■ BY SUE ERWIN
Tabitha Jordan realized at a very young age that she wanted to spend her future spreading the spiritual word and teaching children to lead a life filled with faith.
The young minister to youth and families began sharing her skills with the people of the Lighthouse Methodist Church in Boca Grande on April 10, 2016.
Tabitha accepted the position of intergenerational discipleship in March. She spent time at the Lighthouse Church over Easter weekend and officially began her new duties the first week of April.
Tabitha is 27 years old and hails from, a small town outside of Columbus.
Raised in a very strong Christian home, she said her call to ministry started when she was a child, learning about faith through her parents, who were both in religious leadership roles. Both were church elders, leading different activities and programs at the church.
“Starting at a very young age, instead of playing teacher or doctor, I was preaching and teaching to my stuffed animals,” she said.
Tabitha is a recent graduate of Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, where she completed her Master of Divinity degree. She met her husband, Chas (short for Charles), while attending Asbury.
She and Chas have been married for almost two years. Prior to moving to Boca Grande, they resided in Kentucky.
Tabitha recalled that it was snowing in Kentucky when they were packing boxes to move to Florida.
“We’re very thankful to be able to enjoy the sunshine all year long in Boca Grande,” she said.
While she was attending the seminary, Tabitha met a pastor from an Englewood church who just happened to be a friend of Pastor Matthew at The Lighthouse Church.
Pastor Matthew had reached out to different churches, announcing the youth ministry position that would soon be available.
“She contacted me and said she thought my gift to minister would be a really good fit at this church, and she gave me his number and suggested that I call him,” Tabitha said.
So she contacted Pastor Matthew around Christmas, and since then the two have been discussing the position. Tabitha and Chas made a trip to the island in March to meet with the church staff and seal the deal. It was the first time they had visited the island, and they stayed about a week.
“It’s so beautiful here, it’s an amazing, unique place. And I love the beach, so I think this is a pretty good match,” Tabitha said.
As part of her duties as minister to youth and families, she will be the point of contact in organizing and empowering church leaders. Her responsibilities will include organizing volunteer lists and overseeing the children’s ministry. She will be the pastor of the youth group, providing bible studies and planning summer camps and retreats for island youth.
“The church already has some excellent things going on, so at first I am just going to help people find the resources they need and also answer any questions the congregation might have,” she said.
She will also be helping out with some of the pastoral duties at the church. She specialized in counseling at Asbury.
“I have a passion for listening to people and guiding them. And if I can’t help them, I will certainly find a resource that can. I think that’s going to be a big part of the job. I’m the point person – I will get you resources, volunteers or whatever other help you might need,” she said.
Tabitha said The Lighthouse Church probably has one of the largest youth ministry programs on the island.
She previously worked as a youth leader doing mission trips and retreats. She has extensive experience preaching at retreats and is very passionate about working with youth.
While in school, she started a cross-cultural ministry program that was very different from anything she had ever done before. Tabitha and Chas worked as servers at an Olive Garden restaurant in Kentucky, and they incorporated their school curriculum to include a cross-cultural ministry at the restaurant. She said that at first, the managers were skeptical about the project, but it ended up being very successful.
“We focused on building relationships with the working class community, and we prayed together daily before our shifts. Everyone came from different religious backgrounds. Our bosses were so impressed with the outcome that they asked us if we knew of more people who would continue the kind of work we did there,” Tabitha said.
Before attending the theological seminary, she attended Malone University in Canton, Ohio, where she majored in youth and sports ministry. She played volleyball in college, and her coach designated that she was the spiritual mentor of the team. She would lead devotionals before the games and challenge her teammates to maintain integrity. After earning her Bachelor’s degree, she went straight on to study at Asbury.
This will be her first full-time position since graduating from the seminary.
Tabitha is currently seeking ordination through the United Methodist Church. “It’s a very long process, and it will probably take at least four years to complete,” she said.
Tabitha’s future goal is to be a full-time naval chaplain.
A chaplain is a “borrowed pastor” who serves all the different religious denominations.
She is currently a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy, serving in the inactive reserve. She joined about four years ago and has already been promoted once. The Navy is granting her time to go through the ordination process and get the experience she needs in the church. Then they will place her where she is needed. Always looking to be competitive, she said she chose the Navy because of the rigorous process and the fact that they cover so many different divisions, including the Coast Guard, Merchant Marines and the Navy Seals.
“It gives me more diversity in my career,” she said.
She feels her position in Boca Grande will really prepare her for her future role as a chaplain. And the majority of the people she’ll be working with in the Navy will be newly enlisted youths right out of high school.
Tabitha’s younger brother, David, is a U.S. Marine who is graduating this spring and will be a commissioned officer.
“I get to swear him in, actually, so that’s going to be really cool – he will have to salute his older sister,” she said.
Her older sister, Keri, is a pediatric oncologist.
Admitting she enjoys being somewhat nomadic, Tabitha has participated in four missions in Peru and one in the Dominican Republic, which she said was great, because Lighthouse Methodist has a sister church in the Dominican Republic and two sister churches in Cuba.
Tabitha and Chas have a rescued cat named Simba, who likes to wake them up very early every morning. Tabitha said she absolutely loves animals and looks forward to getting a puppy once they get settled on the island.
Tabitha said she’s very excited about switching her hobbies to more “beach-related” activities. She and Chas spent a lot of time rock climbing in Kentucky. The couple loves outdoor activities and they enjoy camping, hiking and backpacking. Tabitha has backpacked a good portion of the Appalachian Trail and hopes to return again someday. Both of them enjoy all types of sports.
“Between the two of us, we have probably played or tried almost every sport on the planet,” she said.
She was a competitive swimmer in high school and also played basketball. Volleyball obviously stuck, since she played that through her college years. They also enjoy snow skiing, snow boarding and wake boarding.
“My cousin lives on a lake, so that’s where we learned to wake board, but we’ll have to learn some new watersports here – like kayaking and scuba diving,” she said.
She said the most challenging aspect of her occupation is remaining patient and not being too intrusive with people as relationships are being built.
“You can’t have a true open line of communication without trust,” she said.