Religion professor finds calling in recent Protestant ordination

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Religion professor finds calling in recent Protestant ordination

Veninga planned to pursue music before deciding on religion.

Veninga planned to pursue music before deciding on religion.

Veninga planned to pursue music before deciding on religion.

Veninga planned to pursue music before deciding on religion.

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The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Veninga did not always know that she wanted to pursue religion as a career, but now has a Ph.D. in theology and was recently ordained in the United Church of Christ denomination.

“Originally I intended to major in international relations and/or music,” Veninga said. “But I took one course in Religious Studies at SMU during my first semester at college and absolutely fell in love with it.”

After growing up in Smithville, Texas, a town with a population less than 4,000 people, Veninga attended Southern Methodist University and earned a BA in Religious Studies with a minor in history. She then attended the Harvard Divinity School to earn a Master of Theological Studies and eventually earned a Ph.D. in Systematic and Philosophical Theology from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.

“I have literally been studying religion and theology since that first semester,” Veninga said. “I just can’t get enough.”

Veninga first realized she wanted to pursue ordination while studying in Berkeley.

“I felt a sense of calling to this particular form of leadership and I couldn’t turn away from it,” said Veninga. “I feel that my particular ministry is to serve academic communities, where I can be a spiritual and religious resource for those on campus.”

In her opinion, her gender has not been an issue during her role as a leader in the church. The United Church of Christ has been ordaining women since 1853 and even though the Roman Catholic Church does not ordain women, Veninga has been supported fully as a part of the St. Edward’s University community.

“I feel truly grateful to be able to fulfill my dual callings of teaching and scholarship on the one hand and pastoral ministry on the other,” she said. “And all of this at a campus that I love.”

Before teaching at St. Edward’s, Veninga taught master’s students at the Graduate Theological Union. Now that she is at St. Edward’s, she consistently teaches Introduction to Religions of the World and Abrahamic Traditions. She has previously taught courses on Feminist Theology, Religious Imagination and Islam. This semester, Veninga is teaching a seminar on Christian Existentialism.

“I love ideas and I love people, and teaching is a wonderful way to combine the two,” said Veninga. “My students consistently inspire me and make teaching a joy.”

Not only is she a professor, but Veninga has a prominent role in Campus Ministry, serving as the university’s Ecumenical Minister. 

“I work with programs that support collaboration between Christian denominations and offer resources to Christians of all backgrounds,” she said.

An example of these programs is the Taizé prayer services that are offered twice a month; these services originate from a community in France with both Protestant and Catholic Christians. 

I find that it is incredibly rewarding to introduce my students to new ideas and concepts in the fields of religion and theology and to learn with them as we explore these areas,” said Veninga.