From traveling to the border to learn about the refugee crisis to owning her struggles, Jamie Ivey is going first—but she wants you to come with her. Through her podcast, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey, she’s challenging women to step outside their comfort zones.
Each week, women throughout the country tune in to Jamie Ivey’s voice. They listen to her as they walk on the treadmill, do laundry, shop at the grocery store and commute to work.
Even before upbeat background music can fill listeners’ ears, her voice starts each podcast episode the same way: “Hey friends, and welcome to The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey podcast. I’m your host, Jamie, and I’m so glad you’re here.”
Recording from her tiny-house studio in Dripping Springs, Texas, Ivey has a reach that extends well beyond Central Texas. As of mid-November, she had 5,800 reviews on the Apple podcast app, with an average five-star rating, and more than 90,000 followers on Instagram.
As a Christian speaker and author in 2019, it would be odd if she didn’t have a podcast, but, unlike many of her peers, Ivey was a podcaster first, releasing her first episode in May 2014, before the podcast craze truly overtook the country. Each week, she chats with a different woman, their candor providing the feel of actually dropping in on happy hour with friends.
A mom of four and a pastor’s wife, Ivey seems like someone you’d encounter in the carpool line or behind you at JuiceLand. While she might blend in walking past you at church, her fans recognize her because, to borrow fellow Christian media mogul Jen Hatmaker’s self-descriptor, she is “low-grade Christian famous.”
In her book The Preacher’s Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities, Kate Bowler addresses the concept of Christian celebrity, writing, “But in evangelical and Pentecostal Christian subcultures, these women garner the level of adoration (and scrutiny) and more often are associated with the entertainment industry. They must hire assistants to help them navigate gawking crowds or keep book signings from becoming therapy sessions as fans turned to them as gurus on marriage, parenting, miscarriage, singlehood and faith. Whatever they are called, they are not to be underestimated.”
Ivey takes her platform seriously. She’s deeply aware that in a tense, polarized culture, she’s in a unique position to speak directly to women in a space where they’re comfortable. She can’t meet them for queso and margaritas, but she can let them listen in as she and her guests wrestle with everything from racial tension in the country to the refugee crisis at the border to adoption. One question guides her show: How can we let you think about something that is not part of your everyday life?
The podcast is simple in nature, far-reaching in execution. Proximity to issues breaks down barriers and The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey allows listeners access to people and topics they might never encounter on their own. As Ivey looks past her own cultural background and worldview, she invites listeners to go with her. Five years in, Ivey has found her voice, her people and her mission.
Ivey grew up in Brownwood, Texas, and moved to the suburbs of Houston in middle school. She graduated from Houston Baptist University and shortly after, married her husband, Aaron Ivey. After a stint in Tennessee, the couple moved to Austin in 2008 for Aaron Ivey to become a worship pastor at The Austin Stone Community Church, a nationally known church planted in Austin in 2002.
In 2011, Jamie Ivey stumbled into the world of broadcasting after winning country radio station KVET-FM’s contest to find a new morning DJ. In the matter of a few weeks, she went from being a stay-at-home mom of four to DJing 6 a.m. radio shows and loving it. She had found her life’s purpose.
But several months in, the dream became costly. Her children—two of whom she and her husband had recently adopted from Haiti—weren’t doing well, marriage was hard and the pressure mounted. Four months in to her dream job, she quit. While she had no regrets choosing her family, she grieved for her newfound hidden passion.
A year and a half later, she was a guest on a friend’s podcast and left the experience thinking, “I could do that.” In 2014, The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey was born. In the early days, she invited her real-life friends to come on the show and chat. She never expected it to be anything more than a fun hobby, a creative channel for her talk-show dreams.
“If you listen to [episode one], it’s the worst thing you’ve ever heard,” Jamie Ivey says with a laugh. “In the most humble way, I’m so proud of that girl who just said, ‘I’m going to try this.’ ”
In the beginning, she Skyped guests from her closet. Today, she records with real recording equipment and she only conducts interviews in person. Guests fly to her or she squeezes in recording at overlapping speaking gigs. Her live events sell out quickly and she travels the country speaking at conferences.
