Melinda Penry was born in Greensboro, N.C. At the age of 13 her family moved to the country, where they had beef cows and quarter horses, and that, she said, was life changing.
“I was in heaven,” Melinda expressed. “On our farm, we had room to grow our own hay and build pastures and a barn. I spent a lot of time riding horses. We had a horse show on most Saturdays. I loved the sky and clouds, the trees and the scent of the fresh country air. Dad and I spent a lot of time together outside. We were always very close. He was the greatest Christian person I’ve ever known and a great influence in my life.”
Melinda has two siblings, a brother six years younger and a sister 10 years younger. They have a close relationship, and they loved the country living, too, but didn’t take to showing horses as she did, she explained.
Before she was old enough to drive, Melinda’s mother would drop her off at the hospital in the mornings, and she would spend the whole day visiting the sick, as a volunteer for the hospital’s youth program. As a teenager, when she was old enough to drive, she visited the sick and called on those who had lost a loved one or others having a difficult time.
“Caring and loving people is something God gave me,” she said.
Melinda said she has two amazing sons, Ruffin and Neil, who are doing well. Each of them has one child, a 1 and 4 year old, respectively.
She received a B.A. in business/communications with a minor in English and a Master of Divinity from Duke University in Durham, N.C.
In the mid ‘80s and ‘90s Melinda worked in marketing in a healthcare system and a mortgage/insurance company. For 18 years she planned and executed regional and national special events, wrote and photographed multiple professional publications, traveled all over the country developing marketing tools for her sales teams, doing photo shoots and, in short, doing everything she loved, she said.
As a professional photographer, she ran her own studio for eight years, winning several local and regional awards, especially for her unique landscape scenes and photos of her boys when they were 2 and 4 years old, and beyond, in creative outdoor settings.
Still very active in her photography, she said, “It was born in me.”
In 2002 she returned to her home church, where she enjoyed working with her dad in various mission programs.
“I saw him cause people to want to do more,” Melinda said of her father, and she wanted to do the same. She knew God wanted her to do something, but she didn’t know what it was. One day she went to her pastor.
“I know,” she told him. “God is calling me into the ministry.” Melinda continued, “I can’t believe it. I’m just an ordinary person, why would He want me?”
Applying for divinity school, she described, “From the beginning of my calling I took hold of God’s hand, and He started running, and I’ve been running with Him ever since.”
While carrying a full school load, she also served as a student pastor. During her first sermon as student pastor she took a handful of mustard seeds and tossed them out at the congregation.
“It surprised everyone. I’m very visual in my teaching and preaching,” she chuckled.
In 2005 Pastor Melinda was involved in prison ministry and her church went, too.
“And we have never been the same,” she said. “It forever changed us. Isn’t it incredible that God took us to the prison at the beginning of my ministry? I remember the significance of that every single day. It has kept me close to a major teaching of Jesus – Matthew 25:31-46. I want to go to where the people are.”
She related that John Wesley took a pulpit wherever he went, even to the middle of a field, and preached.
“Wesley said, ‘The world is my parish,’ and I believe that,” Pastor Melinda stated with conviction.
Pastoring in several places in the western half of North Carolina, she was ordained in the Western North Carolina Conference in 2014.
On her first Ash Wednesday serving a church, Pastor Melinda asked her dad to come put ashes on her forehead after she imposed the ashes on everyone else. The sermon was about how God works through our brokenness. She took a clay pot and slammed it on a brick at the altar rail, breaking it into dozens of pieces and shocking the congregation.
Then as she held the pieces together, she asked the congregation to imagine, “As God puts the pieces together, you can see His light shine through the broken places. No matter what, your brokenness will never be out of God’s reach as our master potter.”
At the end of the service her Dad came forward to impose ashes on her. He dropped to his knees. She, in turn, fell to hers. As he made the sign of the cross on her forehead with the ashes, his prophetic words to her spoke directly to what God was going to do with her life.
“We were blown away by the Holy Spirit. I wasn’t expecting that holy moment. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. We knew the whole service was led by the Holy Spirit, and we were definitely on holy ground that night,” Pastor Melinda shared.
Another highlight of her ministry is working with the children. When she was 15 years old, she was asked to teach the 5-year-old Sunday school class and she has never stopped teaching.
“I have a great passion for children and they can feel that love. They may have never seen me before, but they come right up and sit beside me, or give me something they’ve made or tell me their stories. Children know the truth, and they are not afraid to speak it. That’s what I love about them. I enjoy connecting with young people, whether it be listening, teaching or helping them. I enjoy hearing their plans and dreams, offering guidance, getting them to think outside the box and loving them where they are. I hope to work with all ages of children and young people. We belong together,” Pastor Melinda compassionately explains.
A mentor taught Melinda how to give communion to a baby by dipping the bread and touching the baby’s lips. Providing that sacrament was a memorable blessing for her.
“Everyone is welcome at our table, no one is left out. I have a vision of a growing endless table where there is always room for one more. I have a heart for feeding people, not just physically but spiritually,” she described.
Pastor Melinda enjoys creating, whether it be with her photography or her artwork with paints, pottery, recycled items and more. She loves everything outdoors. When she was 13 she would climb a tree with her lunchbox just to sit and take in the scene as far as she could see.
“My heart is always hurting, celebrating and rejoicing,” she concluded. Pastor Melinda is very compassionate.
Rev. Melinda Penry pastors the United Methodist churches in Lovell and Powell. She ministers in Lovell at the 9:30 a.m. service through the end of March, then at 11 a.m. beginning April 5. On Fridays she also enjoys visiting with people who come to the Lovell Community Food Pantry, housed at the Methodist Church.
Editor’s note: Leaders are found in a variety of positions. One of the positions that might be overlooked is spiritual leaders. For the next several weeks the Lovell Chronicle will feature the spiritual leaders of the area.
By Teressa Ennis