Friendship Over Fear by Jim Dant

I’ve heard particular male colleagues express it more than once. They hold inherent fears with regard to the ordination of women to ministry. One fear is prompted by sheer numbers. There are more women than men in the United States (women make up 51 percent of the population), and there are more women than men active in the life of the church. By some estimates, 75 percent of the people in the pew are of the female persuasion. Women could take over the profession! The other dominate fear is more personal. Collegiality between males and females is fodder for innuendo. In a profession in which we closely guard our reputations, the closed circle of male ministers has seemed safe. Two male ministers can share a lunch, and little is ever said. Allow a woman to sit at the same table, and stories can be conjured.

A week ago I preached in the pulpit of Gwen Brown. Gwen is pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Grayson, Georgia, and recent recipient of the Baptist Women in Ministry’s Addie Davis Award for Outstanding Pastoral Leadership. The next day I emailed my Sunday sermon outline to Joy Yee. Joy is pastor of Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, California, and former moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We exchange sermons each week to encourage and critique one another in the sermon prep process. Three days later I was sitting on our church platform with Ruth DuCharme, our minister of children. And that same evening I was sitting on a pew with Devita Parnell, listening to Julie Pennington-Russell, pastor of First Baptist Church, Decatur, preach just moments before participating in the ordination of Jessica Asbell.

I’m glad that neither my interpretation of scripture nor the cultural, often suspicious, concerns of others has kept me from enjoying a cherished collegiality with some of the most competent, compassionate and spirit-filled ministers I know. I choose friendship over fear. Amen.

Jim Dant is pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia. This article was published in the church’s August 1, 2010 bulletin.

Let the Children Lead Us by Katrina and Tony Brooks

Children are one of God’s most precious gifts. At the same time, they are one of God’s cruelest. Why is it the cherub in our midst loves more, gives more and forgives more . . . and what is it about a child’s spot-on question regarding our actions that halts us dead in our tracks? Or worse yet . . . why does their mimicking of us make our heart stop? It is because in their innocent words and actions we are condemned.

In spiritual things, it is the same. When a child says he loves God, it is complete. When a child prays, her prayers are genuine and real. When a child gives, he gives without regard to consequence. When a child asks a question, an answer is expected. When a child reads the sacred scriptures, she reads as if it is a letter from a beloved one is being read. And when they come to church, children expect something to happen.

One can play devil’s advocate here and suggest a child’s totally sold out approach to a relationship with God is possible because of innocence . . . and lack of awareness of evil in the world. Yet, I have never met a child who is unaware of evil in the world, maybe not full extent of the horrors of evil we know exists, but to a child evil is still evil [just ask any parent who has comforted their child from the monsters under the bed or the bully at school].

So, here’s my thought . . . if the questions and actions of children convict us, why don’t we change? If children are completely sold out in their relationship with God, loving God completely, praying with a real and genuine heart, giving without regard to consequence, asking questions, reading the sacred text as if it were from a beloved and coming to church expecting something to happen, should we not be following their lead? “Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it” (Luke 18: 17-NRSV)

Katrina and Tony Brooks are pastors of North Broad Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia.

The Underwoods by Danielle Nicole Smith

One of my favorite people died on August 13. He was tenderhearted and generous and authentic. He had this great laugh. He was a reader. He loved the church. He loved his family. He loved God. His name was John. He was married to one of my other favorite people. She was kind and gentle and just as generous. When she talked to you she made you feel important. She was intelligent and classy, equally filled with love. She died a year ago, after being brave and courageous and joyful in the midst of countless cancer treatments. She was a beautiful woman. Her name was Liz. I usually ‘fake name’ the people I write about, but not this time. This time, I want you to know their names.

There was this woman long ago from a city called Shunem. She was a Shunammite, you could say. We don’t know her name. Someone simply wrote about her because of her kindness. Elisha, this prophet of the LORD God, would pass by her door every so often on his travels to and fro; and when he would, she would feed him . . . give him a place to stay for the night. That’s all. No biggie. Just some dinner and a pillow. Anybody could’ve done it . . . but did they? Funny how something so simple could make it into a history book so grand.

