During opening worship on November 20, 2021, The United Church of Canada’s (UCC) General Council Executive covenanted with The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Janzen-Ball Emm 1T0, the new Executive Minister of Theological Leadership. EC Connects recently caught up with Janzen-Ball via email.
EC Connects: Congratulations on your recent appointment as Executive Minister of Theological Leadership for The United Church of Canada’s General Council Office! What does this appointment mean to you?
Janzen-Ball: On a personal level, I’m excited about the opportunities this appointment will bring, in terms of drawing more fully on my doctoral work and integrating the ministry I’ve offered the church over the last several years, around theological education and formation for ministry leadership. I also think I’m the first woman in this role, let alone the first openly queer woman in this role. This appointment, therefore, means a lot for me personally but also for the ongoing efforts of the church to honour diverse identities. And, as a national church, we’ve made some important commitments to becoming an anti-racist denomination and to working towards right relations, reconciliation, and reparation with the Indigenous church and Indigenous peoples. I’m pleased to continue to be part of this foundational work.
EC Connects: What have you been up to since your days as a PhD student at Emmanuel College?
Janzen-Ball: Since I graduated with my PhD in 2010, I’ve been Director of the Designated Lay Ministry Program (2010-2019), and for the last two years, have been Ministry Vocation Program Coordinator at the General Council Office. In this most recent position, I had primary responsibility for Candidacy Pathway policies and processes, working with the Office of Vocation Ministers and Candidacy Boards throughout the country. In 2014, my partner and I also moved from Toronto to Saskatoon, partly to be closer to our families and partly because the DLM program had moved to St. Andrew’s College in Saskatoon. We will continue to live in Saskatoon, Treaty 6 and the Homeland of the Métis.
EC Connects: What was your focus of research as a PhD student, and how does this inform your current work?
Janzen-Ball: My research focus in my PhD was engaging an ecofeminist ethical critique of the concept of the common good. In my work, I challenged the liberal conception of the common good as a primarily economic idea, from an ecofeminist theo-ethical perspective. I reframed the singular notion of a common good that applies equally to all people (which I think is problematic because it erases context, diversity, and the ways interlocking systems of oppression further marginalize people) to an understanding of the need for common goods, that are attentive to context, social location and identity, and takes seriously lived experience and impacts of systems on people and the earth itself. My PhD work informs my ongoing ministry in the church in a multitude of ways, starting with a firm commitment to seeking justice for the earth and all peoples, in concrete and meaningful ways. That means looking at the ways systems and institutions, including the church, participate in systemic injustice, and ways that we as a church can continue to resist and change those systems of oppression.