How One Woman’s Memoir Changed My Definition of Prayer by Ashley Grizzle

I am not a minister per se. I am the daughter of one and sister to one; however, I never felt that same sense of calling. However, I believe we are all called to serve God in some capacity. I love God. I am a Christian. I love that Jesus Christ was the epitome of the ultimate model for social justice, human rights advocacy, and just overall, loving others more than yourself. And, in order for that service to be truly for God, and not for ourselves, regular prayer is the most effective tool you can offer–yourself, and mostly, for the benefit of those to whom you will minister.

I love because God was my model of unconditional love. Conversation with God must be daily. Prayer must be honest. Prayer must be real. I have struggled with this discipline for quite some time.

A couple of years ago, a best-selling book entitled Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert, was given to me and changed my life; specifically, its story challenged my current concept of what I thought prayer ought to be versus what it really is.

I wanted to learn how to pray. I mean, really pray! You’d think as a preacher’s daughter I would have this down to a fine art. Maybe in a church sanctuary somewhere, with “every head bowed, and every eye closed.” Try a cold bathroom floor in the middle of the night, crying out to God, not knowing the last time you prayed.

Early in the book, Gilbert found herself in a place of dire loneliness, which faced her one night as she laid on the cold tile of her bathroom floor. Elizabeth cried—for the gaping wounds of her heart, for the lonely places in her life, she was lonely – even though her husband of several years was soundly sleeping in the next room; she cried because she didn’t know what to cry for, and for the reality that something big was missing in her life.

What struck me greatly was this—it is odd when a writer is without words. Being a writer myself, it is powerful, actually.

She did not know what the right thing to say was. “God? Hi, I’m Elizabeth. I’m a big fan of your work.”

Gilbert’s story shook me. One night, I found myself pondering over the experiences she had over and over again. What if I was the 30-something-year-old writer, scorned by love—or what I thought was love; feeling lost, unfilled, and abandoned? Wait! I WAS those things! Then I thought, “No, that can’t be me. I’m a good girl. I pray to God more than just when I need something.” Wait. No. Not lately. Lately, I had not talked with God at all.

As I reflected, I knew I was in trouble. I thought that maybe I should go cry pathetically on my bathroom floor. Maybe God will pity me in this sad state and forgive me for being a bad person, for not praying, for not going to church.

Then, it was as if God chuckled. And some words Elizabeth wrote that she heard from God that infamous night came to mind:

I’m here. I love you. I don’t care if you need to stay up crying all night long, I will stay with you. There’s nothing you can ever do to lose my love. I will protect you until you die, and after your death I will still protect you. I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Loneliness and nothing will ever exhaust me.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia

Prayer should not be a chore. Prayer should be genuine. God knows when you’re praying just to cross it off of a list. When I do that, I am preventing God from communicating back with me. So, of course, it felt unfulfilling. Then there were times I did not pray at all. Church and anything related only made me feel out of place, upset, and lonelier than when I didn’t go at all.

Elizabeth got real with God that night, admitted she was not perfect, and that she didn’t know what she was doing. But, in the pages of that memoir, she recorded the act of opening herself up to God. I don’t want to spoil the book for those who have not read it, but she makes these discoveries in the most unique and unusual places, literally, all over the world. She genuinely found God.

There’s a crack (or cracks) in everyone…that’s how the light of God gets in.” — Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything across Italy, India and Indonesia

Over the last few months, I have wondered how to better communicate with God. My methods have not been traditional. My traditional Baptist preacher father admits to not understanding my love of yoga when he walks in and finds me in a twisted sage or a cobra pose. Yoga has become a meaningful state of prayer and balance for me. It forces me to let go of all things ME and focus on the Divine. I honor the divinity that lives within me. I breathe God in; I breathe God out. Thanks to Elizabeth Gilbert for introducing me to this wonderful practice.

I find God when I’m watering my gerbera daisies in the morning. I find Him in the car while maneuvering through traffic, listening to great music. Music awakens my soul. When I am at the gym feeling the endorphins flowing, God is flowing. When I am caring for my puppy and he kisses my cheek, God stirs my heart and says, “I love you!” When the wonderful man in my life hugs me and says, “I love you,” I inwardly say thank you to God. When I cheer on my baseball team over a hot dog with loved ones, there is God.

