Emily Phillips Davis, MDiv ’15, didn’t see many women in ministry when she was growing up in Memphis, Tennessee. Still, by the time she reached high school, she knew she received the call. She thought maybe she was meant to be a pastor’s wife, or perhaps work with children (the two major pathways she saw for women in the church). But when she began to study religion at Baylor University and was exposed to female preachers, she knew she had to attend seminary and become a pastor herself.
After graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary, she was ordained in the American Baptist Church’s tradition at the First Baptist Church of Trenton, and went on to serve as the congregation’s associate pastor. However, when she and her husband relocated to Texas, she found herself back in a conservative landscape where women weren’t as accepted in the pulpit. With an increasing desire to pastorally care for people, she pivoted to a role in hospital chaplaincy.
In this role, Davis met people from a range of denominations and religious backgrounds (or lack thereof). Sometimes she led a prayer, and other times she simply lent a compassionate ear. “I sought to assess their spiritual well-being and see what needs might arise,” she says. “It was different for everyone.”
Soon after, Davis transitioned into a role as hospice chaplain, which she describes as the midpoint between pastoring in a church and ministering in a hospital: she gets to journey with people longer term as a church pastor does, and also accompanies people during a tender time as she did in the hospital setting. “I get to hear a lot of stories about people’s lives and what brought them joy,” she says. “It’s a holy time to journey with people.”
As a chaplain, Davis did much of her ministering virtually during the pandemic. She found that this “restriction” actually enhanced her connection with certain patients and families, since skeptics were often more open to a phone call than a home visit. She’s also been doing a lot more grief support, since many families haven’t been able to say goodbye to departed family members or give them proper funerals during the pandemic.
One day, Davis can see herself returning to preaching in a church, though she doesn’t see her work now as entirely separate. “As a chaplain, I am a pastor to my patients and families,” she says, “just as a church pastor is to their parishioners.”