Professors in GWU School of Divinity Prepare Alumna for Calling into Ministry

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Martha Dixon Kearse ’07, ’17, Serves as Associate Minister in Charlotte, N.C.

Martha Dixon Kearse
Martha Dixon Kearse

Martha Dixon Kearse has felt God’s presence on every step of her journey—as a high school English teacher, stay-at-home mom, and an associate minister at St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte, N.C. When she accepted God’s call into pastoral ministry, Kearse chose to attend the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University. She earned her Master of Divinity in Pastoral Studies in 2007 and her Doctor of Ministry in Christian Ministries in 2017. “I valued so many things about Gardner-Webb,” she reflected. “I valued professors who genuinely cared for me, in and out of the classroom, who offered me an academic challenge without sacrificing that care for me as a person.”

Kearse took a break from teaching to raise her children. She hadn’t planned to become a minister, but then people in her church started telling her she should. They appreciated the way she directed the children’s choir and liked the children’s sermons she gave occasionally. “More and more, the idea pulled at me,” Kearse commented. “When the position of minister to children came open at my church, I applied for it after talking with my husband, who simply said, ‘If you think that’s what God wants you to do, you should do it.’”

She got the job and “it was like putting on a comfortable set of clothes,” she explained. “It felt right and every step deeper into it—seminary, ordination, becoming associate minister—all felt right. All I can say is that I felt called, and knew it was coming from somewhere besides myself. It’s difficult to describe it in any other language than ‘calling.’”

Martha Dixon Kearse (center, standing) with members of her church
Martha Dixon Kearse (center, standing) with members of her church, St. John’s Baptist in Charlotte, N.C.

Her classes offered helpful instruction for every area of ministry—pastoral care, preaching, teaching, administration, volunteer recruitment and missions. “In addition, elements of my career, specifically on the issues of equality and racial justice, were nurtured and fed by classes offered in the divinity school,” she affirmed. “Ethics class, spiritual formation classes, classes on women in ministry, the Civil Rights tour, and conflict resolution—all of these, and many others, have been instrumental in forming my idea of what it is that I am called to do.”

Her ministry has been influenced by lessons learned from each of her professors. Some of the topics include understanding grief with Dr. Doug Dickens, the power of worship discussed by Dr. Robert Canoy; Dr. Danny West and the intentionality of writing a sermon; Dr. Gerald Keown’s love for Psalms and the Hebrew language; and Dr. Hebert Palomino, who shared about the power of presence and standing beside people in their time of need. “Unafraid of conflict, Palomino greeted it with cheerfulness and love,” Kearse offered. “I valued the integrity of the school and, most of all, the willingness of professors to keep academic open-mindedness as a value, without sacrificing or belittling their own faith and their own sense of call. In the classroom, I often expressed opinions to the left, shall we say, of many others in the room, including the professors. I never once had a professor shut me down, or belittle me, even though I know for a fact that several of them disagreed with me on several issues.”