Unconventional? Maybe. But on my on-going journey of self-discovery, unconventional is where I find myself. This memoir inspired me to find my own path to God. I need to continue to put what I have learned into practice. I am not where I should be, but, for now, I am striving to make random acts of kindness small, meaningful ways to be God to others.

Soul search before you begin a life of serving souls. Make prayer your lifeline.

 

Ashley Grizzle is a freelance writer living in Atlanta, Georgia.

Where Ministry Happens by Allison Hicks

“What’s your name?” barked the military training officer.

“Hicks.”

With minor irritation in his raspy voice, “Is that how you’re going to say it???”

As if I wasn’t already nervous enough, a look of bewilderment spread over my face as I answered with a hesitation unbecoming of a military officer, “Allison . . . Hicks . . . ” I trailed off.

Now with major irritation in his voice, “Is that how you’re going to say it???”

Long pause, sudden light bulb, and finally, the brain stops misfiring as I offer the correct response, “Sir, Hicks.”

And so began my first military conversation as I reported for officer training.

For a few years now, I have had this unexplainable, often seemingly irrational interest in military chaplaincy. I have never been sure how I came upon this interest; it just became a part of me somewhere along the way. After working past the initial and recurrent internal battles of its feasibility in my own life and ministry, I began training as a chaplain candidate and found myself reporting for officer training. My military training has absolutely been one of the most challenging experiences of my life. I remember the first training week . . . with every loud command to me, came the internal dialogue within me, “Don’t these people know I just want to be a chaplain?!  I just want to love people. I’m just here to help.” During the first week of officer training, I kept asking myself over and over, “What are YOU doing here?” The rigors of officer training forced me to engage my calling in a way I never imagined.

This past February, in the church where I serve as associate pastor, my parents pinned my new 1st Lieutenant rank on my shoulders and a chaplain mentor presented me with my chaplain badge. Having completed two summers of chaplain candidate training and having received my chaplain badge months ago, I reported for duty last week to my home base as a new reserve chaplain. After all this time preparing for military chaplaincy, I’m not sure I understood the role of a military chaplain until this past week. As I walked into the hospital room of a young airman, something happened within and around me. A place was made for me in that hospital room because of the military uniform I wore. There was a connection made immediately because of our common bond of service. Even in all of our differences, our lives merged in those moments by the simple, visible connection we found with one another. I didn’t have to find a place, or earn one, I was accepted as a fellow airman and as her chaplain.

Wherever we find ourselves in ministry today, may we be reminded: ministry happens where lives intersect. May we be open to the unique opportunities we stumble upon as we journey. May our lives speak the good news of life redeemed and renewed to all those we encounter.

Allison M. Hicks is associate pastor at First Baptist Church, Middlesboro, Kentucky, and a reserve chaplain in the United States Air Force.

Great Women of History: Julia Ward Howe by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

Julia Ward Howe lived from 1819-1910. The mother of six children, she was also an author, poet, preacher, teacher, and activist. If you do not know Julia by name, you likely know her by song. First published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1862, she wrote the lyrics to “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” after visiting Union soldiers in Northern Virginia during the Civil War. She reclaimed the tune to a song they had commonly sung at the battlefield.

In addition to raising six children, keeping a nineteenth-century home (and tending to a nineteenth-century husband), advocating for women’s suffrage, opposing slavery, and pushing for education and prison reform, Julia “was instrumental in creating Mother’s Day, which she envisioned as a day of solemn council where women from all over the world could meet to discuss the means whereby to achieve world peace. They would also convene as mothers, keeping in mind the duty of protecting their children.”

In response to the continuous bloodshed of the Civil War, Julia penned her Mother’s Day Proclamation of 1870. With it she “called for an international Mother’s Day celebrating peace and motherhood” to “protest what she saw as the futility of their Sons killing the Sons of other Mothers.”

Her letter declared:

Arise, then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

 

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war,

Let women now leave all that may be left of home

For a great and earnest day of counsel.

 

Let them then solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means

Whereby the great human family can live in peace,

Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,

But of God.

 

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask

That a general congress of women without limit of nationality

May be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient

And at the earliest period consistent with its objects

To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,

The amicable settlement of international questions.

The great and general interests of peace.

