Jeanne Davies has a B.A. in Psychology from the University of Illinois in Chicago and an M.Div. from Bethany Theological Seminary. She has a Certificate in Homiletic Peer Coaching from Vanderbilt Divinity School and is currently studying at Western Theological Seminary to receive a Graduate Certificate in Disability and Ministry.
Pastor Jeanne served as an Associate Pastor with primary ministry areas of Christian education, youth ministry, and congregational nurture from 2004-2008 and again from 2012-2016.
Pastor Jeanne also served as Workcamp Coordinator for the Church of the Brethren international headquarters from 2008-2011, during which time she began the We Are Able workcamp – a four-day service learning trip for young adults with intellectual disabilities. Pastor Jeanne strongly believes that all people are gifted and that God has created us to share our gifts in loving community.
Pastor Jeanne is married to Joel Davies, mom to Nora Davies, and guardian of a wheaten terrier named Seamus.
Pastor Jeanne’s Story
My first ministry with young people who had special needs was when serving our denomination’s international headquarters as the Coordinator of Workcamp Ministry, planning short-term service trips for youth and young adults. Julie Foster, a teacher working in a community college vocational program for young adults with intellectual disabilities, approached me with an idea for a new workcamp. She noted that young people with special needs don’t often get an opportunity to use their gifts to serve others.
Together, we started the We Are Able workcamp which still runs annually. At this workcamp, I encountered young adults with special needs who were thrilled to be serving, gained new competencies, and enjoyed worshiping and having fun together. While the We Are Able workcamp has special challenges, it also has special blessings and I began to look forward to it as one of the best weeks of my summer.
After serving as Coordinator for the Workcamp Ministry, I served as a pastor in a mid-sized congregation. My primary responsibilities were Christian Education, Youth Ministry, and Congregational Nurture. We usually had at least one youth in the group whose special needs were apparent. What we didn’t realize is that we had several other youth on the spectrum whose special needs were harder to see.
A light bulb went off when my own daughter was diagnosed as autistic her freshman year in college. All of those quirky things about my girl – her sensitivity, her anxiety, difficulty in social situations, problems with executive functioning – all made adjusting to college extremely difficult. And made her relationship with the church difficult as well. She struggles constantly in a social world that is not particularly friendly for autistic people.
I suddenly began noticing these kinds of sensitivities and struggles in others in our youth group. It dawned on us that we had several youth on the spectrum in youth group every year. We began to actively work on how to create a safe, inviting space physically, emotionally, and spiritually for both our autistic and neuro-typical youth.
Last spring, I decided it was time for me to leave my congregation after eight years and have a fresh start. I felt called to start a new congregation but I wasn’t sure where or what that would look like. I was still in the discernment process when I attended a workshop led by the Rev. Leslie Neugent, pastor for and founder of the Parables Worship Ministry in Wayzata, Minnesota.
Rev. Neugent showed a video about Parables and I felt strongly moved and deeply called. I remember that my former youth ministry partner and current Parables board member, Michael Novelli, texting me during that workshop saying, “I’m crying. Are you crying?” What is amazing about Parables is that it affirms people just as God created them, with both special needs and special gifts. It’s not just a ministry for people with special needs. It’s a ministry with people who have special needs. Church should be a place of acceptance, love, and belonging – an opportunity to both give and receive.
After that workshop, I began to envision a Parables ministry in the Chicago area. I have been humbled and awed to see the Spirit moving, as the location, resources, and support for the Parables Community continue to fall into place. I am so excited to begin this new Parables ministry in Lombard and praying for God’s blessings as we launch!