Emory Report

September 11, 2000

 Volume 53, No. 3

Leap of faith

By Eric Rangus

For many people, entering the ministry is-if the cliche can be excused-a leap of faith.

Take Bridgette Young.

In the early 1990s, Young had more than 10 years' experience working as a human resources manager. She had an MBA from the University of North Carolina. And she was looking to take another step up in Corporate America.

Young had a headhunter looking for job opportunities in Atlanta. He found one; one she thought was the perfect job at Coca-Cola.

"Ever since I'd moved to Atlanta, I wanted to work for Coke," said Young, a native of Chicago, who relocated here in 1987. "It was very clear to me as I was going through the process that I was going to get the job. In the meantime, I kept feeling these tugs toward ministry."

Although a religious person since she was a child, Young had never considered entering the ministry. "In a way that can only be described as mystical and spiritual, they called me to offer me the job. I told them that I couldn't take it-I was going to seminary."

The catch was Young had not even applied to seminary.

"I had to be very clear that I was making this choice not because I didn't have other options but because I knew it was what I was called to do," Young said. "So I turned down a very good job making very good money to go back to being a very poor graduate student." She then was accepted at the Interdenomi-national Theological Center at the Atlanta University Center.

The move worked out. And not just because Young took over as interim associate dean of the Chapel and Religious Life in July. She comes to Emory after two years as director of the Wesley Foundation at Georgia Tech-which is a ministry of the United Methodist Church, of which Young is an ordained elder.

Since Tech is a public school, Young faced certain restrictions because of the necessary separation between church and state. One of the things she likes most about Emory is that her position allows her a wider advising role and she gets to associate with a larger group of organizations, including Emory College, the medical school, Residence Life, the dean of students, the Women's Center and Habitat for Humanity, to name just a few.

"One of the great things about Emory is when we look at the student, we look at the whole student," Young said. "I think its great that I am on committees that, normally, I wouldn't think would want a religious representative." Those include the committee that plans Women's History Month, as well as Women's Week.

"So much of this position is relationship management," Young said, harking back to MBA-speak. "Understanding how organizations work is key." And that is how she is able to blend her past experiences and knowledge into her current life.

Despite its abrupt beginning, Young's move into the ministry was hardly a whim. It was a gradual path marked by several significant signposts, one of which was a growing disillusionment with Corporate America.

She said she had an epiphany while addressing a group of truck drivers for Baxter Health Care, the company she worked for in the late 1980s. She told them they would not be receiving raises because they were already among the highest-paid members of their profession.

"I thought, 'This is completely contrary to my value system,'" Young said. "What we're saying is, 'The way we're rewarding you for being faithful, long-term employees is we're not gonna pay you anymore because you are the highest paid in the industry, and you ought to be thankful to be working for us.' That is when I started thinking, 'Okay, what am I doing here?'"

Another was a serious health problem. Prior to entering seminary, Young battled lupus for a year-and-a-half. Lupus is a medical condition in which the body's immune system attacks healthy tissues and organs causing inflammation, pain and swelling in the affected parts of the body. Women between the ages of 15 and 44 are most susceptible to the disease, and African-American women are three times more likely to contract lupus than white women, according the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). There is no cure, and it is a chronic ailment.

"I think, as you face issues of health and even mortality, you start to look at your life and say, 'Okay, is what I'm doing something that really makes a difference?'" Young said. "I think certainly the things that I did in Corporate America were good, and I made a difference, but having that time off really allowed me to take a look at how I could use my skills and gifts in ways that make more of a difference."

Young said her case is relatively mild and she has no internal organ damage (as many lupus sufferers do). She takes medication if it flares up. Her battle, she said, gives her perspective on how to minister to people with chronic illness.

"People will say, 'I know how you feel,' but they really don't," Young said. "I have a friend who was just diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, and I'll [tell her], I don't know what it's like to have MS, but I do know what it's like to have a doctor give you a diagnosis that says, 'This is something we can't cure, but this is how we can treat it, and this is how you have to participate in your treatment.''"

Young freely admitted she was much more conservative when she started as a minister, but she has become increasingly flexible and open as time has passed. She did this by challenging herself.

While at seminary, each student had to log 400 hours as a hospital chaplain. Young said she had a fear of working with AIDS patients. "I thought if I am going to minister to anyone God calls me to minister to, then I have to get over my fear."

Young described that experience as one she may not have had had she not entered the ministry. Another came here at Emory. She, along with Dean of the Chapel Susan Henry-Crowe and David Hilton, special assistant to the dean, went to medical school orientation to provide spiritual support for first-year medical students. It entails going to the anatomy lab and being present when the students cut into human bodies for the first time.

As of now, Young is interim associate dean. Her chance to become permanent won't come until next year, and it's a position she hopes to attain, particularly because of the importance attached to the Department of Religious Life on campus.

"Even at other private institutions, you don't often have the dean of the chapel report directly to the president," Young said. "That shows that the president thinks religious life and spiritual growth and support of our students is important, as well as academics and other social aspects."

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