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Adult Student Finds Her Calling at Wilson College

Posted: December 16, 2013

Patty Hall has resisted the urge to enter the ministry for years. A mission trip to a Navajo Indian reservation and her experience at Wilson College finally convinced her to yield to the impulse that always seemed to resurface, no matter how hard she tried to quash it.

“Probably even as early as the mid-90s, I started to think about (going into the ministry),” said Hall. “The idea just sort of hounded me. I would put it out of my mind and talk myself out of it, but it just always sort of came back.”

The 51-year-old enrolled at Wilson as a business major with thoughts of advancing her career at Chambersburg Hospital, where she verifies physician credentials, among other things. After a few semesters of exposure to Wilson’s liberal arts curriculum, she began to reconsider.

“I took a couple of courses in business and then I had a class with Dr. (David) True called ‘Private Values, Public Policy,’” said Hall, who lives with her husband in the tiny village of Maddensville, Pa. “I was so interested in how religion permeates different aspects of our lives and how it translates over into our governmental policies.”

At the same time, Hall who is an elder in her church, had several other experiences that helped bring her calling into focus. One of the most influential was a 2012 mission trip to the Navajo Nation, a large Native American reservation spanning the “four corners” area in the western states.

“You always hear about Indian reservations. I wanted to see for myself what it was like there,” said Hall. She first noticed the bumpy, unpaved roads and desolate landscape of sagebrush and rocks. Later, she began to see beneath the surface. “Some of the houses that I went into had dirt floors and they had no water. Some were made of particleboard. I’ve seen sheds here that are nicer.”

During a program at the camp - where unemployment and alcoholism are rampant - a little boy asked Hall to put her arms on his chair, then mustered the courage to ask her to hug him. “He just wanted to be loved," she said.

The memory of the experience at the reservation still haunts Hall. “That first night I was so heartsick that our country would do such a thing and allow people to live like that,” said Hall, beginning to cry. One the plane ride home, while reading her church’s “Book of Order,” she began to realize that mission trips, making donations and other well-intentioned acts are not enough. “It was like an epiphany,” said Hall. “We need to change our policies and laws.”

Back at Wilson, Hall changed her major to religious studies. Now she is seriously considering attending a seminary after graduation. “I thought, why not do something that’s meaningful,” said Hall, who expects to graduate in 2015. “I’m really happy with that decision.”

She has been quietly trying to bring about change, writing to political representatives to support fair wages and immigration, and speaking at her church about food justice and responsible consumerism. To many of the friends and acquaintances she speaks to, that kind of advocacy seems like tilting at windmills, but a recent experience at Harvard Divinity School reinforced and renewed Hall’s enthusiasm.

In early November, she attended a selective recruitment opportunity – the Harvard Diversity and Explorations Program – on True’s recommendation. As one of just 54 chosen to attend from among 200 applicants, Hall had an opportunity to see first-hand what it be would like to attend HDS and explore the social justice and religion issues that so inspire her. Now, with her husband’s support, she is seriously considering applying after graduating from Wilson.

“After going there, I felt like I was with my people,” Hall said. “Everyone there was just so hopeful and full of great ideas and trying different things.” She also liked the way people of all religions were accepted and included in an atmosphere or understanding and collaboration. “It seems like such a wonderful opportunity.”

True, who is impressed with Hall’s decision to follow this new path despite the obstacles that stand before her, calls her the most prepared student he’s ever worked with.

“Her presence in a course helps to raise the level of conversation in both tone and substance,” True said. “She’s shaped my teaching. I’ve learned things as a teacher from her. And Patty’s passion for religious studies – it’s contagious, it’s infectious. That’s a gift for me as a professor.”

Hall is passionate about many social justice issues, but her keenest interest is promoting peace. Although her father, husband, son and son-in-law all served in the military, she wants to see the policies of the U.S. and ideally, all governments, change their approaches to conflict.

“We’ve been warring with others since the beginning of time,” she said. “I think it’s time to look at ways of resolving conflicts other than killing each other.”

Though she isn’t sure what she will ultimately do after college, Hall thinks she might like to work as a chaplain at a place that serves veterans. In the meantime, “I write letters, I talk to my friends and people that I know about peace and reform,” she said. “I hope I can go on to graduate school and be in ministry and find some way to make the world be a better place.”

Last Updated: February 12, 2014