Two decades ago, Jamie Ivey never would have imagined she would be a role model for other women because, for a long time, she didn’t feel safe in church, not because she had been a victim of the church but because she wasn’t sure her life would measure up to its rules. In 2018, she released her memoir, If You Only Knew, vulnerably detailing her childhood growing up in the church amid the purity culture of the 1990s and her double life of promiscuity. Two unplanned pregnancies that both ended in miscarriage during college left her wounded, broken and ashamed.
Marrying a pastor was not in her plan; becoming a pastor’s wife—and all that label brings with it—felt impossible for someone with her past. Despite growing up in Christian culture, Jamie Ivey says she didn’t actually become a Christian herself, claim Jesus died and was resurrected, until after college. Unlike many pastors’ wives who bear the responsibility of checking off requisite boxes, Jamie Ivey is a refreshing break from that mold. With ink decorating her arm, she knows she doesn’t look like the stereotypical pastor’s wife either.
“Pastors’ wives are real people,” Jamie Ivey writes in her book. “And if you’re in a church that creates a culture of putting its leaders on a pedestal, where they’re better than the rest of the church, I ask you to question how it’s affecting people who walk into your church feeling broken, in need of love and acceptance, and already not feeling good enough to receive it.”
Pedestals have proven fragile in the past few years, particularly given the Christian community did not escape the reckoning of #MeToo. In February, the Houston Chronicle published a six-part series documenting the abuse of 700 sexual-assault victims during the course of 20 years within Southern Baptist denominations. Well-known pastors, leaders and entertainers have been accused of sexual assault, harassment and abuse.
A social-media movement launched with the hashtag #ChurchToo, offering an opportunity to anyone who felt unsafe within the church—from sexual-assault survivors brushed aside by pastors to people with disabilities who felt their needs were never considered—to speak publicly about their experiences. Twitter has become a debate floor for clashing sanctions of Christianity to hash out doctrine, helping to sort who is willing to publicly decry injustice and believe victims of all forms from who remains uncertain or blatantly dismissive.
In each social-media debate, it seems for every outraged and wounded response, there is an accusation of overreacting or a plea to move forward in the knowledge that everyone makes mistakes. It is a familiar narrative bound to repeat. When grace and forgiveness are core doctrines, theology can be twisted in the hands of abusers and well-intentioned onlookers who neglect justice in exchange for consequence-free redemption.
“There’s this powerful impact women are having on the culture right now,” says Kevin Peck, The Austin Stone’s lead pastor. “Power has been massively misused in our society. It’s a cyclical thing about humans. Whenever some group gets power, they misuse it. … God is greatly using women right now to uncover or reveal some massive misuse of power that’s happened in all segments of society.”
With roughly 10,000 monthly attendees, The Austin Stone qualifies as a megachurch. (In her extensive research on the topic, Bowler defines a megachurch as “a Protestant congregation with more than 2,000 regular attendees, including both adults and children, in weekly worship services.”) Unlike many other megachurches, The Austin Stone seemingly avoids much of the baggage and stereotypes the label brings. Instead of one celebrity pastor as the face of the church, it intentionally has 12 who rotate preaching duties. Instead of filling a stadium on Sundays, the church meets at six locations throughout the city, several of them at high-school gyms and auditoriums. Instead of large internal events, the church partners with more than 200 local nonprofits, mobilizing its congregation to volunteer and donate en masse.
Sunday mornings, the Ivey family is on the front row of The Austin Stone’s downtown location in the Austin High School gym. Heads turn to catch glimpses of the Ivey kids (they regularly make cameos on their mom’s Instagram account and have their own fans) but otherwise, it’s difficult to tell them apart from any other family.
“[The Iveys] are the celebrities you would meet that don’t smell like celebrity when you meet them,” Peck says. “I think that’s what’s so appealing, particularly about Jamie on her podcast, is that the Jamie you get on her podcast is actually the Jamie you get in her living room.”
Jamie Ivey asks her followers to step out of their comfort zones but she doesn’t ask them to go alone. She steps forward first. Oct. 13, she posted on Instagram: “I woke up this morning to the news that another black citizen was killed in their own home, minding their own business. … Today, all I have to offer is my sadness for all of my brothers and sisters here in America that live daily with fear because of the color of their skin.”
