“Adoption, Can You Get Morphine With That?”: Thoughts on Being Church and Family by Stacey Buford

The halls of the local women’s hospital often ring with banter. Banter is our human response to the intensity and immediacy of birth. It is how we sometimes respond to the mix of blood, sweat, tears, and laughter that hangs in the air anywhere life and death struggles take place. The hallowed halls, where the most poignant human dramas unfold, are often filled with raucous humor that can be a balm to sore souls. “Adoption! Can you get morphine with that?”

Adoption is my passion. I love its intricacies and complexities . . . new life springing up in the midst of a sea of contradictory emotions. Pain and uncertainty intermingling with hope, with newness, with embrace . . . a rush of acceptance as strangers choose connection, laboring against all odds . . . a gasp of joy as something new pushes forward into the world. Then a new family emerges, and a child is tenaciously embraced by so many who are loving her. There is gracious release and the widening of a welcoming circle.

It is, of course, a choice to adopt one another. Adoption means letting go of our exclusive claims to identity, to outcome, to sameness. Adoption is work, a lifelong labor. It is calling, and it is bliss.

Being the church is adoption. We make our way toward each other half expecting to find slight variations of ourselves. Surely our brothers and sisters will act like us, think like us, vote like us, worship like us. We gasp with surprise (and maybe a tinge of pain) when we find instead a glorious mix of “not like us”!

Still, we recognize one another! We see in each other a wished for child of God with unlimited claim on the family name.

It is, of course, a choice to adopt one another, to be church with one another, to claim kinship and belonging with one another, to love each other so much that we are willing to be forever altered by each other. It is a choice to stand in the midst of life’s blood, sweat and tears as one family, holding each other and loving each other against all odds.

Sometimes we cry out with the pain of bumping into our differences. We cringe as we are stretched, as our hearts are widened, and we move over to make room for each other. Sometimes, we throw our hands in the air and exclaim “Adoption!  (Insert: Being church!) Can you get morphine with that?”

Then the tenacious embrace and gentle release of God who planned our adoption from the very beginning rushes over us, sustaining us and pushing us on as a new family emerges! We are church. It is work, a lifelong labor. It is calling, and it is gift.

Stacey Buford is an ordained Baptist minister, having worked extensively in pastoral care, hospital chaplaincy and  building families through adoption/foster care. She lives and works in Duluth, Georgia, where she and husband, Jon, are raising three amazing children.

Things Could Have Been Different by Ircel Harrison

One of the legendary practitioners of Celtic Christianity I have encountered in my class with the Oates Institute is St. Brigid of Kildare. An early leader of the church in Ireland, much of her history is based on hagiography (writing that testifies to the saintly lives and actions of its subjects) and her accomplishments have been embellished by bringing into some of the attributes of the pagan goddess with that name.  Beneath all of that, however, is the story of a strong and intelligent woman who ranks beside St. Patrick as a symbol of Irish culture and faithfulness (and, unlike Patrick, she was born there).  She was an abbess in the fifth century C.E. who performed some of the functions of a bishop, the founder of several abbeys in Ireland, a patron of the arts, and a person of common sense and wisdom.

As the influence of the Roman church became preeminent in Ireland over the following centuries, the role of women in such leadership roles was no longer tolerated.  Women took on subservient or, at least, background roles.  At the same time, the Irish clung to the stories and traditions of Brigid, and she is highly regarded even today.

Reading about Brigid caused me to think about the role of women in the church.  What would have happened to the Christian faith if women had not been excluded from positions that shaped the faith—clergy, theologian, teachers?

Where women have been allowed to serve, they have made significant contributions.  They have been at the vanguard of care for the sick, the poor, and the orphaned.  Women have been willing to undertake the caring tasks that men often rejected.  They have taught the youth, prepared the meals, and cleaned up after the infirm.  Often, women took on other roles in remote areas where men were not available as leaders (think about Baptist “saint” Lottie Moon).  From time to time, the contributions of women to spirituality and worship practices were recognized, but these were the exceptions to their accepted roles.

