Seminary graduate Stephanie Taylor-Dillard on following her call to serve the Lord, build community, and help people in need.
The Lord called me the first time at the age of 9. I remember the day. I was on my way to school, and I was running late. I’m standing there on the corner and all of a sudden I felt this huge impulse to look up into the sky. I look up and it seemed as if the heavens had just opened up for me. I felt the presence of God. It was overwhelming. And the Lord said to me ‘I want you to be mine. Turn around, go home, tell your mother that I’ve called you into my service.’ And I thought ‘She’s not gonna believe me! I’m late for school!’
Then he shows me a vision. It was me, as I was, a 9-year-old, preaching to a crowd of people. And I said ‘I don’t wanna do that. I just want to be a regular, everyday kid. I just wanna grow up. I just wanna be normal.’ That’s what I told Him. I said ‘I promise I’ll love you forever, I’ll serve you forever, I’ll believe in you forever. But I can’t do this.’ So I kept saying no.
Finally, by myself in Philadelphia, hurting, isolated, a single parent with no money, the Lord called me again. This time He showed me all the people I had ever harmed by not doing what He asked me to. People that I had come into contact with, but by not being who God called me to be, I couldn’t help them.
That time I said yes. He was standing there. He called me by my name and I felt His love. I hadn’t felt that before. I realized this is what I’ve been looking for all my life. Looking for someone to love me like this. So I said yes.
That was the beginning. It was 1999. One of my big problems was that I wasn’t a man. Preachers are men. They wear suits. They’re very correct. They’re perfect. They’re married. What would anyone want with this single parent woman who’s made all the mistakes in the world?
The Lord told me to go to First Baptist Church of Darby in Darby, Pennsylvania. And the Lord told me to tell them that He’d chosen their pastor to be my mentor. So I went in there on a Sunday. I’d never been in this church before in my life. Didn’t know anybody in there.
I stood up and I said “the Lord called me to the service. And He said that your pastor (whose name I didn’t even know) is supposed to raise me in the Lord.’ Just as I was saying that, Pastor Lee comes in. And he’s standing there looking at me from the pulpit, and he says ‘Mm hmm. I’ll talk to you after the service.’
What I didn’t know was that Pastor Lee had previously not believed in female ministers. Then his sister was called into the service. So he went through this whole thing where he began to believe that she was called. She was a powerful preacher. And he had brought more women into the ministry than any of the pastors in that area. So it didn’t surprise him at all. It’s like he was expecting me.
So he and his wife brought me over to their house, and I’m telling them my story, and he’s going ‘Okay, alright, that’s good, so we need to get you ready.’ And I said ‘One problem. I don’t look like a minister. Nothing like a minister.’
He asks me ‘What’s a minister look like?’ He brings me over to a mirror and he says, ‘That’s what a minister looks like.’ And I said ‘Ok.’
Bethel was the plan before I moved back to Minnesota. I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I met my husband Andre in Philadelphia, fell in love, got married. And I knew I wanted to go to seminary. Bethel was something I knew from when I lived in St. Paul. It never came to my mind to go anywhere else.
So when I got the letter that they’d accepted me, I thought ‘Oh my God. They accepted me. They didn’t tell me no.’ I didn’t have to fight for it. Bethel was the plan. Bethel was where we needed to be. My husband got accepted to Bethel. My son and daughter got accepted to college, all in Minnesota, so we thought ‘Let’s pack it up. We’re going to college.’
Bethel knows how to do community. People at Bethel do it in some ways that they don’t even realize they do it. My husband’s mother passed away a while ago. It was sudden. We weren’t prepared. We didn’t know how Andre was gonna get to Philadelphia for the funeral.
The whole Bethel community gathered around us and got him there. I will never forget that. That was the most wonderful thing I’ve ever experienced. They brought the money to him while he was in class. He was in tears. To see that big old man cry is something else. I’m crying, he’s crying, I’m saying ‘Lord, only you could do that. Only you could get a community like that.’
That’s the Bethel experience. That’s the experience I was looking for. I needed to experience the people of God in a whole different way. God must’ve given me the knowledge that that’s what would happen. And it did. Those are the things that keep me going.
The plan is to open a community center in St. Paul. Right now I’m applying for grants to get it up and running. My vision is to have the church at the center, with the social services wrapped around it. For me, the church is the community. You go to the church when you’re hurting. Ministers are supposed to work in the community. You better get out there and do something. Grow a garden or something. You’re the minister. Everybody should know you.
At Bethel, I learned to take everything—my experience, my culture, my passion—and make it work for me. I’m hoping and praying that we can make this idea come into being. I really feel that we can. I know that I can work through things. I know that my teachers are on my side. I’m in the community of God. There are people praying all around me, for me. That’s a powerful thing.
More info about Stephanie
Master of Divinity
St. Paul, MN
Family, building community