Leah Payne - Passion for the Church & Academy

Loren Kerns, associate dean and director of Doctor of Ministry programs, recently sat down with Leah Payne, one of our newest faculty, to discuss her passion for the church and the academy.

Leah Payne

Loren: Today I am speaking with Dr. Leah Payne. Leah is one of the seminary’s newest faculty members. She joined us this autumn through a generous postdoctoral fellowship with the Louisville Institute. The Institute supports through its fellowships recent PhDs who are committed to the Christian Church and who are pursuing a career in theological education. Leah, thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with me today.

Leah: Thank you Loren, it's a pleasure.

Loren: To begin with, tell us a bit about the research and writing that you are doing with the support of the Louisville Institute.

Leah: Well, in terms of research, my degree is in History and Critical Theories of Religion, which means I am interested in how our understanding church history is enhanced by theoretical approaches. So, for example, I use race, gender and class theory to understand how religious groups are formed over time; I also use ritual theory, which examines how church practitioners create and negotiate power through specific actions and how those practices change theology and vice versa.

I enjoy the broad spectrum of church history, but my area of specialty is American religious history. Particularly, American religious innovation. I am fascinated by America’s long-standing history of creating new religious movements. In terms of church history in general, Americans have an almost unprecedented talent for creating new religious groups. I come from one of those innovations. I come from the Pentecostal church - specifically the Foursquare Church. So I'm really interested in how Pentecostals came to be and how gender, race, and class has informed their creation.

In terms of the teaching portion of the Louisville Institute, I absolutely love teaching -- and I especially love teaching history. I've found that that both teaching and doing history is a creative process. I grew up really interested in the arts -- theatre, film, music, literature, things like that -- and I didn't understand that history could be creative. Then, when I started graduate school, I found out that history was actually a very creative process; because history makes meaning for communities. Histories give people a sense of who they are as individuals and as groups. One of the things that I love to do when I teach is to encourage students to think about doing history for their own church community. I want them to think about creating meaning for their people. To me, that's what history is about and that's why I love to teach it.

Loren: Say a little bit about your writing projects.

Leah: Well, I am excited to say that my first book, Gender and Pentecostal Revivalism will be published in February of 2015. I'm very thankful for that!

Loren: Congratulations!

Leah: Thank you! The book examines how female ministers negotiated gender, along with race and class, in the early generations of Pentecostal revivalists. I look at how two women ministers, Maria Woodworth-Etter and Aimee Semple McPherson, were shaped by and helped to shape the movement. I'm very interested in how women pastors attain and maintain authority -- throughout church history, but in particular in the early 20th century.

Loren: Given your research findings, what would you say to women called to vocational ministry today?

Leah: First, I would say this: I affirm your call. I believe that the Holy Spirit calls and empowers women to serve the church in many ways, including leadership roles. I believe in the work that Jesus is calling you to do. I'd also encourage you to have a firm sense of your own identity in Christ. I've studied women across the theological spectrum --from liberal to fundamentalist and everything in between -- and I would say that one common quality that women who serve the church for long periods of time have is this: a very strong sense of who they are as disciples of Jesus Christ. I'd also say this: pursue mentors and take advantage of mentors that you currently have in your life. You need people who will believe in who you are, correct you, encourage you, love you, and who will cheer you on as you serve. I would love to be one of those mentors. One of my favorite things about teaching at Portland Seminary is that George Fox shares my passion for encouraging women in ministry, and I would love to be one of those encouraging voices in your life.

Loren: There are lots of fellowship options out there. Why did you apply for a Louisville Institute post-doc?

Leah: Well, the Louisville Institute post-doc brings together two of my passions: the church and the academy. I grew up in a Pentecostal church and I grew to love the academy -- initially as a student at George Fox University, and then also at Vanderbilt University. I love those two institutions and I am committed to serving them. Louisville shares that passion.

Another reason why I love the Louisville Institute is that I get to participate in a mentoring relationship with a pastoral mentor and an academic mentor throughout my fellowship. The pastoral mentor encourages me as I work out my sense of calling and responsibility to the church, and my academic mentor helps me navigate what it means to be a professor at a university like George Fox. So, I'm very thankful for this opportunity and I am thankful that the Louisville Institute invests in people like me!

Loren: Leah, thank you for taking a few minutes to talk with me about this.

Leah: Thank you Loren.

Leah Payne is the Assistant Professor of Theology, and the Louisville Institute Postdoctoral Fellow in American Religious History/Women's Studies. She holds a PhD in History and Critical Theories of Religion, an MA in Religious Studies, and a MTS in New Testament from Vanderbilt University. Her expertise and research interests are American religious history, church history, historical theology, women and American religion, Pentecostalism, gender and performance theory, hermeneutics, and theology and popular culture.

Follow Leah on Twitter @ProfLeahPayne and her blog at leahpayne.blogspot.com

Leah Payne