If women had been ecclesiastical leaders, would monarchs have been less inclined to use force to convert people to the faith?  If women had been trained and encouraged as theologians, would we have a richer heritage in areas such as creation theology, the theology of children, and the theology of the Spirit?  Would more resources have been put into the service of the poor and needy rather than ecclesiastical monuments?

There are no answers to these hypothetical questions.  We do know where we are today, however.  In our contemporary context, are we providing adequate opportunities for women to lead, to think, and to teach?  Women make up much more that half of our congregational membership.  The women in our churches are trained as educators, caring professionals, artists, and administrators.  Our seminaries are forming gifted, intelligent women for ministry.  Called and skilled women are ready to assume more responsibility in the life of the church.  If we do not encourage and provide places for women in leadership roles, we will be a poorer church with a limited mission.  This would be a tragic continuation of our historical error.

Ircel Harrison is director of the Central Baptist Theological Seminary center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates. “Things Could Have Been Different” first appeared on his blog, Barnabas File.

Hope for a More Ecumenical Future by Kate Hanch

Sometimes, I am not sure we really want to experience ecumenicalism or diversity. We say we do, but maybe we are afraid of being changed.

Most of the ecumenical events I see today seem to bring together persons who are like-minded from the start. They may belong to different churches, but most seem similar in convictions or political alliances (spoken or silent). I notice that some churches in my Baptist fellowship appear more similar to different denominations than other Baptists.It’s interesting to see who’s missing at the table.

What could these missing voices offer?

I grew up in a church wrestling in the middle of the Southern Baptist controversy. Churches that had once partnered in youth and community events did not associate with one another. It seemed that the question of whether women could preach or how monies were to be designated superseded fulfilling the Great Commission.

I still maintain dear friendships on both sides of the aisle. Both sides have reason for maintaining such affiliations. My heart hurts when I hear “misguided liberals” and “crazy fundamentalists” thrown around as derogatory stereotypes. Could it be possible that both sides have a sincere sense of the Great Commission, of caring for the poor, as representatives of Jesus Christ?

Is there anything we can still learn from one another?

I experienced a truly ecumenical event the beginning of this year.From January 6th through 8th, I, along with 130 young preachers, attended the National Festival of Young Preachers in Louisville, Kentucky. Founded by Dr. Dwight Moody, with help from the Lily Endowment, the purpose of this festival was to encourage and empower young persons of all denominations who feel the call to preach, and give them an opportunity to do so. The guidelines were simple: preach about some aspect of the Ten Commandments, remember the ecumenical nature of the festival, and preach no longer than sixteen minutes.

At almost 26 years, I was one of the older preachers in attendance.

My peers included Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, 14 year-olds and 28 year-olds, high school students and seminary graduates. Baptists of all stripes sat together during meals. I found myself hearing sermons from students at Morehouse College, Harvard Divinity School, and Baptist Seminary of Kentucky.

In some ways, we did not feel that different. After listening to an Orthodox college student preach, I expressed to him that I wanted to see his sermon in particular because his denomination was so unlike mine. He replied that “You know, it’s not really that different.”

So what has made us feel so different? What has made us unable to maintain civility to one another?

My Orthodox friend, like many other preachers at the Festival, had preached the Good News of God in flesh. Many young preachers possessed an inviting presence and thoughtful insight beyond their years. They discussed with one another matters of social justice and care for the overlooked and outcast. In small talk, I did discover some theological differences and even a few disagreements. However, I never heard a hateful comment or personal attack made about someone’s particular denomination or background. It is hard to hate someone whom you have befriended. It is difficult to maintain a sour composure toward one with whom you have shared a meal.