In the United States, a declaration of peace birthed Mother’s Day. Women gathered because they believed each human being bore “the sacred impress” of God—each man, woman, and child was made in the image of God. Julia’s vision was a day for mothers, literal and metaphorical, to use their mothering voices for the needs of the world. For those who have a voice, remember Julia’s vision by uniting those voices to speak for the voiceless. For Julia, the natural way to live out the truths of who God is and how God loves was to mother the world. Male or female, children or no children, all are called to this type of motherhood. Truly, it is a motherhood for all.

For full quotes and more information on Julia Ward Howe, visit www.juliawardhowe.org.

Elizabeth Mangham Lott is a preacher, writer, teacher, mother, wife, and aspiring activist living in Richmond, Virginia.

Great Women of History: Ann Hasseltine Judson by Pam Durso

One of my favorite women from history is Ann Hasseltine Judson. She was an extraordinary woman, one who was called by God to serve, and she lived out that calling faithfully and sacrificially.

In 1811, twenty-one-year-old Ann Hasseltine attended a dinner party given in her parents’ home. The Hasseltines were Congregationalists with a strong interest in missions. At the party was a young man who felt called to be a missionary: Adoniram Judson. Adoniram was greatly impressed by Ann (I am guessing she was a beauty, but I know for certain that she was very bright and opinionated).

Over the next few months, Adoniram returned frequently to the Hasseltine home, pleading with Ann to marry him. Ann wrote about her struggle to make this decision in her journal:

I am a creature of God, and he has an undoubted right to do with me, as seems good in his sight. I rejoice, that I am in his hands—that he is everywhere present, and can protect me in one place as well as in another. He has my heart in his hands, and when I am called to face danger, to pass through scenes of terror and distress, he can inspire me with fortitude, and enable me to trust in him. . . . But whether I spend my days in India or America, I desire to spend them in the service of God.

 

Ann’s father, however, did not want his daughter to marry Adoniram and declared that he would tie her to a bedpost before letting her live in a foreign country. Apparently, he gave up on this idea for eventually he relented and gave his blessing to the marriage.

On February 5, 1812, the couple married, and two weeks, yes, just two weeks, after their wedding, they set sail for India. While on board the ship, they studied the New Testament and contemplated the Baptist understanding of baptism. Ann wrote to a friend of the struggles concerning their understanding of baptism, “The more Adoniram examined scripture, the more his doubts increased; and unwilling as he was to admit it, he was afraid the Baptists were right and he wrong.”

Initially, Ann told her husband that if he became a Baptist, she would not. But after the two young missionaries read, studied, and prayed, Ann wrote that “we were constrained to acknowledge that the truth appeared to lie on the Baptists’ side. It was extremely trying to reflect on the consequences of our becoming Baptists.” But become Baptists they did. They reached India and were baptized by immersion on September 6, 1812.

Ten months later, the Judsons finally reached their final destination of Burma. Ann wrote of the country: “It presents a very extensive field for usefulness, sustaining seventeen million inhabitants:—and the Scriptures have never been translated into their language.” The Judsons slowly learned the language and then began making progress in conversing with the people and in bringing them to Christ. In 1819, after six years of serving in Burma, Adoniram baptized their first convert. Three years later, eighteen Burmese had converted to Christianity.

In Burma, Ann experienced the heartbreak of losing a child. In 1815, Ann gave birth to a son, which they named Roger Williams Judson. Roger lived only eight months, and after his death, Ann wrote, “Our hearts were bound up with this child; we felt he was our earthly all.”

In March 1824, a war began between Burma and Great Britain, one that for two years kept the American missionaries in a state of terrible suspense. The Burmese leaders insisted that all white-skinned foreigners were spies, and Adoniram was soon arrested and taken to prison. The authorities kept him in a horribly crowded, filthy building with no ventilation. He was chained to other prisoners and subjected to various types of torture.

During his imprisonment, Ann prayed constantly for her husband’s safety. She worked diligently to obtain his release and supplied him with food each day, for the prison did not provide provisions for prisoners. She also smuggled his translation of the New Testament into the prison.

In December 1825, after nineteen total months in captivity, officials allowed Adoniram to leave, and upon his arrival at home, he discovered that Ann had been ill for a month with cerebral spinal meningitis. She never completely recovered, and in July 1826 Ann contracted another fever and died three weeks later.

