Initially drawn to congregational life for its place in the life of a beloved family member, Rev. Nicole Barnes’s commitment to community and passion for justice led her to pursue a life of ministry inside and outside of the church.
Barnes was born and raised in Indianapolis in a multi-generational home with her mother, maternal grandparents, and two younger sisters. Her maternal grandfather, who was a deacon at a small Baptist church on the south side of the city, lost his vision when Barnes was an adolescent. “He was my best friend,” she said, “and I wanted to protect him.”
Barnes began helping her grandfather pick out suits on Sunday mornings and going with him to church. “I loved the music, the sense of community, and how my grandfather didn’t allow his loss of physical vision to stop him from praising God,” she explained. “His faith and love for God, his family, and his life were contagious.”
Although drawn to the church at an early age, Barnes never thought she’d end up an ordained minister. However, she slowly began taking on leadership roles, at first with different church ministries and Sunday School and then later with preaching and mentoring. Over time, these experiences opened her, as she put it, to “fully embracing the call that God had on my life.”
After putting it off for years, Barnes began the MDiv program at CTS in 2017. To that point, she’d been affiliated with CTS through partnerships with her job and church, but she wasn’t interested in returning to school. Feeling nevertheless pulled toward the seminary, she prayed for the opportunity to complete a degree without taking on more student debt and upending her life. “God did that and then some,” Barnes said. In May 2020, she completed the MDiv program and graduated summa cum laude.
“My time at CTS stretched and challenged me in ways that I never knew were possible,” she recalled. Grateful especially for her Discipleship Project cohort and courses with Prof. Christina Davis, Prof. Joseph Tucker, and Prof. Kimberly Russaw, Barnes said that the most transformational experience was taking a course with Prof. Courtney Buggs that included attendance to the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference. “The preaching, the learning, the connections, experience helped me dig deeper into my purpose and calling,” she explained. “However, the most critical piece was the instruction of Dr. Buggs. In any of my degree programs, I’ve never had a professor that so powerfully conveyed their desire for their students to be their best self. The intentional feedback that she provided was so clear and tangible that I apply it to my work to this day!”
After graduating, Barnes worked with non-profit organizations on voter engagement and on mobilizing and educating communities leading up to the 2020 elections. In 2021, she was ordained at Eastern Star Church, where she continues to serve in ministry. She recently became National Voting Program Director for the Faith in Action Fund.
Reflecting on her time at CTS and her vocational path, she explained, “I’ve always had a heart for the underserved and underrepresented, so I’m grateful that God has afforded me to serve at the intersection of faith and justice as a national voting program director for a faith-based organization. My faith in God is bigger than the fear of my flesh. It’s been a journey, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”