In the fall of her junior year at Fisk University, the Rev. Emma Jordan-Simpson was asked to be the “makeshift student chaplain.” Someone had to choose the hymns and transpose music to play on the carillon with a bunch of stuck and broken keys, she wrote on her blog, “A Voice in Ramah.”
In this particular reflection, “A Watershed Moment: Finding Life in the God-Story,” she shared her encounter with two men who wanted to tell her why women should not be preaching and why it was “ridiculous” for women to be ministers. They were seminary students in Nashville and “knew” that God did not call women to preach.
But Jordan-Simpson was called and now will be the Week Five chaplain at Chautauqua. Her sermon series is titled “Seeking for A City.” At the 10:45 a.m. Service of Worship and Sermon Sunday in the Amphitheater, she will preach on “Meet Me at the River.” For the 9:15 a.m. morning worship services Monday through Friday in the Amp, her sermon titles include “Intercepted by Hope,” “Journeying Together,” “A Song on the Way,” “Praying In Motion” and “Dreaming Anew.”
Jordan-Simpson, the president of Auburn Seminary, preached her first sermon at 17 and knew she was called to ministry.
So, she wanted to hear why those two men thought it was ridiculous for women to be called, and remembered that when they made that comment, they were speaking at Fisk University, “whose heartbeat was life for formerly enslaved ancestors who proved that God often calls the least expected to do ridiculous things,” she wrote.
Eventually, the two men got into their own battle over which Scripture really mattered and forgot about Jordan-Simpson. In that moment she felt God’s grace, and it changed her life forever.
“I knew that I was where I was, not because of Scriptural texts. I was standing in the fullness of who I was — poor, Black, female, maybe ridiculous, but called — standing on the campus of Fisk University because of the whole God-story,” she wrote. “At that moment, by the grace of God, I saw it: They were arguing about something that God had settled long ago. I am made in the image of God. I could get lost in the ‘verses,’ over which we will argue until the end-times, or I could find my life in the God-story.”
In October 2021, Jordan-Simpson became the president of Auburn Seminary. Founded in upstate New York by Presbyterians over 200 years ago, the school is committed to a multifaith, multiracial movement for justice.
The university is a research institute that develops leadership skills in students by equipping them with the skill sets to create community, strive toward justice, heal the brokenness in the world and reach across divides; Auburn creates faith leaders.
Jordan-Simpson preached her first sermon at the House of Prayer Episcopal Church in Newark, New Jersey. She was ordained by The Concord Baptist Church of Christ, a historic freedom faith congregation in Brooklyn, New York. Her ministry has been grounded in the call to community, and her leadership of nonprofit organizations has addressed the sacred issues representative of her congregation’s convictions.
She has served as the executive director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and provided leadership for the Children’s Defense Fund of New York, Girls Inc., Edwin Gould Services for Children & Families, and the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation.
A graduate of Fisk University with a Bachelor of Arts, she also has a Master of Divinity from Union Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry from Drew Theological Seminary. She acts as president of the board of American Baptist Churches of Metropolitan New York and is a member of the board of directors of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies in New York City.