By Wendy Klesch, Special to The Catholic Virginian
Janet Jones has traveled a long way on her faith journey to her commissioning this week as a lay ecclesial minister.
“You could start out by saying I wasn’t always Catholic,” she laughed.
Although she was born into the Lutheran faith, Ms. Jones explained that once she married, she and her husband, a “cradle” Catholic, stopped attending services in either denomination.
“We didn’t go to church for 20 years,” she said. “It was one of God’s big surprises that I became Catholic. But little by little, God has revealed to me that this is where I needed to be.”
Like her faith life, her career path has taken several unexpected twists and turns, until her work and faith came to influence one another and, finally, to merge into one vocation.
She started as a lab technician working in a hospital, but later launched a second career in the IT field. As the year 2000 approached, Ms. Jones’ work in computer software development began to center around the problem of Y2K. The feeling of great change in the air—as well as the fear of possible technological catastrophe that permeated those years—soon had her on a quest for greater meaning.
On New Year’s Eve 1999, while visiting her husband’s Catholic relatives on the Jersey Shore, she and her husband accompanied them to Mass. As a New Year’s resolution for the coming year, she and her husband made the decision to return to church. Initially, she assumed she would resume her Lutheran faith, but, after a year-long search, her husband felt drawn to Church of the Ascension in Virginia Beach.
“There was just such a spirit-filled atmosphere here,” she said. “A real spirit of welcome.”
Ms. Jones completed RCIA in 2002. Upon joining the Catholic Church, she continued studying and, with a “nudge” from her husband, began volunteering as a catechist for the eighth-grade class.
“There is such a richness in our Church.” she said. “And you have to be prepared when you are facing a group of eighth-graders,” she added with a smile.
Later, Father Jim Parke, pastor of Church of the Ascension at the time, gave a small group of the volunteers—including Ms. Jones— the responsibility of revamping the high school program.
“Looking back, I feel like maybe that was my first test.”
It was at that point that her career and faith life began to converge. For some time, she had become less than happy with her work in the IT field.
“I began to feel like I was just making money for other people. I wasn’t doing anything to help anyone,” she said.
When her job was outsourced, she took it as a sign that it was time to seek a change. Soon afterwards, the position of coordinator for Religious Education at her parish became vacant.
“Father Parke just called me out of the blue,” she said. And so she decided to take yet one more leap of faith.
Ms. Jones is now Director of Religious Education at Church of the Ascension, overseeing religious education programs for all age groups, including adult formation.
She had recently completed a bachelor’s degree in social work from Norfolk State University when she began the LEMI program, she explained.
“And then I did something I don’t recommend any graduate student doing: I doubled up on classes.”
Although Ms. Jones began with the third group of LEMI candidates, she will be commissioned as part of the second, earning a master’s degree in theology from St. Leo’s.
“I keep returning to John 15:16,” she said. “It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you.”
“I feel like God has always been a few steps ahead of me, but when I take the time to reflect, I find He has guided me to just where I need to be.”