I loved seeing some of the 42 women preach. They preached with power, enthusiasm, and giftedness. I spotted a young seminarian with the shirt “This is what a preacher looks like.” I commented that I also have the same shirt. We talked about women in Baptist life, and her personal struggles with her family not understanding her call to preach. She had been called into ministry at age 15, and had persevered by the power of the Holy Spirit, even though she experienced conflict within her family and her home denomination. My roommate, a Presbyterian seminarian, and I talked about the struggles of women in seminary. Apparently the Baptist tradition is not the only denomination that still grapples with full equality in the pulpit and pastorate. We were able to dialogue about what role our husbands play in our ministry and living into our evolving identities. I realized that the best way to advocate for female ministers is to demonstrate it. After hearing only some of the women preach, one would be denying the Holy Spirit if one did not believe women can be ministers.

Unfortunately, there were still some persons who were missing at the table. Most of the young preachers were either African American or Anglo. There were few, if any, Asian or Hispanic preachers in attendance. What might their voices have to offer? How could we have been better persons for hearing their voices?

The National Festival of Young Preachers demonstrated that ecumenical dialogue can be done. We celebrated one another, affirmed one another, and enjoyed one another’s company. The festival also gave me hope for the church in the United States. Some young persons have not been caught up in denominational debates and competing ecclesial alliances. They do not know why some churches won’t work together.

Celebrating our commonalities and doing what Jesus commanded may be the starting point in ecumenical dialogue. A variety of voices can help us grow in our discipleship, and give us a deeper sense of mission. Perhaps today’s young leaders can lead the way. I hope we continue this hard, but necessary task of ecumenicalism.

Kate Hanch is the Children’s Minister at Holmeswood Baptist Church. She represented Central Baptist Theological Seminary at the National Festival of Young Preachers. This article was posted last week on Baptist Women in Ministry of Missouri’s blog!

Rooms of Our Own by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

More than just another New Year’s resolution, I joined the Y this month in a genuine effort to make my physical well-being a priority. I value my emotional and mental health and seek to be attuned to both, but I too often neglect care for my body. Off to right that wrong, I marched into the Y with a toddler on my hip to sign the entire family up for a membership. The practice of dropping the children off in the Y’s very fun childwatch room while I exercise is quickly becoming a favorite routine. I have savored selecting the songs for my workout playlist and am delighted to jump on the elliptical and move into a guarded, solitary space for a little while.

More than just moving my body and working to become healthier, I am moving into a sacred inner room for quiet and reflection. I am only just beginning to grasp how valuable this time is.

I’m noticing a similar theme at my dreamy new job where my office is coming together so beautifully. The walls have been painted a lovely blue, and the deep brown of the new desk looks so perfect against the pale backdrop. There’s something about that space that is powerful, special, and deeply affirming. These spaces in my life remind me of the Virginia Woolf saying about each woman having a room of her own. The full quote is really about the basic necessities for the craft of writing: “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Regardless of our craft, some pretty basic life needs must be met before our dreams can flourish.

As I talk to mama friends across the spectrum of careers, many would love to have a carved out space for self without compromising their children’s needs (insert needs of congregation or any other demands on time and energy) as well as a carved out space for family without losing self. At times, it seems about as realistic to think about sitting down and writing a novel as it does to fully honor the demands around me while also honoring what I need in order to care for myself. But when I ignore the need for separate, quiet rooms of my own (both literal and metaphorical) it’s not just my dreams that start to atrophy but a central part of myself. I am striving each day to make time and space for these rooms, to embrace them when I see them, to name them and know them, and to sit peacefully in them, however briefly.

Every woman, mother, sister, minister or not, needs a room of her own.  How do you prioritize the ways you nurture your dreams and care for yourself? Or do you find yourself in a place of denial and atrophy? What can you change today to move toward new practices that balance and nurture you? Where do you find a room of your own?

When Elizabeth Mangham Lott is not exploring the world with her two young children, she serves as associate pastor of Richmond’s Westover Baptist Church.