It is an ache close to her heart. With three adopted black children, Jamie Ivey worries about raising her children in this country. As a family, they recently watched When They See Us, a Netflix miniseries about the 1989 Central Park rape case that led to the wrongful conviction of five teenage boys of color. The next day on the way to school, Jamie Ivey asked one of her black sons how he felt after watching it. His answer: scared. Earlier this summer, after watching a documentary about Martin Luther King Jr. and the way the media portrays young men of color losing their lives, Jamie Ivey had a similar conversation with one of her sons that ended in a poignant question: “Will this ever happen to me?”
“I can’t look at my son and say, ‘That will never happen to you.’ I can’t do that. I can’t lie to him like that. How do I know? …” her voice fades as it cracks. “He’s a black boy in America.”
Jamie Ivey credits her children with opening her eyes to the realities of living in America as a person of color.
“If we have privilege, how can we elevate people who don’t?” she asks. “That’s what my friends have taught me and that’s what I’m learning.”
This fall, she traveled to El Paso, Texas, with 12 other women, then on to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, to meet with refugees seeking asylum. Her friend Tess Clarke asked her to join the trip as an opportunity to learn about the border crisis firsthand.
“All women have a space in their communities and churches and families where they are the credible voice and so, we know not everyone can go bear witness but if we can provide opportunities for women to go, we know that that witness will multiply,” Clarke says. “That’s really our goal with those trips…to allow people to see for themselves, to hear for themselves and then to come back to their communities and tell those stories so that they’ll go forward and we can change the way people see immigrants, change the way people see migrants, see asylum seekers, see refugees.”
As the director of the nonprofit We Welcome Refugees, Clarke works to educate evangelical women about the topic of immigration and the refugee crisis. Last year, she was included in a profile by The New York Times about longtime Republican women in Texas who were voting for Democrat Beto O’Rourke. She also appeared on the publication’s podcast, The Daily, to explore her relationship between her faith and politics.
Before her trip with Clarke, Jamie Ivey admits she didn’t think the border crisis deeply affected her everyday life. As a Christian, she says the plight of refugees and separated families should “break her heart,” but in reality, it was a passing thought in her day.
While in Mexico, she met a man who fled Guatemala after he was threatened with violence for demanding justice for a girl in his apartment building who was molested. He left behind his wife and three children in hopes of keeping them safe.
“I met a man who would walk to the ends of the earth to get a better life for his kids and to save his life so he could be a better dad,” Jamie Ivey says. “It changes the narrative. I’m not solving any political problems here but I’m saying with every kind of issue, when you see somebody and hear somebody, it changes the lens that you see the problem through.”
The day she got back, she released her podcast episode with Clarke and posted on Instagram that her “eyes and ears were opened.” Anticipating pushback simply based on the topic, she included a disclaimer: “Friends, if you hear the topic of this show and think this episode might be a political one, let me just tell you it isn’t. This episode will encourage you to lean in and listen more, and to view things that others will call a political issue as very much a humanity issue.”
And because her followers trust her, they listened.
2020 is fast approaching and with it, the U.S. presidential election. Since 2016, the Christian community, and specifically evangelicalism, has fractured in self-examination, forcing its leaders to take clear stances and enter the political foray like never before.
“I wasn’t vocal in the  election,” Jamie Ivey says. “I just have never found politics my lane. I still don’t find politics my lane but I’m feeling this it-doesn’t-matter-if-it’s-your-lane-or-not tension in 2020.”
One way she’s combatting the tension is through a new podcast she’s launching in the spring with her husband. Called On The Other Side, the new podcast will have the couple interviewing people who have been through significant life changes in hopes of sparking conversation about the human side of politicized issues.
She also has a second book set to publish in the fall, more events scheduled for the new year and, as always, weekly episodes of The Happy Hour with Jamie Ivey.
When the world feels heavy, Jamie Ivey is tempted to bury her head in the sand. The latest tattoo on her right arm reminds her there is hope, there is purpose. It’s a piece still in progress: Orange ink spills over black, spotlighting a single flame on her forearm.
“[The world] feels super dark,” she says. “I want to be a light. I want my kids to be a light. I want people to look and say there’s something different, and I hope they hear that through this show, every time I speak, through books, every time I meet people. I just want the love of God, the light, to shine.”
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