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SIOUX CITY | When the Rev. Ryan Dowell Baum delivers his sermon from behind the pulpit of First Congregational United Church of Christ Sunday morning, parishioners are engaged by their easy-going pastor.

Yet, some in Dowell Baum's congregation might not realize that, in his previous life, the 29-year-old shared small screen time with the likes of such stars Britney Spears and Destiny's Child.

You see, First Congregational's pastor spent three seasons as one of the stars of the Disney Channel's television series, "The Famous Jett Jackson."

A coming-of-age fantasy running from 1998 to 2001, "The Famous Jett Jackson" told the story of a teen actor, missing his family and friends, who leaves Hollywood for his North Carolina hometown.

Featuring Lee Thompson Young in the title role of Jett Jackson, the series gave the-then 15-year-old Dowell Baum (then known as Ryan Sommers Baum) his first national TV gig.

"I played Jett's dorky, socially awkward best friend," Dowell Baum said of his comic relief role of J.B. Halliburton. "I'd get into trouble and Jett would get me out of a jam."

Except for his beard, Dowell Baum looks largely the same as he did during his child acting days.

"Immediately after the show ended, I couldn't go to (New York's) Times Square without being noticed," he said. "Nowadays, it's more like people recognize my face but can't quite place from where."

Sometimes, Dowell Baum will help jog memories by asking if they watched the Disney Channel a decade ago.

"That usually does the trick because people will remember me from 'Jett Jackson,'" he said with a shrug. "Anyway, it's definitely a conversation starter."

This is also how Dowell Baum's First Congregational parishioners have come to know their new pastor.

"I'm sure some know me from TV while others probably don't," he remarked. "Either way, my past is a part of who I am and acting represents a part of my identity."

But, how did a former child actor become a pastor?

Well, the story began in Dowell Baum's hometown of Guilderland, N.Y., west of Albany.

The son of a secular Jewish dad and a non-practicing Catholic mom, Dowell Baum was attracted to theater at an early age.

Appearing in a professional production of "The King and I" at age 7, Dowell Baum quickly racked up credits in stages productions in and around New York state.

Through a theatrical agent, the ambitious actor read for the part on "Jett Jackson" in Los Angeles "on a fluke," was offered the role and immediately moved to Toronto, where the series filmed all of its 65 episodes.

This was a surreal time for the teen actor.

"By nature, TV acting is the embodiment of fantasy," Dowell Baum admitted. "Only some actors don't realize that the fantasy ends when the director yells 'cut.'"

Dowell Baum credits his parents for keeping him grounded.

"My dad would say I might be a star at work," he recalled, "but I still had to take out the garbage when I got home."

When "The Famous Jett Jackson" ended its run, Dowell Baum shot a TV pilot for the WB (now the CW) network and enrolled at the Tisch School of Arts at New York University.

"Becoming a theater major was a bit of a shock for me," he said. "All of my classmates were studying to become actors. I was already an actor and I was in school, learning to become a better one."

It was at NYU where Dowell Baum said he "discerned a call to become a minister."

"For so long, I was Ryan the actor and, now, there was a voice in my head calling me to the ministry," he remembered. "I wasn't even a Christian but God wanted me to become a pastor."

Semesters spent in Madrid, Spain, and, especially, Johannesburg, South Africa, cemented Dowell Baum's belief that he should enter the ministry.

It was in Johannesburg that Dowell Baum worked with the Quaker community, helping to use theater as a way to educate kids about HIV and AIDS.

Upon earning a bachelors of fine arts degree in theater in 2005, he graduated with a master of divinity at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, Calif., in 2010.

It was in seminary school that Dowell Baum married Molly Dowell, herself an NYU theater major graduate, studying to become a Methodist minister.

"If Molly was going to take my last name when we married, I decided I was going to take her last name as well," he said. "After all, I was going to be as much a Dowell as I was a Baum."

Yet, it was Dowell Baum's family who had serious trepidations about his sudden change in vocation.

"My mom was actually worried that I wouldn't be able to make any money as a minister," he said with a smile. "I had to convince her that a ministry was a more reliable way of life than a career in the arts."

As First Congregational's pastor, Dowell Baum said he often relies on skills acquired from acting. 

"I'm relatively comfortable speaking in front of groups and I've mastered the art of 'schmoozing,'" he said, laughing. "Both of those skills work either when you're an actor or a minister."

But, does Dowell Baum ever miss show business?

"I don't miss the industry but I miss some of the people," Dowell Baum allowed. "God put some people on this earth to be artistic and he should be applauded for that."

"But God also put some people on this earth to minister his word," Dowell Baum continued. "I feel blessed to be where I'm at."











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