For further reading:

James D. Knowles, Memoir of Mrs. Ann H. Judson, Late Missionary to Burma, 6th  ed. (Boston: Gould, Kendall & Lincoln, 1835).

Francis Wayland, A Memoir of the Life and Labors of the Rev. Adoniram Judson, D.D. (London, 1853)


Great Women of History: Lucie Campbell-Williams by Courtney Lyons

This week’s BWIM blog posts will celebrate some of the great women of our history, starting with an introduction to Lucie Campbell-Williams by Courtney Lyons. Courtney is a Ph.D. student in religion at Baylor University.


Lucie Eddie Campbell-Williams (1885-1963), of Duck Hill, Mississippi, was the youngest of nine children to former slaves, Burrell and Isabella Campbell. Her father died in a train accident on his way to see his newly born Lucie, after which her mother moved their family to Memphis for more opportunities and a fresh start. Lucie graduated as valedictorian of her high school class and started teaching in public schools at age fourteen. She earned her undergraduate degree from Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi (1921), and her master’s from Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State University (1951).

Lucie believed in racial equality and often refused to move from the “whites only” section of buses. She served as president of the Negro Education Association, through which she pressed the government to equalize wages and benefits for black teachers.

Lucie’s music affinity began as a young girl eavesdropping on her sister Lora’s piano lessons. In 1904, Lucie organized a Music Club that eventually became a one-thousand-voice choir. Known as “Miss Lucie,” she was elected the music director of the National Baptist Sunday School and Baptist Training Union Congress in Memphis in 1915. In this role, she composed songs and musical plays for the organization as well as Bible study materials, which convention delegates took back to their churches. She also used her platform to debut rising talent, including Marian Anderson, Thomas A. Dorsey, Mahalia Jackson, J. Robert Bradley, and Sam Cooke. Lucie served as a spiritual leader of the National Baptist Convention through her music, which played a tremendous role in reunifying the recently-split convention, and was known to speak “with the thunder of sermons.” Many churches forbade her from speaking because of her gender. She was, however, an often-sought speaker for Women’s Days and commencements.

During the early days of gospel music, Lucie published her first song, “Something Within,” in 1919, after which she published more than one hundred songs including “Something Within” (1919), “The Lord is My Shepherd” (1921), “Heavenly Sunshine” (1928), “He’ll Understand and Say Well Done” (1933), “In the Upper Room” and “My Lord and I” (1947), and “Footprints of Jesus” (1949).

Lucie was the first woman composer of gospel music and is known as “The Mother of Gospel Music.” She combined the slow rhythm of Baptist hymns with European classical music to produce the “gospel waltz.” Her foundation helped Thomas Dorsey combine sacred music with secular music to form gospel blues. Her songs were recorded by top-selling gospel artists like Mahalia Jackson and the Davis Sisters and were also included in many songbooks published by the Sunday School Publishing Board of the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.. She composed songs for over forty years, from 1919 to 1962. Her music transcended race, denomination, and generation.

In 1960 at the age of seventy-six, Lucie married her lifelong friend and associate, Rev. C. R. Williams. At the ceremony, she dedicated her song “They That Wait Upon the Lord” to her husband. Two years later, she became suddenly ill while travel to a ceremony of the National Baptist Convention, during which June 20, 1962 was declared as Lucie Campbell Appreciation Day. Lucie died six months later on January 3, 1963. She is buried in Memphis.

 

Further Reading:

Judith Weisenfeld and Richard Newman, This Far By Faith: Readings in African-American Women’s Religious Biography (New York: Routledge, 1996): 56-72.

Luvenia A. George and Ada Gilkey, “Lucie E. Campbell: Baptist Composer and Educator,” The Black Perspective in Music 15:1 (1987): 25-49.

This Is What a Preacher Looks Like by Pam Durso

In the beginning, there were T-Shirts—bright aqua-colored T-Shirts that read “This Is What a Preacher Looks Like.” In 2008, Baptist Women in Ministry produced and distributed the T-Shirts during the celebration of the organization’s twenty-fifth anniversary, and I must say the T-Shirts were a big hit. They were colorful and fun and stirred up conversation.

Baptist women bought them and proudly wore them. Mothers purchased them for their daughters. Seminarians were seen wearing them in class. Husbands ordered them as gifts for their wives. Church leaders gave them to women who preached in their churches. And several fathers inquired as to whether the T-Shirts came in toddler sizes. The T-Shirts were a hit.

