By Ronnie Crocker

Amy Peters left small-town Texas for divinity school at Duke University, a move she found exhilarating both inside the classroom and out. Getting to know aspiring ministers from around the world and of varying faith backgrounds taught her to value diversity of thought and attitudes about life and religion.

“It opened my eyes to a lot of ways to see things,” she says.

But when the Covid lockdown hit, the lively, impromptu discussions with other students that she found so enriching suddenly evaporated. Weekly Zoom chats just weren’t the same.

“The casual conversations that occurred more naturally, those just kind of went away,” Peters says.

The pandemic would not be the only unexpected trial awaiting Peters. As with many of her young peers entering ministry, disaffiliation proved to be another defining experience.

Back in Texas after graduation, Peters was appointed to a congregation in Richmond in June 2022 – just three months before the the church disaffiliated. Peters stayed on until the end of the year. In January, she became pastor of Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Santa Fe.

This time, the challenge was unique to her time and circumstance. Her tenure began just months before the five-year anniversary of the May 18, 2018, gun massacre at Santa Fe High School which claimed the lives of eight students and two faculty. The church felt the losses acutely.

“We have multiple high school teachers who attend here that were there that day,” Peters says. One church member lost her son. We have someone on the school board and others that were closely connected in various ways. It’s a small enough town, to have a traumatic event that big affected everyone who lives here.”

Peters, 27, was ordained into the United Methodist Church in May. She recently spoke with Cross Connection about these and other forces that shaped her approach to ministry.

Following are excerpts from that conversation, edited for length and clarity.

Q. What was it like preparing for a milestone anniversary like the Santa Fe High School massacre?

It was difficult. I haven’t experienced anything like that and there’s no way for me to know personally what this town would be experiencing on that anniversary. Preparing for that day required a lot of listening, a lot of asking people who had been through it, to find out what would be helpful for them.

Q. What did they say they wanted?

They wanted to honor those who they lost, to name the wrong that had been done, and to pray that good would come even after that.

Q. You’ve got impressive credentials: high school valedictorian, Dean’s List at Texas A&M, divinity school at Duke. Do you consider yourself an overachiever?

Yes. It pushes me to be the best pastor that I can be. I’ve always worked really hard to reach those kinds of achievements, and as I grow as a pastor and see areas that I need to learn more or do better, it’s that level of achievement that pushes me to keep growing and doing better. I am a perfectionist, so I always have to remember to receive grace in the midst of all that.

Q. You talk about the diversity you embraced in divinity school. How has that shaped you?

The biggest takeaway I have from my time at Duke is that things are always more complicated than we may think they are. It really shaped me from a mindset of “either/or” – of thinking that life has to be either this or that, to a belief in God that is much more of a “both/and.” Understanding that I see it this way, Methodists see it this way, Baptists see it another way, Lutherans and Episcopalians see it their way, and Catholics see it still another way. Trying to be more accepting of a broader range of thoughts and beliefs, rather than trying to find the exact one that is right, I think that is the biggest thing I learned from being at Duke.

Q. Let’s talk about your path to ministry. You grew up in Rusk, where your parents took you to church every week and got you signed up for Sunday School and youth activities. You interned with the Texas A&M Wesley Foundation. You played piano with a praise band. When did you first start to discern a calling?

I think my call to ministry really started from an early age when I was first involved in church. It was a very gradual, growing calling that kind of built upon itself throughout the years and really came to the surface when I had to figure out what my career would be.

Q. What has your return to Texas been like?

It stretches me in different ways. I think I was stretched in a lot of different directions at Duke, which expanded my viewpoint and took me to a place different than where I started. And now I’m being stretched in a different way, a way that is less about knowledge and more about relationship.

Q. Aldersgate voted to remain United Methodist shortly before you arrived, but many of its members left. What’s it been like to rebound from this?

A lot of it has required us getting our feet back under ourselves. Quite a few of the leadership in the church left and had to be replaced at the end of the year. I was not the only one who was new to their position at this church. Almost our entire finance team is new, and some of the other committees, people have never done this before. So, we’re all kind of figuring this out as we go. When I came in, pretty much everyone who wanted to disaffiliate was already gone. I walked into a church that was smaller than the congregants were used to being, but they were so committed to being United Methodists and to being a church that wants to live out its mission. I think we’ve been able to really refocus ourselves here over the last six months on being the church again and not focus on church politics, which has been really good.

Q. What else do you want us to know about your church?

We spent winter and spring focusing on healing and recuperating, getting our feet under us, and we’ve spent this summer trying to build up fellowship and trying to grow the relationships within our community. As we’re doing that and as we look forward to the fall and the next year, we’re really wanting to start looking outward, to see what kinds of things we can provide for our community of Santa Fe. Seeing how we can expand our ministries as a church and to get back to growing as a church community. Not just worry about survival, but trust God to keep us thriving.

Q. How has the transition the UMC is going through affected you spiritually?

The process really showed me that my calling does not come from people or from local churches. My calling comes from God, and I serve God and my calling. While I live out that calling by serving and loving people, it ultimately goes back to God.

Q. What are your plans for the rest of 2023 and going into 2024?

I have plans to keep growing as a pastor. We have plans as a church to continue gathering and growing as disciples of Christ. We’re following the Spirit’s guidance in that.

Q. What do you mean by “gathering and growing?”

Growing in our spirituality as members of this church, growing in our activity as a church, and, Lord willing, growing in members and attendees.

Q. Speaking of life changes, you are also a newlywed. Your husband is an associate pastor at Moody Methodist Church in Galveston. How do you two juggle work and family life?

It helps that we are both clergy. Having similar jobs and similar schedules helps us align our time together.