Article by: Suzanne R. Holsomback
In 2004, Jo Ann Sharkey graduated from George W. Truett Theological Seminary with her Masters of Divinity in Theology. As her time at Baylor and Truett concluded adventures in ministry and academia began that lead her through College Station, Texas, Pasadena, California, and St. Andrews, Scotland.
Jo Ann is a native of Houston, Texas and studied English and French at Baylor University, graduating in 2001. She learned about Truett through friends who attended Truett Seminary, Preview Weekends, and decided to attend after taking a "tour of seminaries" with her father. She says, "I knew in my heart that I belonged at Truett and I have been thankful for the years I spent in seminary there."
After graduation, Jo Ann participated in a pilot program with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as a Minister in Residence at First Baptist Church College Station, Texas. The Initiative for Ministerial Excellence (IME) allowed Jo Ann opportunities in pastoral care, college and student ministry, and preaching. She feels blessed by participating in the Residency Project and says, "My residency allowed me the opportunity to work with a quality group of experienced ministers who were open to teaching me about the joys and struggles of life as a minister." Jo Ann continues saying, "They gave me a frank view of life as a church minister, yet always persevered to show me the great reward that comes from serving God in his church." She speaks highly of CBF's role as an initiator and support of the IME program, saying that her CBF staff and affiliate co-workers "were always available with encouragement and wisdom."
After Jo Ann's Minister in Residence Program ended, she worked for a year in the Office of Development at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. In the fall of 2007, she entered a Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) program at the University of St. Andrews where she studies the connection between theology and literature. She is one of fourteen postgraduate students in the Institute for Theology, Imagination and the Arts (ITIA) at St. Mary's School of Divinity. Dr. Ralph Wood introduced Jo Ann to this program at St. Andrews when she was an undergraduate student, and she began planning how she could become a part of this program that fused her two great loves - theology and literature. She says, "It really was just a crazy dream I had as a 20 year-old--hearing about some perfect program and imagining, 'What if....'"
Jo Ann's dream began to materialize when her Minister in Residence program ended and she began re-examining her desire to study theology in the arts. She asked herself, "why not do it now?" "Now" felt like the best time and she began a year and a half long process of completing applications and organizing finances for studying abroad. Jo Ann is in the M.Phil. program, which is described as a "mini-PhD" program. The degree is a two-year research degree that can be obtained in one year. Jo Ann is on the one-year track writing her dissertation, "Theology in Suspense: The Dalgliesh Mysteries," on the novelist P. D. James and "her subtle use of theology and Christianity in her mystery novels as well as how the contemporary detective novel can provoke theological questions." Jo Ann says, "I find it quite exhilarating to be studying at a school where I can fuse my love of mystery novels, literature, and theology into my course work!"
"I strongly believe that ministers should take advantage of any opportunity for education that is allowed them," Jo Ann says concerning how her call to ministry aligns with her pursuit of an M.Phil. "A well-educated minister can serve his or her congregation more effectively if he or she has a strong theological education--this is obvious. But I believe a creative education has a great deal of value as well." She says that her program is creative, researching how different expressions of art - literature, music, film, visual arts, dance and other types of art - connect with theology. "As a student in this program, I have thought about how I can take what I am learning in the classroom and through my writing and infuse it into my ministry. I believe preaching and bible study are the most obvious places since it is in these two experiences that we have the chance to be creative and bring in literature. Obviously, it also affects the way one leads worship."
Jo Ann believes that God will use her M.Div and M.Phil. degrees and her love for ministry wherever she can serve God best. Since she was seventeen, Jo Ann has felt a call to church ministry, but since beginning her advanced studies she has become interested in ministering in an academic setting. She says that God has been faithful in bringing her to St. Andrews and has given her "a call to serve Him and His church." She says, "I feel the immense burden of this blessing but trust that His faithfulness will continue as He equips me for the tasks that lay ahead."