That and a Whole Lot More

Jay Jerrell '98

For many, college will bring changes in one’s knowledge, major and relationships. But for Jay Jerrell ’98, it inspired a vibrant faith, a redefined calling and a transforming marriage.

Jerrell moved from Birmingham in 1994 to attend the newly named University of Mobile.

His initial experience with UMobile exceeded his expectations.

“It was everything that I was hoping it would be,” he says. In addition to his friends from home that were attending UMobile, Jerrell met many students that shared a similar faith background. Yet, there was something about them that stood out, causing him to question his own faith.

“Even though I had grown up in church, I met a lot of people who claimed the same thing that I claimed – being a follower of Christ – but there was a big difference between me and them,” says Jerrell. “It changed the way they lived, thought, talked.”

Jerrell spent his first two and a half years at UMobile searching for the genuine faith that he saw in his friends. During Christmas break of his junior year, Jerrell put his hope in Christ. This transformative experience was born out of seeing authentic examples of Christianity.

“I had friends who introduced me to Christ even though they didn’t know that’s what they were doing. It brought me to a point of realizing that I needed Jesus,” he says.

Through the rest of his junior year, Jerrell sensed God’s calling into vocational ministry. At the end of that next semester, Jerrell changed his major from history to sociology and finished his degree in four years.

Lifetime Friendships

Jerrell reflects on his time at UMobile as one that reshaped his outlook and future.

“So much of what my life is now is a result of the university,” says Jerrell. “It was everything I was looking for in a school, and I found that and a whole lot more.”

During the time Jerrell was on campus, there were only four residential areas and limited school-sponsored activities.

“It was up to us to create something to do,” he says.

So, Jerrell and his friends spent their time on homemade slip-and-slides or playing tennis-court football. Yet, it was these random, goofy moments that helped him establish lifetime friendships.

“The best friends in my life right now are people that I met at UMobile,” says Jerrell. “It was a tight-knit community.”

One of these ‘friends’ would later become his wife. While Jerrell was working in the mailroom, he met Jill Nahrgang ‘00. Nahrgang worked in the former day care program at the Oakdale Center.

“First day I saw her come around the corner, she caught my eye and I introduced myself,” says Jerrell.

Since Nahrgang could only get the mail around 4:45 p.m. each day, Jerrell would hang around an extra 15 minutes to talk to her. This began a close friendship that would eventually lead to a dinner-date some three and a half years later.

Jerrell reflects, “All of a sudden, one night you eat frozen lasagna and watch politics, then never spend a day apart after that.”

A Holy Restlessness

Upon graduating from UMobile in ’98, Jerrell moved to New Orleans for seminary. But the next summer, he came back to UMobile to work as the Mission Fuge housing coordinator. Former Vice President for Enrollment Services Herman Shoemaker saw potential in Jerrell and offered him a job as an enrollment counselor for the following year.

“I had a great experience working there,” says Jerrell. “I learned a lot.”

The job was a perfect fit. Jerrell was back in the environment that he loved, working with his friends and building relationships with prospective students. It also allowed time for him to pursue ministry. Jerrell played at Disciple Now events and other retreat weekends for youth, while also filling in as guest speaker for area youth ministries.

As he continued to pursue ministry opportunities, Jerrell sensed a “holy restlessness.”

“The (enrollment) job was a great buffer to get back into the real world,” he says. “But I knew what God was calling me to overall.”

Jerrell followed the call to Birmingham, where he landed an interim youth ministry position at the church in which he grew up. Then, he spent three years at a church in Bibb County before moving to Fort Worth, TX to pursue his Master of Arts in church music.

“I always felt like I would end up in worship ministry, it would just be a matter of time,” says Jerrell. “Even when I was in student ministry, I was still leading worship.”

Jerrell graduated from seminary in 2009 and was immediately called by Faith Family Fellowship in Spanish Fort, AL as worship pastor.

“It feels like we came home,” he says. “We love our church, we love the people – we’ve built great relationships.”

Giving Back

Because of Jerrell’s love for UMobile, he currently serves as UMobile’s Alumni Board President. He and his wife find it a rewarding way to keep connected to those with an appreciation for the school. He encourages alumni to attend UMobile functions such as concerts, tailgates and the annual Project Serve in September.

“Mobile gave so much to me and I would love to give something back,” he says.

Jerrell believes UMobile alumni all around the country have an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of students today through giving of their time, money and influence.

“I know there are a lot of people who have a similar experience to mine at the university,” he says. “They can be a part of ensuring that the University of Mobile continues to be that positive experience for each new class of students."