When I started as pastoral resident [fancy name for an amateur minister] at a church in Virginia, I had just come out of seminary and I was full of vision and passion and life. [I hope I still have most of that by the way.] I moved into an apartment of my own and realized very quickly that the nights are lonely without roommates. I got a dog and definitely imagined his voice in my head; but alas, our inside jokes and random late-night Taco Bell runs just weren’t the same. I had been in that small town a month when Liz and John called. “Just some dinner,” they said. That’s all. Nothing fancy. Salads with yummy cranberries and bleu cheese. Homemade brownies and some vanilla ice cream from the fridge. Sitting around a table, talking for hours about random world events, their grandkids, my dog, favorite books, favorite movies, and following God . . . always following God. I stayed in that city for two years . . . two years of salads with yummy cranberries. The dessert always changed. They knew I love dessert.

That’s all. Nothing fancy. I want you to know their names. John and Liz. I have added them to my history book because they were that grand.

We focus on junk that doesn’t matter. [And when I say we I’m mostly talking about followers of Jesus or ‘little Christs’ you could call us, though this statement probably applies to everyone.] This doctrine or that one. Church politics, who gets to be a deacon and what translation should the pew Bibles be. How should we vote and on what should we focus our next picket line? Lots of . . . junk . . . that doesn’t truly help or support or love anybody.

This cool guy [I assume. I actually don’t know him.] named Tony Campolo [which is just a cool name] once said, “I wish Jesus would ask, ‘Virgin Birth; strongly agree, agree, disagree, strongly disagree? Check one.’ But those aren’t the questions. The questions are, ‘I was hungry, did you feed me? I was a stranger, did you make room for me?’” John and Liz got it. They were some of the best ‘little Christs’ I have ever known, and it wasn’t because we voted the same or agreed on free will versus predestination. It wasn’t because they showed up every week in their ‘Sunday best’ or took a stand for/against healthcare reform and gay rights. They were some of the best Jesus-followers I have known because I truly believe they looked like Him . . . loving me, and everybody else, the same way He did when he walked on the earth 2,000 years ago.

To John and Liz, you don’t know what you did for me. You were just feeding this young, amateur minister, providing her a little human companionship from most of her nights spent alone. I told you that I loved you. I told you ‘thank you’ a thousand times; and yet, I am confident that you never realized what an eternal fingerprint you left on my heart. You were my Shunammite woman. You were Jesus to me.

To those who loved John and Liz, may we cry tears of sadness that they are no longer in our presence but may we more so cry tears of joy for having actually befriended two people who resemble that much love. There are truly angels walking among us, and now we know two of their names.

To all others, who are simply reading these words, may you recognize the Johns and the Lizs in your life. May your eyes be opened to the Shunammite women and men in your midst, for we may be entertaining angels in disguise. And may each of us take seriously the legacy, the fingerprints, we leave behind. Just some dinner. A dollar here and there. A hug. Some encouraging words. A conversation. Holy traces. Sacred moments in the mundane. May we resemble Him.

Danielle Nicole Smith is currently “pastor” at Red Robin Restaurant and Bar in Knoxville, Tennessee. Read her blog at http://www.ourdailyfries.blogspot.com/

Sophia’s Mite by Cindy Clark

I think I know how much the widow’s mites were worth. It’s approximately $4.24.

Sophia has a piggy bank with 4 sections and she gets a dime every time she makes her bed. Her grandpa gave the small piggy bank so she could learn how to save, spend, invest and give. Sophia is only 4 1/2, so this is an impressive lesson to be learning at such a young age.

Last month we spoke at Sophia’s church and visited with her parents who are long time friends. In the weeks leading up to our visit, Sophia’s parents told her about us going to be missionaries and a little about the work we’ll be doing. While we were there, she emptied the 4th section of her piggy bank – the “give” section.

