CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Sandra Steiner Ball believes God has called her to serve as bishop of the West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.
"It's exciting," she said. "It's full of new opportunities for making disciples for Jesus Christ, creating new relationships, and working with the future vision of the church."
Ball, 50, was elected bishop during the Northeastern Jurisdiction Conference and assigned to the West Virginia area. She is the first woman to hold the position. Her official duties began Sept. 1.
The West Virginia Conference includes the entire state, with the exception of the Eastern Panhandle, as well as Garrett County, Md. Of 831 pastors, 644 are men and 187 are women.
Ball was formerly director of connectional ministries for the Peninsula-Delaware Conference. She has previously served as an associate pastor, lead pastor and district superintendent.
Her initial call to the ministry was something she embraced even though she did not immediately tell others. That was because she didn't know any women ministers.
She was born in Massachusetts and grew up in Delaware. She was the first of three children born to Edward and Marjorie Steiner. Her father was in the family textile recycling business and her mother was a teacher.
She grew up in a United Methodist church where both of her parents taught Sunday school.
As a toddler she had trouble communicating and forming words. Her parents took her to a doctor who called her "stupid." While she had problems conversing, she found she could express herself by singing in the church where she always felt accepted, encouraged and loved.
"I loved music and sang in the choir," she said "If I could communicate through music, I could get it out. Church was my sanctuary."
She went through the public school system where various teachers encouraged her as she developed her own coping mechanisms. It was eventually determined she had a form of dyslexia.
She graduated in the top 10 of her high school class and headed to Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., where she majored in religion and English. During her junior year, she called her hometown minister to discuss her call to ministry. He was so excited that a dinner was planned with her as the speaker. After her talk, her father said he had no doubt she was destined to be a pastor.
"It excited and scared me," she said. "I had never known a woman pastor."
She went to Duke Divinity School and then earned a doctorate from Wesley Theological Seminary.
She has held various pastoral and administrative positions over the years and can see that God had a hand in every one of them.
In her current role, she will be a spiritual leader, motivator, and administrator. Mainly, she will keep an open heart and mind to see where God is leading.
"My duty is to see where Jesus Christ is at work in the communities and to see where people can connect," she said. "I will ask the Lord to help me see where we as a conference can bring light and hope to the world to motivate and help people understand what they can do."