Happy is Not Enough for My Kids by Tammy Abee Blom

Weekly, I sit in worship service with my daughters, ages seven and four. Often, after worship, I slog to the car wondering, “Why did I bring them to church today?” Sometimes, the question is rhetorical. Other times it is not.

A recent article in a parenting magazine grabbed my attention because it raised the question of why or why not parents should take their kids to church. In Parenting Magazine’s January 2011 issue, Teri Cettina notes, “Young Adults under age 30–today’s and tomorrow’s parents, essentially–are the most likely to be living religion free lives.” However, it is these very same parents who want to expose their children to religion but don’t have a firm idea of which religion or how to go about it.

Cettina encourages parents to expose their children to religion and gives concrete ideas for doing so. I agree with her until she gives her reason for religious education. Her reason is based on research that has found that children who are spiritual are happier and less prone to depression.

I do want my girls to be happy but I want more than that. I want them to be believers and life long journeyers in the Christian path. I want their faith to be central to who they are.

Mary Lois Sanders, a children’s Sunday School Curricula writer, taught me that it is imperative for Sunday school teachers and parents to talk with their children about becoming a Christian. She explained that second through fourth grades are critical years for spiritual development. It is in these years that children discern fact from fantasy and start viewing peers and others as authority figures. In this stage of development, we must share with our children that faith is a source of authority for us.

So how can parents encourage their children to be believers?

At church, I encourage parents to pay attention to what children’s leaders are teaching. Are your children learning the faith stories?  Do they come home knowing something about God, Jesus or worship? Are their friends making professions of faith and being baptized?

At home, I encourage you to reaffirm the rituals of worship. For the blessing at meals, teach and pray the Lord’s Prayer. Light candles at Advent. Sing the doxology. Make worship a familiar part of your kid’s lives.

We all want our children to be happy, but as believers, we should want more for our children.  We should expect more of the Christian education at our churches than entertainment for our kids and we need to bring our faith and worship into the everyday rituals of home.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, mother of two amazing daughters, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Preaching Baptist Women: Martha and Molly Marshall

For five years now, Baptist Women in Ministry has sponsored the Martha Stearns Marshall emphasis–asking churches to invite a woman to preach in February. Last year we had 106 churches in the United States and one in Cuba participate.

This time around I have had a few interesting moments as I have collected the information from participating churches. I have had several emails from pastors telling me that they surely will be taking part in Molly Marshall Day because they love Molly. I love Molly too! (but Molly comes a few hundred years after Martha on the Baptist timeline).

I also got a few emails from pastors who shared that their church has yet to have a woman preach on a Sunday morning, but they are working with their congregations and moving toward having a woman in the pulpit.

And I got an email from a church staff member asking me for biblical evidence that women should preach.

Martha Stearns Marshall Month and this emphasis on opportunities for churches to hear women preach and opportunities for Baptist women to preach does provide for some moments of humor but has also reminded me that as Baptists we still have lots of work to do.

For information about Martha Stearns Marshall month, visit the BWIM website!

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

If the Shoe Fits, Don’t Lose it in the Backyard! Thoughts on Life and Call by Stacey Buford

I have one of those yards. You know the kind. An amazing array of Georgia pines, unraked leaves and a weathered wooden swing set that has definitely seen its better days. My neighbors are tolerant. They have lived through backyard science projects, overnight campouts and a yellow lab puppy. They have smiled and waved when the stray jackets, backpacks, shoes and gloves that our children use to decorate the “lawn” have encroached upon the manicured spaces that make up our neighborhood. They have even graciously joined the hunt when the match to the ONE PAIR OF SHOES THAT FITS my youngest child can simply not be found in the house, the car, the garage or the confines of the wilderness we call our yard. This has been the greatest gift . . . that friends and neighbors might help us hold on to what truly fits.