This is what the give section contained:
• 2 one dollar bills
• 4 quarters
• 10 dimes
• 2 nickels, and
• 14 pennies

Sophia presented her offering in a Ziploc bag with an index card that read “for sinde and ryan.” Easily the smallest gift from the smallest giver to date, we are reminded of a widow who gave her “mite”, two small copper coins which was all she had to live on (Mark 12).

I don’t really know how to adjust two copper coins for inflation, but I bet it’s about $4.24. Obviously these gifts teach about the importance of what the gift means to the giver.
Because what we’re doing is important to Sophia, every $4.24 we spend is important to us. The mite, then, becomes equally significant for us as we seek to be good stewards of every dollar and coin donated.

Cindy Clark and her husband, Ryan, were appointed as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship affiliates in June. They are soon on their way to the Philippines to teach pastoral care and music at the Philippines Baptist Theological Seminary, to increase awareness of human trafficking in Asia, and to partner with local churches in their efforts to rebuild after four consecutive typhoons. To read more about their new adventure, visit their website.

I Have Arrived in Kampala by Missy Ward

I have arrived in Kampala, Uganda!!! I am so excited to be here. Today (August 9) we began our first day work at the Center. My field supervisors who are co-founders of Refuge and Hope gave me and my teammate our first main orientation. We learned about the history and purpose of the Centre of Hope (the refugee resettlement office in Kampala with which I will be working). I really appreciate how Refuge and Hope as an overall organization seeks to empower individuals within the community to be leaders for change within their respective communities.

We will be working with refugees from a variety of countries including: southern Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda. I have never worked with such a diverse population of people in this type of setting before. Attempting to learn about appropriate cultural norms and language phrases for so many groups seems overwhelming. I am going to do my best to learn as much as I can while recognizing my limitations.

After orientation, we had the opportunity to hang out with four teenage girls from Southern Sudan (3) and Uganda (1). They are part of the larger Center of Hope dance club. After we met, they asked my teammate and I to teach them some American dances for the purpose of representing America at the party which will be held at the center on Saturday. One of the girls said she was “concerned that America was not represented at the last party the center had.” Her comment was so funny. After dance practice, we ate lunch together and the girls began to share with us a bit about their lives. One shared about losing her father last year. She was only fourteen at the time. Another girl shared about what it was like to live in southern Sudan and then a refugee camp in Uganda. She was exposed to violence at such a young age. Both of their stories were really tragic. As they shared, I was also really amazed to see how much joy and life they had. Although they had experience so much tragedy in their life, they sought to live, laugh and love to the best of their ability. All four girls are currently in high school and have dreams for the future. They also had so much life and laughter which they displayed beautifully in their dancing. I really appreciated my time with them this afternoon. I look forward to more dance practices in the upcoming months.

Missy Ward is in Kampala, Uganda, to work with refugees and internally displaced persons. She is serving with Student.Go and will be teaching English as a second language and leading an art therapy group for women refugees. Missy is a student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. Visit her blog at http://missyinuganda2010.blogspot.com/

Your Women Will Prophesy by Ray Johnson

I was in the Bahamas about a month ago to meet with several pastors there regarding affiliating with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. A couple of weeks prior to my visit, Bob Mulkey, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Port Orange, had been there for a week to teach in the Abaco Theological Institute, a ministry of CBF Florida.

During our respective trips we discovered from one of the Bahamian pastors that he had been told by an American pastor from another denomination to stay away from Cooperative Baptists because we let women serve as pastors of congregations. This Bahamian pastor’s response? He stepped into his pulpit and preached that Mary Magdalene, a woman by all biblical accounts, was the first person to preach the good news that Jesus had arisen.