I have pondered a bit about why the T-Shirts were so popular, and one conclusion is that a simple cotton T-Shirt let us as Baptists “say” out loud and embrace the truth that there is not ONE look for Baptist preachers. Baptist preachers are a diverse lot. We have many looks, many preaching styles, and many voices.

We are young and . . . older. Our voices are soft and loud, prophetic and pastoral, humorous and sincere. We are veteran preachers and new to the preaching world. We live in all geographic regions in the United States and in places all around the world. We come from a variety of Baptist faith traditions, and we hold theological positions across the entire spectrum. We serve on church staffs, in campus ministry, as denominational leaders, and as theological educators.  We are African American, Asian, Latina, and Caucasian. We are sisters, wives, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and friends. When it comes to “This Is What a Preacher Looks Like” T-Shirts, one size surely does not fit all. Baptist women preachers are truly a diverse group.

Late in 2008, Smyth & Helwys editor, Keith Gammons, contacted me about putting together a collection of sermons using “This is What a Preacher Looks Like” as the title. As I gathered sermons from Baptist women preachers and began reading them, my conclusion about the popularity of the T-Shirts was confirmed.

As I read sermons and more sermons and then even more sermons by Baptist women preachers, I was struck by the great variety in those sermons. We surely do not all sound alike. Some of us are narrative preachers. Others are expository preachers. Still others tend toward being topical preachers. We preach from different places in life. We each bring our own voice, our own story, our own experience to our sermons.

In the midst of this collecting and reading of sermons, I finally realized that what a preacher looks like is—all of us. Only when we expand our vision and embrace the truth that all of us who are followers of Christ are preachers of the gospel—only then will we know what a preacher looks like. Only when we hear all the voices—women and men, young and old, black and white and brown, conservative, moderate, and liberal, strong and weak, seasoned and inexperienced—will we have a clear picture of what it means to be a preacher of the gospel. Indeed, only then we will know what the body of Christ looks like. To be fully the body of Christ, we need each other. We need to hear each other.

The book, This is What a Preacher Looks Like: Sermons by Baptist Women in Ministry is now available from Smyth & Helwys. And the T-Shirt is still available too!

A Season of Blessing by Pam Durso

The month of May seems to be a time for blessing. Central Baptist Theological Seminary had a Graduating Sisters Blessing Ceremony on May 4, during which the women graduates were affirmed and encouraged. What a wonderful gift! I love this photo from the ceremony of Central’s president, Molly Marshall, and Tammy Jackson Gill.

Yesterday, McAfee School of Theology had a Service of Blessing for all its graduates, a service that  included laying on hands. I imagine that most seminaries have held similar services in the last few weeks. What a gift for graduates!

The month of May also seems to a prime time for ordination services. I have been to one service already this month and have another one on my calendar for May 23. I walk away from every ordination with such powerful feelings of gratitude: gratitude for the ways in which God works; gratitude for the women and men who have heard and followed God’s calling; and gratitude for congregations, families, and friends who speak words of affirmation and love for the one called.

This semester I have been teaching as an adjunct at McAfee School of Theology. The class is church history, part two (it covers 1500 to the present, 500 years of good stories packed into  about three months). I have had the good fortune of having Jane Hull in my class. Jane happens to be my friend so it has been odd being her professor, and to be honest,  I may have taught her a few facts and dates about church history or introduced her to some new names and ideas, but I have not taught Jane how to be a minister. She already knew that when she walked in the classroom door. And one of many her ministry gifts is that of blessing. Jane knows the power of blessing. She easily and readily speaks words of affirmation.

All semester, but especially during the last few weeks, I have watched Jane in action with her fellow students. I have seen her place her hands on their  shoulders. I have watched her look them straight in the eye. I have heard her offer words of blessing (okay, I admit to eavesdropping a few times when I had the chance). And today, I was the recipient of one of Jane’s blessings (professors need words of affirmation too). If blessing others is a spiritual gift, then Jane has it! But if blessing others is a learned lifestyle, she has mastered it. Either way, I am grateful for her words of blessing.

God–Three Nights at The Improv by Martha Kearse

Growing up the child of a minister is a good life. People make jokes about preacher’s kids, with some justification, certainly. But, in reality, it’s a great life. You get the run of the church, along with the knowledge of where to find a vanilla wafer when you need one and what the baptistery looks like when it’s empty. You get pampered by the older people, raised by the village, and just enough limelight to give you a healthy self-esteem.

