Wingate religious studies major Mallory Challis has known she wanted to be a writer since her third-grade teacher at Millbridge Elementary gave her a book of poetry with an inspiring inscription. A few years later, she also realized she wanted to be a Christian pastor. What she didn’t know was how many opportunities she would have, while at Wingate, to get hands-on experience in both roles.
The senior from Salisbury has been named a Clemons Fellow with Baptist News Global for the fall semester and has already had several articles published on the BNG website. She’s enjoying learning the craft of public writing as opposed to the academic-style papers she’s penned since she found herself in an upper-level course her freshman year.
“I took a special-topics class about Paul,” Challis says. “It was a 300-level class. I guess I didn’t know how the numbers worked, and I was thrown in with a bunch of upperclassmen.” Not only was the professor thrilled to see her diving into her major headfirst, but Challis, who is part of Wingate’s Honors College, says she was able to “be curious and ask a lot of questions in a great environment.”
The next semester, she signed up for a 400-level course with Dr. Mark Roncace. The class was so small, they met in his office.
“I would be sitting right there in front of him, going over summaries of my homework,” Challis says. The experience was both intimidating and confidence-building.
In another religion class last year, she was challenged to submit an article to a publication and sent one to Baptist News Global, hoping for little more than constructive feedback. To her surprise, the article was published, as was a second one. Not long after, an editor there contacted her to ask about her vocational goals and offer his support in pursuing the Clemons Fellowship.
As part of the fellowship, she submits an article each week, which the editor critiques, helping her home in on topics that readers will respond to and making sure her pieces are more journalistic than scholastic in tone.
“Public writing is a very different experience,” Challis says.
In addition to an article about food and faith, she’s written about queer Christian artist Semler and about pastor Matt Chandler’s controversial online relationship, a topic that allowed her to marry her academic and journalistic pursuits in an opinion piece. Challis approached the subject through the lens of purity culture and transactional sexuality, concepts she had examined during a Reeves Summer Research project at Wingate. In fact, she’ll present her paper, “Martyrs of Chastity: Illuminating the Power of Peter’s Disabled Daughter and Drusiana in the Apocryphal Acts,” at the University’s upcoming Wellspring Symposium.
Challis says writing is something she’ll always do. She hopes to one day write a book, but already she sees the writing as an integral part of her ministry.
“The internship is helping me be able to reflect on very public issues in the church,” she says. “And writing is a form of ministry. There are lots of people online. Maybe one of my articles will give them a tidbit of religion that they wouldn’t get in their everyday life.”
Similarly, in her work with Wingate Student Ministries and as president of the University’s Interfaith Club, Challis tries to create non-threatening opportunities for people to explore their beliefs.
“A lot of students want to explore their spirituality but are nervous about joining a Bible study,” she says. “We’re trying to get people to just open up to being interested in learning about religion.”
Challis, who grew up in the Wesleyan church, has long felt the call to be a pastor. She says Dane Jordan, Wingate’s minister to students, whom she met at Become a Bulldog Day and later came to work for, has helped give her a broader, more realistic picture of what ministry looks like.
“I think whenever I first came here, ministry to me looked like reading the Bible every day and constantly worshiping,” Challis says. “But now I realize that it can be very normal kinds of things. Sometimes it’s going to Starbucks and talking to someone. Sometimes it’s just sitting with someone who is going through something. As I’ve gotten to know more and it’s become destigmatized, it’s less intimidating.”
As part of her work with Student Ministries, Challis spent 10 days in Kingston, Jamaica, during her freshman year, serving alongside the Missionaries of the Poor. She says the behind-the-scenes look at ministry, on campus and beyond, has helped her understand that pastors are not “holy people who do no wrong.”
“I don’t have to be a perfect pastor,” Challis says. “It’s made me more forgiving of myself.”
She’s on track to graduate in May 2023 and is applying to graduate schools to pursue her master of divinity degree.