrender my life to the call of Christ. In the fall of 2008, I began the conversation with Dr. Lawson Bryan about the possibility of ministry and pursing the path of ordination. When I called Dr. Stegall to share with him the news that I would be entering seminary, he said, “Jay, that’s fantastic! Don’t you worry about a thing! God is going to take care of you and your family, and our seminary scholarship foundation is going to support you EVERY WAY POSSIBLE.” There could not have been any greater words of assurance at that moment. My sponsors, local church, and clergy colleagues all made a significant sacrifice and effort to walk with us every step of the way. Every time I received a check from the Stegall Seminary Foundation, I felt that calm assurance once again confirming my call. Equally important to us as the faithful and generous donations of people to the foundation were the cards and calls we received throughout the journey. I would often receive calls from donors while traveling to Emory late at night and early in the morning. These calls were simple, “Just wanted you to know I am praying for you and your family. “If you need anything, just let me know.” “Thank you for answering the call!” Each of these calls was a means of God’s grace in my life.

The Stegall Seminary Scholarship Foundation made seminary and a life possible for Susan, Caroline, Ella Cate, and me. Thanks be to God for Karl and Brenda Stegall and the countless donors who carried the weight of seminary with us and for us. We are indebted to you and stand on the strength of your shoulders.”

– Reverend Jay Cooper

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Stegall Seminary Scholarship
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