By Mark Brown
Rev. Ellen Di Giosia was named pastor of Jefferson City’s First Baptist Church following vote by ballot in two services Sunday morning. She will begin her duties on August 1 and preach as pastor for the first time on August 6.
The selection was the culmination of a 17-month process that was accomplished by a nine-member pastor search committee. Those selected to be a part of the search team came from the breadth of the church’s membership, each selected by the Committee on Committees to search for the next pastor. Ninety-four resumes from across the country poured into Jefferson City from the time the position was announced as open in early 2016.
The search committee met weekly at the beginning of the search, and more often from March through May as it winnowed candidates to a short list. Search Committee Chair Joe Dobyns said the group’s faithfulness and trust in the Divine was paramount.
“Throughout the process, we knew that the best thing we could do was to let God lead us,” said the longtime member of First Baptist. “We are honored and humbled that the congregation put their trust in us. We spent time in prayer, as individuals and as a group, and we felt that God was leading us to Ellen, just as we each felt God's call to serve the church.”
“It was a lengthy process, but we were thorough because we were searching for the right candidate,” surmised Dobyns. “As we grew closer and closer to the end, it became clear to us that Ellen is the best fit. The energy and excitement within the church over the weekend was confirmation that she is who we need.”
Di Giosia brims with excitement as she considers the future in Jefferson City, getting to know the FBC family and working with members to demonstrate, she says, “Who we are to the community.”
“I hope that who we are to the community is the presence of Christ. I hope that we are bearers of God’s love to people, whether they see Him the same way we do or not. And I hope that we are part of a larger body, that we are not exclusive, but that we partner with other people of God to create justice in our community and spaces for people to grow in their knowledge of Jesus.”
Di Giosia (pronounced “dee joe SEE ah”) comes to Jefferson City from Woodland Baptist Church, in San Antonio, Texas, where she has been on staff since 2008, and has served as associate pastor of Faith Formation since 2013. In that capacity, she partnered with volunteers to assess and cultivate spiritual formation programs, which included Sunday school as well as seasonal classes and special events. She administered a vibrant family ministry program, planned retreats and facilitated numerous intergenerational ministry opportunities.
She led a six-figure project to update and secure Woodland’s preschool facility, including design, fundraising and construction, along with establishing new security protocols and overseeing parent education. She inaugurated an All Saints Day observance to honor deceased church members and designed a December 21 “Longest Night Service” as a special ministry to those who struggle with grief and loss at Christmastime. Other service includes teaching a beginning ESL class and being part of a peace pilgrimage to Northern Ireland.
She added Faith Formation duties to her work as children’s minister, through which she coordinated Sunday school, extended sessions and seasonal activities, such as PASSPORTkids! camp, VBS, and Christmas gift-making workshops. She has written and delivered children’s sermons, led the construction of a new playground, overhauled the church’s nursery program to better serve children and their families.
Di Giosia has also served as a minister of music and oversaw a pilot project that included providing pastoral care to senior adults and leading worship services at an assisted living facility. Other experience includes directing operations for the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, directing the educations program for the San Antonio Symphony and running her own music studio for several years. She earned a BA in music from Mississippi College, an MDiv from Baylor University’s Truett Theological Seminary and has pursued studies in clinical pastor education.
She will move to Jefferson City at the end of July, along with her husband Tony, an architect and home designer, and their children, daughter Gemma and son Luca.
Dobyns said an informational survey of the congregation, taken by his committee, and the vote for Di Giosia reflect the doctrinal position of the church, which is dually-aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention. “The vote showed our congregation’s rich heritage of believing that God blesses and calls women to serve. My mom was ordained as a deacon in the church, and we didn't just start that; it's been happening for more than 40 years.”
The new pastor says the journey has already been both informative and affirming.
“I have felt every step of the way supported by the Spirit of God, supported by the search committee, supported by my family and my church (in San Antonio),” she said.
“And now, I look forward to getting to know people, hearing about what they’re doing and finding out more about the mission that is going on here.”