Perkins is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, but it has proven a good home for Nerissa Grigsby, a fourth-generation Baptist preacher.
“My grandparents were both pastors at Love Hope Baptist in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, and my father is the pastor of my home church, Central Baptist Church in Pittsburgh,” she said. In addition, her uncle is pastor of Enon Tabernacle Baptist, the largest megachurch in Philadelphia.
One of seven children, Grigsby grew up in the church and began singing, ushering and participating in liturgical dance at a young age. Around age 13, she began feeling the call to ministry.
“I ran from my call for the longest time,” she said. “I wanted to have fun. I loved the church but was very rebellious.” Ultimately, she says, she couldn’t escape the calling on her life. At age 17, while a freshman in college, Grigsby was ordained as a licensed pastor and began serving at her father’s church.
So how did a Baptist end up at Perkins?
After earning her B.A. in Public Relations and Business Management at California University of Pennsylvania, Grigsby enrolled at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. However, the school didn’t offer online or night classes, making it impossible to manage on top of her full-time job as an IT project manager. Instead, she earned an M.A. in Organizational Leadership and International Business from Point Park University in Pittsburgh while working full time.
“I didn’t put God on back burner, but I did postpone my seminary education,” she said. “When my job brought me to Dallas at the end of 2015, something within me kept saying, ‘You need to go back to school.’ It was as if God was asking, ‘When are you going to finish what you said you would do for me?’”
She attended Dallas Theological Seminary for a year and a half. While she enjoyed her classes, especially in Old Testament, she didn’t like the school’s conservative leanings. Some professors weren’t supportive of women preachers; a few wouldn’t allow women to even enroll in their preaching classes. On the advice of her advisor, she looked into Perkins and sat in on a class taught by Dr. Abraham Smith.
“His class sold me,” she said. “His enthusiasm, the way he taught the word, was completely different than what I’d experienced before,” she said. She enrolled at Perkins in the fall of 2018 and expects to complete her M.Div. in May 2020.
Grigsby plans to serve as a bivocational pastor; she’s currently working full time as an IT project manager while attending Perkins and serving at her local home church, Friendship West Baptist in South Dallas. This year, she’s also interning at Hamilton Park UMC with Dr. Sheron Patterson [insert degrees and years], assisting with young adult ministry, funerals, baby dedications and new member classes.
Grigsby says that the Baptist House of Studies, directed by Dr. Jaime Clark-Soles, has enriched her experience as a Baptist student at Perkins. Initiated in 2018, the Baptist House of Studies is a community for Baptist students to learn about their tradition and a network of resources to support them in their path toward ordination or other professional positions in Baptist churches.
“Jaime has been phenomenal in connecting me with different individuals, like the Reverend George Mason at Wilshire Baptist Church, and a variety of networking and learning opportunities,” she said. Through the Baptist House, she learned of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Clergy and Leadership Conference, a gathering of African-American leaders, and plans to attend the conference in February in Crystal City, Virginia.
So how does Nerissa Grigsby stay centered, given such a busy schedule that involves juggling church, career and school commitments?
To “get centered with Christ,” Grigsby starts each morning with daily affirmations and Scripture reading, prayer and music. Sometimes she also journals and walks in nature while in conversation with God.
In addition, the words of the call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:4-10) inspire her and resonate with her, as someone who’s been part of the church since birth: “Before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.”
“Serving God and serving others is what I want to do,” Grigsby said. “God is calling me to be that kind of ‘builder of the nations’ of this generation, so that young people can hear the Gospel and receive Christ into their hearts.”