Extension Ministry: Rev. Shea James, Director of Young Disciples and Outdoor Ministries

By Barry Steiner Ball

Rev. Shea James is an ordained elder serving as the West Virginia Annual Conference’s Director for Young Disciples and Outdoor Ministries.  Shea grew up in Ohio, just outside of Parkersburg in the tiny town of Stockport.  Shea’s Great-Grandfather helped build Stockport UMC, which is part of a two-point charge.  Shea did not attend church regularly until a friend in middle school invited her to a Bible study for youth at a different UMC that only had two or three active youth. To make the Bible Study more fun, the two or three participants started inviting their friends to the study.  What Shea remembers of these Bible Studies is not the lessons themselves but the relationships built during them.  Adults took the time to get to know Shea and support her in all that she did.  These adults showed up to support anything the youth were involved in doing.  This Bible Study dramatically changed Shea’s view of the church.  

During high school, a new pastor arrived at Stockport UMC and started a Bible study for youth.  At 6:30 am every Tuesday, about six youth gathered with their pastor as volunteers made breakfast for them.  Again, for Shea, it was not the material in the Bible study that affected her, but the relationships built between the adults and youth.  

With graduation from high school out of the way, Shea found herself as a freshman studying Religion and Philosophy at Georgetown College outside of Lexington, KY. The summer after her freshmen year, she began working at summer camps.  Shea was the first in her family to attend college, and her selection of Religion and Philosophy as a major had her family scratching their heads, wondering how that would get her a job!  Shea’s idea was she wanted to be the best Christian layperson possible while working, most likely at a church camp. 

After graduation from Georgetown, she headed to Drew University for an MDiv and certification in Camp and Retreat Ministries.  While at Drew, Shea discovered that ordained people could be camp directors and not just local church pastors, so she began to consider ordination. At that time, a camp asked her to help move operations from Tennessee to Kentucky. So, Shea packed up her things and transferred to Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Louisville required students to complete field education assignments in local churches.  Shea had never had a female pastor, but she just knew she did not want to serve a local church.  Naturally, Shea fell in love with the local church settings and began to feel a calling to serve the local church.  Shea realized and lived the fact that women could serve local churches. 

When Shea graduated seminary, all of the local church appointments were filled, and she was not yet a provisional member of the Kentucky Annual Conference. Shea interviewed and was appointed to be the campus pastor of Western Kentucky University, which aligned with her passion for helping young people find community in the church. Shea stayed in this appointment for four and a half years while completing the ordination process. 

Then, out of the blue, Shea learned that the West Virginia Annual Conference was looking for a Director for Young Disciples and Outdoor Ministries, a job that covered Shea’s passions and would get her closer to her family in Ohio.  Shea applied for the position, was hired, and has not looked back since.

As Director for Young Disciples and Outdoor Ministries, Shea is responsible for resourcing, maintaining, and casting a vision for:

*Campus Ministry – supporting the seven campus ministers throughout West Virginia who represent the United Methodist Church at Concord University, West Virginia Wesleyan College, Marshall University, Fairmont State University, West Liberty University, Potomac State College, and West Virginia University.

*Spring Heights Camp and Retreat Center – Shea, along with Amy Mullins, the camp manager, make sure camp is open, staffed, running safely, and there is enough money and energy to do it again next year!

Along with the residential camping at Spring Heights, Shea helped start “DaySpring Mobile Camp” in response to the floods of 2016; now, it is in response to COVID.  DaySpring takes the summer camp experience and delivers it to areas where local churches want to reach out and develop relationships with the children in their communities.  While DaySpring is taking place, Spring Heights staff train local church volunteers in leadership development, relationship building, and ministry tools they can use throughout the year.

*Safe Sanctuaries – Shea, along with Miranda Nabers and Michael Burge, is responsible for providing the training for Safe Sanctuaries in person on a district level or individually now online through Portico.

*Youth Ministries – Shea oversees the vision, planning, and execution of conference-wide youth programing. This includes (COVID is no help) Fall Workshop, National Youth Conference, youth participation at annual conference as pages and as voting members, getting new youth involved each year since youth tend to grow up.  Along with working with youth, Shea helps support and train youth workers in the local church.  A new program that has just started has a cohort of 8 youth and children ministers who gather monthly for training and support. 

How we can pray for Rev. Shea James: 

● Pray for the wisdom to keep up with rapidly changing realities and challenges for young people.

●  Pray for all who are in ministry with young people- students need to be supported differently than they did pre-pandemic.

● Pray for the opportunity to meet with new people and create new spaces for growing leaders.

● Pray for receptive ears to listen to the Spirit, and go where God leads!

Want to know more:

Portico (online training for all types of ministry needs) https://www.wvumc.org/portico/