What you also get, as a PK, is a look behind the wizard’s curtain, so to speak. Everyone else may be impressed by the Great and Powerful Oz when he stands behind his pulpit every Sunday, but you—you have seen the guy rushing from the bathroom in nothing but a towel. You have seen him lose his cool when he mistook his thumb for a nail, and you know where he hides his cigarettes. He is the guy you call to take care of the ghosts clamoring to get out of your closet at night, and he is the guy who made you spend your entire Saturday raking the leaves in the back yard (when you know, theologically speaking, that God would not have made leaves fall if God did not intend for them to stay there). If the ministers in your home are doing their job right (which mine did), the face of God looks like cookies and homework and being grounded and having a brand new bike all at once, which is exactly why it is difficult to face becoming a minister if you have grown up the child of one.

When I left college, I got a job in Charlotte teaching high school. I moved to Charlotte with all the optimism and hope of a young person beginning a new profession—thinking that the students would love me, knowing that I would be cool a teacher, believing that I would change their lives, and hoping that I would become for my students what my teachers had been for me. The realities of teaching are harsh, but I managed to hold onto my optimism for many years until the needs of my children superseded my need to teach.

I had no such optimism about becoming a minister. None. First of all, I had absolutely no intention of ever becoming a minister or taking a paycheck of any kind from a church. I ended up doing some summer work for churches, but my experiences there simply reinforced my determination to never hitch my star to the church wagon. I know the life of a minister—I know what 24/7/365 looks like. One summer I did serve as a church as a summer minister, and I had to sit on a Sunday morning and hear a sermon about the importance of maleness to the role of ministry. I did not remain a member of that church. At the other church, my duties continued well past the summer (when, coincidentally, the church stopped paying me for my time) and that role became a burden on top of my duties as a teacher.

So when people began to say to me, “You should be our children’s minister,” I laughed. Derisively. Repeatedly. Whole-heartedly. And then a few more started saying it. “You’re so good with the children—why don’t you become our children’s minister?” Ha ha ha! No. But I found myself spending my time thinking of how to tell Bible stories to children. I found myself keeping a sermon idea notebook. I found myself taking on tasks that involved ministering to children. Craziness! What could it all mean?

Finally, in what I call “The Miracle of the Monty,” the camel’s back snapped in two. My husband, Monty, is not the kind for snap decisions. Just purchasing a new battery for a car is the kind of act that requires weeks of thinking, researching, and pondering. Monty asks, “Could I recharge the old one again? Could I borrow one from the other car and just move it back and forth when I needed to drive? Could I only go places where I can roll downhill?” You see the pattern. So one day I asked him, prepared for weeks of questions and negotiations, “What would you think if I applied for the job of children’s minister at the church?” I braced myself. He said, “If you think that’s what God wants you to do, then you should do it.” And that was it. No questions, no worries, no “what will we do with the children?” or “how many meetings is this going to entail?” Just do what God wants. And that small miracle put me over the edge. Knowing what I knew about the ministry and churches, knowing how many calls, how many conversations, how many meetings were in store for me (and for my family) I stepped across the threshold of the church as one of her ministers. I found myself relaxing into a role that I knew to its very core—and the further I have allowed myself to go into this life, the more I have felt at home.

It has occurred to me in these last eight-and-a-half years during which I have assumed the role of minister that God’s sense of humor is a lot like my brother’s, a lot like my father’s—there is a twinkle of mischief in the workings of the Lord. And every time I put on my ridiculous wizard-like robes to step out onto the stage, every time I get a question from a child such as “If God is here, why can’t I see him?”  I see the glint in God’s eye and hear the rumble of his laughter—and I laugh at myself and enjoy the thought that I can reward myself with a vanilla wafer after the service.

Martha Dixon Kearse is minister to children and families at St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Rolling Stones Meet the Book of Common Prayer: Designer Funerals by Katrina Brooks

Last week we buried my friend Doug. Doug was a modern day renaissance man. He knew many things, could do many things, and was his own man. Over the years, Doug infused Native American spiritual practices, love for classic rock music, and a green thumb into his Christian life. The result was an unorthodox, organic relationship with his God.

