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CALLS TO MINISTRY BRING ABRUPT CHANGE

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Four months ago, Jenny Stephenson was working 50- to 70-hour weeks at Huntsman Chemical Corp. She had nine years with the company - six of those in Salt Lake City - and had worked her way up to vice president of marketing communications.

She was a single parent with two daughters, ages 4 and 6, in private school. She owned a condo in Sandy and easily netted $70,000 a year for her work, excluding her company car and benefits package.But at the end of May, Stephenson, 42, gave it all up - to enter seminary school.

"The call was very recent. I resigned . . . (but) had not thought about the ministry until I went to talk to my pastor a week after I had left Huntsman. It was a definite cut-off," Stephenson said. "It was time for me to move on. I did not have my heart in it."

Last month, Stephenson withdrew most of her savings and moved her daughters to Chicago to attend a four-year degree-granting program at the Lutheran School of Theology. When she graduates, Stephenson will have a master's of divinity degree. She has no career goals in mind for what to do with her degree.

"It's more that I'm following where I'm being led," Stephenson said. "I just know I'll be led in whatever direction God wants me to go. I'm just totally in his hands to be molded."

Stephenson is following a path Gray Pearson took six years ago. Pearson, an associate pastor at Southeast Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, left a seven-year career as a commercial banker in 1989 to answer a call from God.

"I did struggle with that (call). I probably struggled with it for two to three months easily," said Pearson, 34. "I had a comfort level as a banker. (Answering the call to become a minister) was kind of The Great Unknown."

Pearson said he had been involved in church all his life, although he concedes that he wasn't always a Christian. He said the decision to enter Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (in Fort Worth, Texas) was eased by the positive support family, friends and colleagues gave.

"My wife and I had become committed Christians. I did a lot of praying during that time," Pearson said.

Pearson, who prefers not being addressed as `pastor' or `reverend,' went on to complete 68 hours of graduate level classes at the seminary. He studied religious education, with an emphasis in youth ministry. Since 1993, he's worked as Southeast Baptist's associate pastor of youth and children's ministries.

"That's what I strongly feel my calling is. I feel I'm right where God called me," Pearson said. And he doesn't want for the $40,000 a year he earned as a banker, either. "I'm making close to that now," he said.

Pastor Jeff Nellermoe, of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sandy, said although career professionals may feel the need to spiritually mentor people, the decision to leave their corporate lifestyles for the ministry is a hard one. In his two years as co-pastor of Good Shepherd, Nellermoe said he's counseled two dozen parishioners of all ages and classes with similar conflicts.

"It's about giving up security and prestige. I think for most of them, the workplace no longer holds the meaning it once held for them: to make as much money as they can and be as content as possible with possessions," said Nellermoe, who became a minister shortly after finishing college.

Nellermoe said there is an internal call to serve God and an external one. The internal call is the "feeling you have within yourself that God is calling or requiring you to serve in this capacity." The external call is the one that's "confirmed by the church, based on the gifts and talents required to serve in a position of leadership."

Stephenson said that although sharing scriptures, triumphs of faith and religious beliefs with others has been an important part of her life for the past 15 years, she had never considered entering the seminary. However, after two ministers in a 10-year period asked her to consider the ministry for herself, she began to think of it as a career option. She said her pastor, Nellermoe, told her she had "the gift of ministry." Stephenson said Nellermoe told her to consider their conversation an "outer call."

Around the middle of June, Stephenson began a seminary-registration process that typically takes nine months to complete. Soon afterward, she was accepted to the prestigious Chicago school, one of seven Lutheran schools of divinity in the nation, for the fall semester. However, she still needs approval from the Denver synod, the regional base of the Lutheran church's board of governors. Classes start Oct. 2 at the seminary, Stephenson said.

"Hopefully, I'll receive the final blessing from them in October," she said. "I don't believe God brought me this far to turn me away. I've always wanted to study the scriptures. "Going back (to the business world) is not an option," she continued. "I feel like I've left one world and entered another."