Rev. Dr. Jeanne Allen, Pastor, Teacher, and Promoter of a Just Community
My love of teaching high school English and my passion for promoting justice and compassion for all in my local and wider community came from my feeling a sense of acceptance in the youth group of my local UCC Church in Cleveland, Ohio. This led to my acceptance of a call to ministry and ordination in the UCC in 2011, and a doctorate in counseling from Graduate Theological Foundation in 2014.
I made a point of insisting my high school students never start a biographical sketch with “I was born,” however, like the rest of us, I was born, specifically in Cleveland, Ohio in 1946.
The journey described in the first paragraph reminds me of Frost standing at the place where two roads diverged in “The Road Not Taken”
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood And sorry I could not travel both And be one traveler, long I stood”
Later he said: “I shall be telling this with a sigh, Somewhere ages and ages hence. I took the road less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”
I am now at the “ages and ages hence stage, but I did come back and take both roads. One was labeled “teaching,” the other, “ministry.” The issue of racial justice followed me on every road I traveled.
My interest in racial issues began when I lived at my grandmother’s during ages 2-4. I was lonely in the big house, my mother hospitalized with mental problems. My companion was an African American woman I called Mabel. Mabel was kind and suffered trying her best to clean while being followed by a child creating mess as she followed.
My call to ministry crept in when I was a teenager at West Park United Church of Christ (Congregational until 1957). The “in” crowd was not a fit for me in school, but the variety of youth directors made me feel welcomed.
I ended up at a Mount Union College planning to major in religion. I stood where two roads diverged, but decided to do something I could finish in four years. I chose the path of education, first in music, then English. I also found myself on a World Tour with a college choir. I remember being aware when the bus pulled from the airport to our first stop in India, how strange it felt to be the minority with white skin.
I taught a year in Berea High School in Ohio, then got married and moved to Steubenville, Ohio. In 1976, we followed my husband’s job to Durham, North Carolina with a two year old in tow and a son on the way. In 1983 with three children and experience teaching in church school and caring for my children
I continued on the path of teaching, but the road curved with high school as the new vista. I learned from my American literature students, eventually earning my National Boards. Here my passion for accepting all people gay or straight, of all diversities of color and ethnicity was strengthened. I began learning about white privilege through the Richard Wright’s Black Boy and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. I asked African American students to tell me if I misunderstood. Teenagers ask hard questions and demand honest and truthful answers if you are to earn their trust.
After some 12 additional years of teaching, I went back to the place where those two roads diverged, as the call to ministry was strong. I was now a member of Mt. Sylvan United Methodist Church, and was offered a student pastorate at Stem and Bullock’s UM Churches, and acceptance at Duke Divinity School. After graduation in 1999, I was assigned to two churches, Jenkins Memorial, a generally white congregation, and Cokesbury, a generally black congregation in Raleigh. I also joined a group of community members dedicated to uncovering white privilege for those of us unable see the privileged air we breathe.
Now I was on the road where I would stay, I thought, but once again, I found myself where those two roads diverged. The United Methodists and I parted company about beliefs on atonement and accepting gays and lesbians as sisters and brothers in Christ without stigma. I returned to the road of teaching for a while, but the pull of ministry was strong. Finally there was ordination in the UCC, the church in which I spent most of my formative years. Several years were spent in chaplaincy at Alamance Regional Medical Center and a doctoral program in counseling through the auspices of the Graduate Theological Foundation.
Now retired, perhaps the roads are converging. I am following a call to create a blog which I hope will spark conversations about what a just and beloved community should look like.