Lately, I have had it impressed upon me that there is a lot of good news in CBF life for women (and, therefore, for men!). This past Sunday I was in New York with my wife and my daughter. Holly was finishing her last week as a Student.Go summer intern, and we wanted to visit her and her new family of faith, the Greater Restoration Baptist Church in Brooklyn. The preacher for the morning was Betty Bogan, and I’m here to say that God’s Spirit fell upon her. (By the way, Greater Restoration lost financial support from another Baptist congregation because the church let women preach.)

And there is a new book, titled This is What a Preacher Looks Like. It’s a collection of thirty-eight sermons by, gasp, women. You can get information about it on the Baptist Women in Ministry website. There is also a conference being sponsored by Global Women in in October. Looks like it will be an awesome event. I wish I could be there, but time and finances won’t permit it. Maybe, though, you can go.

Finally, I’m reminded that CBF Florida just called its first strategic church planter, Susan Rogers. And, with a name like Susan, you can guess that she’s a woman. The Tallahassee Fellowship is pastored by Candace McKibben. Leah Crowley has just left Open House Ministries to pursue an M.Div. at Gardner-Webb. Wanda Ashworth Valencia, the director of OHM, is an awesome speaker/preacher. (You ought to bring her to your church sometime to hear her.)  Right now, four of the nine CBF Florida academic scholarship recipients are women, all of whom are pursuing masters of divinity

The word of God is being fulfilled in our midst, “and your women will prophesy.”

Thanks be to God!

Ray Johnson is coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida. This article is reprinted from the CBF of Florida e-newsletter.

Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality, A Book Review by Charles J. Scalise

Listening to the dialogues of other caring professions about ultimate matters is one of the best—yet frequently neglected—ways to grow in ministry. Pauline Chen’s Final Exam: A Surgeon’s Reflections on Mortality (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2007) offers a candid portrait of one accomplished surgeon’s struggles both with the death of her patients and the acceptance of her own mortality.

Chen’s uneasiness with death first became clearly visible when, as a medical student, she encountered the dying and the dead on her earliest rotations on hospital wards. As she confesses,

But dying patients were a different matter. It seemed that to those about me . . . dying patients were clinical events. I tried desperately to be like the older residents—“Great! Another code! Another opportunity to learn!”—but seeing patients die bothered me.

I probably never would have admitted it to anyone back then, but I did not believe that death was merely clinical. In my mind dying had as much to do with fate as biology. I had even thought about my own death in these terms.

Try as I might, I could not act like my residents. That great passing of life was too sacred; it was nearly magical. Death was an immutable moment in time, locked up as much in our particular destiny as in the time and date of our birth (46-47).

Throughout two decades of medical training and clinical practice Chen finds herself entangled with medicine’s “essential paradox”: “a profession premised on caring for the ill also systematically depersonalizes dying” (xiv). As Chen straightforwardly declares, “we physicians have lost insight into our own dysfunctional anxiety and how that anxiety has in turn become immortalized within our medical system” (73).

In ministry the depersonalization of death occurs in both clinical experience and eschatological expectations. The outcomes for both medical and ministerial carers turn out to be strikingly similar. The initial self-protective strategy of self-distancing (ironically paralleling decathexis among terminally ill persons) results in the coldness of isolation, rather than the warmth of compassionate presence. It seems that the patient is not the only one who is “dying” emotionally here.

Among the many powerful stories Chen shares regarding her formation as a gifted and person-centered physician, the final years of her Aunt Grace vividly reveal the importance of relationships in any attempts—whether through medical or spiritual care—to relieve suffering. Chen had long realized that her Aunt Grace, beloved from childhood, was dying. As Chen was discussing with Grace a medical article Chen was writing that included her aunt’s story, Grace weakly gasps: “I only want one thing [in your article]. I want you to emphasize your uncle and cousin. . . . They have been here for me always; they have listened to me always” (138). Grace mediated through caring relationships of service is God’s gift to our human suffering of mortality.

Charles J. Scalise is professor of church history at Fuller Theological Seminary in Seattle, Washington.