When we met in our office to plan Doug’s service, the family had many ideas. Some Doug requested. Others the family desired. The communion table was to hold a bonsai tree, a small wooden box with Doug’s ashes, and a boulder [Doug was prone to wearing this boulder to punctuate special occasions]. Ministers were to robe. “Amazing Grace” and “Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee” along with a video tribute were to be in the order of worship. The practice of the family entering the sanctuary following the ministers and the offering of the committal collect found in The Book of Common Prayer needed to be included. Likewise time for congregational sharing about Doug, a pre-service video set to classic rock and the Rolling Stones classic “You Can’t Always get What You Want” needed to be included in the order.

Did I mention Doug was an eclectic man? Did I mention that while he loved traditional, formal worship Doug and his God rocked out as he molded and shaped things with his hands? How does one pay tribute . . . authentic tribute to such a life?

In God’s grace and mercy what resulted was probably the most meaningful service I have officiated to date. Somehow the ebb and flow of the service lead itself to inspire ten plus students Doug had over the years to share how “Ballentine” changed their life. Doug’s co-worker and daughter-in-law spoke of Doug’s integrity and commitment to teaching students to think. They spoke of his midlife career change to teaching, his ability to engage people of all ages in many disciplines, his knowledge and his love of life . . . and family. After the students spoke, I read a letter from Doug’s widow and the video tribute was played. The service concluded with the offering of the committal collect, transitional words, and the playing of the Rolling Stones version of their classic.

Can The Book of Common Prayer and the Rolling Stones be used in designing a funeral? Yes, but the placement in the order of worship is critical. You have to create a flow and make sure to insert elements in a pattern that does not distract from the whole. You must know where you want the service to end and plan how you want the service to get there.

As I watched the faces in the congregation I could not help but weep. Participants of all ages rocked out with huge smiles on their faces and tears flowing. The song punctuated Doug’s life perfectly. True, a few shook their heads or looked down in obvious displeasure but others “remembered Doug” in an unorthodox, organic way. See . . . as unorthodox as it sounds the Rolling Stones classic was the perfect conclusion to this memorial service for the song we find these words “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometime you just might find you get what you need,” which by the way preaches every time.

Katrina Stipe Brooks is co-pastor of North Broad Baptist Church in Rome, Georgia.

Options for our Baptist Daughters by Pam Durso

Last week I had the opportunity to speak to a gathering of Baptist moderate leaders. The focus of my presentation was on the challenges we as moderate Baptists face as we move into our future. One challenge I addressed is the question: “What do we say to our Baptist daughters who feel called and who are gifted to serve as pastor?”

And here is an excerpt from my remarks . . . “I think we have at least two options as moderate Baptists. The first option . . . we tell young women to stop waiting for existing churches to change. We encourage them to move outside the traditional framework for their future in ministry. In essence, we advise them to give up on looking for open pulpits and existing churches that will embrace their gifts. And instead, we call out young women to plant new churches, churches which from their very foundation will be inclusive of women, affirming of their gifts.

A second option is to challenge our young women to stay in their churches, to be proactive and make change happen, to be reformers, revolutionaries. We advise our daughter to work from within our existing churches but to be vocal and strong in their call for change.

Two options. The more I ponder these two options the more I am convinced that the answer is YES. Yes to both options. We need to call some of our daughters to new work, outside the box work, and we need to prepare them with new skills that will ensure their success. And we need to call some of our daughters to stay the course, to minister in our existing churches, to be change agents from within. I am convinced that we cannot do either/or, BUT we must do both/and. We must live out both options.

And let me make one side note . . . if we advise our daughters to plant churches, to start new work, are we not then obligated to provide financial training for them about budgets and accounting, to offer them leadership and managerial education, entrepreneurial coaching? Do we need to make sure that women in seminary are taught business skills so that they will know how to organize new churches, found non-profits? Do we need to teach them to raise money, manage account, and create new paradigms for leadership?”

What has unfolded for me in the last few days as I have thought about this gathering is that the conversations we shared about our future together have energized me. Talking together about hopes and dreams but also sharing about concrete plans and priorities gave me a new sense of hope and an even greater commitment to the mission of Baptist Women in Ministry—“to be a catalyst in Baptist life, drawing together women and men in partnership with God, to illuminate, advocate, and nurture the gifts and graces of women.”