Pastor Tammy: Jonesborough UMC makes history as it welcomes its first-ever female pastor
Tammy Wright stands inside Jonesborough United Methodist Church.
The Reverend Tammy Wright is the first female pastor to ever preside at the Jonesborough United Methodist Church. And though she is a living landmark in the church’s history, to her it just feels like a good fit.
“Everybody seems to be very comfortable with it,” she said.
Wright grew up in Maryville, and she is one part of a two-reverend family. Her husband, Ric, who grew up in Lafollette, has been a pastor for nearly two decades.
“We met at a revival. We were introduced by the preacher at altar call,” Tammy recalled. “We both knew him. He married my mom and dad and he was actually my husband’s home pastor twice. He ended up marrying us.”
Moving from church to church, and from town to town has always been a part of life for the Wrights. But both Tammy and her family were very pleased after learning of her Jonesborough assignment at the end of June.
“To me, it’s kind of like going home,” she said. “It’s good to be back in Tennessee.”
The family moved here from Radford, Va., where Tammy had an unbelievably large amount of people under her pastoral care.
“This was a tough time for me because I pastored four churches at once,” she said.
Tammy was on a standard, three-year probationary period until her ordainment as a church elder in 2007. And that ordainment marked the end of her journey through seminary, a journey that was underpinned with enough strength and experience in congregational care and pastoral leadership to, well, part the Red Sea.
Tammy was a reverend’s wife for a nearly a decade before she actually entered seminary at the Sewanee School of Theology in 2000. “I think in retrospect I was always meant to be a pastor. (But) around the time that I met my husband, going into the ministry for a female wasn’t a popular thing to do,” she said. “But being in the ministry with him helped me to understand what I was called to do. He was in seminary and we had all our (3) kids during that time.
“And he was away a lot, so I was kind of fulfilling his duties at the church. When he finished his seminary work in 1996, and we moved to Chattanooga I sensed a ‘call’ to go into the ministry.”
And though the job had been beckoning her like a saintly siren for some time, Tammy was never willing to leave her three young daughters behind to pursue her spiritual career. “But the Lord worked all that out,” she said. “We moved (to South Pittsburg, TN) where I was able to commute to Sewanee, raise my kids, and pastor a church all at the same time.”
And Tammy kicked off her commission in Jonesborough with a trip to Jerusalem in August, a journey she said she won’t ever forget, and one she hopes to repeat. But this was no simple, sightseeing tour. She traveled to the Holy City to participate in a continuing education program conducted by St. George’s College.
“It (was) actually a course that offered the opportunity to study the Bible within the context of its own geography; to visit places holy to Christianity, Islam and Judaism,” she explained. “And it was really a life altering thing in terms of (my) perspective on how Jesus may have seen things.
“The landscape may have totally changed, but there are places where you can say ‘Jesus definitely walked here.’”
Tammy reflected wistfully on her visit to the stations of the Cross and the Church of the Resurrection, visibly tearing up at the impact those encounters had on her. And she marveled audibly about the mysterious and ancient feeling that certain parts of Jerusalem had.
“When you go down to one of those gates in the Old City you feel like you’ve just entered a different world,” she said. “You’ve got all the stone pavement, and there’s this sense of trust; people (merchants) aren’t worried about you coming by and stealing anything. And there’s a smell you can’t get away from, all these spices are just open in containers.”
And the newly minted reverend said there really is no best or worst part of her job. Instead she finds every aspect of shepherding her flock through the joys and sorrows of their lives to be intensely rewarding. “That’s just the nature of the job, it’s about people,” Tammy said. “It’s not what I do, it’s who I am.”