The Rev. Tracy Malone accepted her call to ministry in the United Methodist Church at an unusually young age.

“There’s always been this desire in me to make a difference, to have an impact,” Malone said. “Even as a child, I would always play the preacher or be the one corralling the kids on the block, being the mother hen. I always had those kinds of things in me but didn’t know what all that meant.”

Malone’s conscious decision to declare her intention to serve in the church came at a Maceo D. Pembroke Ministerial Recruitment and Development Program when she was barely a teenager. It was something Malone, now 45, said she “never questioned,” but she wasn’t sure where it would lead.

“That was my first public expression of ‘Yes, Lord, it is me.’ I didn’t know what all that meant. I was 13 years old,” Malone said.

The Chicago native and her five siblings grew up in a home rooted in religion. Malone said her parents, Willie and April Smith, were “always active in the church.

“We all grew up going to Sunday school — we had a station wagon and everybody would pile in and we’d go to church,” Malone said.

Willie Smith became a United Methodist Church pastor as his second career, answering his call, Malone said, about the same time she answered hers.

After graduation from Lindblom Technical High School — Malone said the word “minister” is listed as her life’s ambition next to her photo — her calling led to her undergraduate work in religious studies at North Central College, a master’s of divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, which is on the campus of Northwestern University in Evanston, and a doctorate from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

Malone has risen through the ranks of the United Methodist Church, from her first assignment in 1993 as associate pastor at the First United Methodist Church of Lombard, to senior pastor at United Methodist Church Southlawn in Chicago, at United Methodist Church Wesley in Aurora, and at Gary United Methodist Church in Wheaton, to her current position as the United Methodist Church Chicago Southern District Superintendent of the Northern Illinois Conference.

Malone has been striving to reach her goal to lead since her first days at North Central College, where she recently was awarded the 2013 Outstanding Alumni Award.

While a student there, Malone was active in the campus ministry, started a gospel group, added to the Martin Luther King, Jr. commemorative activities and served on the search committee for the college’s first multicultural activities director.

Malone has returned to North Central as an alumna to speak at Martin Luther King, Jr. Day activities, and she and her husband Derrick, whom she met in 1990 at North Central, have established the Derrick and Tracy Malone Minority Scholarship to support black students at North Central.

Malone and her husband, married in 1993, have lived in Flossmoor with their two daughters, Alexis, 15, and Ashley, 11, since 2011. Malone said her family has been “very supportive” of her work, which has required them to move many times.

In 2011, Bishop Jung of the United Methodist Church appointed Malone to her current position, in which she impacts more than 60 churches in her district, overseeing the pastors and the state of the churches. She now serves under Bishop Sally Dyck, the first female bishop in the Northern Illinois Conference.

Malone said she takes great joy in returning to her roots in her new position, to the people who “raised her” as she grew up in the church.

“The very people who prayed for me and supported me ... watched my journey, they’ve been watching me grow,” Malone said. “But little did they know and little did I know that all this growing and formation ... was really preparing me to come back and serve and help make a difference in the very place where I was raised.”