The truth is that I have one of those “calls” in life. You know the kind. The messy, carry-you-to-unexpected-places in the world, in work, in family, and most especially to unexpected places in yourself kind of call. I once dreamed of a “manicured call” (and yard!). Lord, give me a call, a mission in life, that would carry me chronologically or even logically from point A to point B to point C. Give me a call and a purpose that I can always understand, one that never leaves me puzzled and unclear about what comes next and where you are in the midst of the backyard wilderness of my life. Maybe I was looking for that one pair of shoes that would fit. The pair that would work for all circumstances, would fit forever and would NEVER get lost under the bed or in the backyard.

Living out call has never been a neat, manicured or linear process for me. It’s been much more like my yard full of pine trees and unraked leaves. A yard sprinkled and sometimes littered with the treasures of my children and the unruly demands of living a life of integrity and holy love in the midst of all kinds of neighbors and all kinds of life circumstances.

Mary Oliver, in her poem “The Turtle,” writes about the powerful, instinctual drive of the mother sea turtle to carry herself out of the familiar ocean, across the treacherous sand and to build a nest and lay her eggs. “You think,” she says “of her patience, her fortitude, her determination to complete what she was born to do-and then you realize a greater thing-she doesn’t consider what she was born to do. She’s only filled with an old blind wish. It isn’t even hers but came to her in the rain or the soft wind, which is a gate through which her life keeps walking.”  That then is call . . . not a circumstance that fits and can be lost (in the backyard or in the world of work), not a job or a vocation to be chosen or discerned, but a gate through which I walk again and again pulled by an old blind wish.

Stacey Buford is an ordained Baptist minister, having worked extensively in pastoral care, hospital chaplaincy and  building families through adoption/foster care. She lives and works in Duluth, Georgia, where she and husband, Jon, are raising three amazing children.

Playing Church in High Heels by Tammy Abee Blom

My daughters, ages four and seven, were playing quietly. Too quietly. As I peeked around the corner, I saw Audrey, my youngest, wearing her sparkly high heels while standing on her step stool. From a big book, she was ‘reading’, “Jesus was born. Mary was his mother. God was happy. You should love Jesus.” Then Eve leapt from the floor and started lining up communicants. She got all these imaginary worshippers in line and said, “First some questions: ‘Do you love Jesus? Will you be a good member of this church?’ Okay, now we can take communion.” I slipped away unobserved, but like Mary I pondered these things in my heart.

I wondered, “Where did the girls hear these words and why did they couple them together in this way?” Upon reflection, I recognized the words and rituals from our worship service over the past few months. Audrey was retelling the Christmas story.  Eve was remembering the questions from her baptism in October. They were imitating what they had heard and seen in worship.

Little girls imitate the work and play of mothers as well as other women. It is by imitating women that little girls develop models for valid roles for grown up women. Basically, they discern what they can be when they grow up. Daily, my girls observe me as I model my faith and spirituality. Weekly, they hear the voice of the Reverend Cathy Jamieson-Ogg as she preaches the word at our church.

While in seminary, Kenda Dean, (at that time a graduate student at Princeton Theological Seminary) shared this advice with me. “Expect to lead in worship. You may view yourself as the youth minister or children’s minister, but the girls in your congregation need to see you. They need to hear what you have to say about God. They need to know that you are a minister just like all the other ministers who are in the pulpit.”

I don’t know if either of my girls will be called to preach, but I know they are informed and active worship participants. I know it matters that they experience female leadership in worship. And I am thankful for those women who embrace their call and step up to the pulpit.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, mother of two amazing daughters, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Balancing Ministry and Motherhood by Pam Durso

One of the many topics of conversation that swirls around when women ministers gather is ministry and motherhood. Seems like there are more questions about this topic than answers. So for those minister moms out there–what advice do you have? Any lessons you’ve learned? Any suggestions?

I recently ran across a book on the topic–haven’t read it yet–Clergy Moms: A Survival Guide to Balancing Family and Congregation by Episcopal priest Allison Moore.

Allison conducted interviews with ordained women from five denominations (Episcopal, United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Presbyterian Church USA). She offers an overview of challenges and opportunities that clergy women face as mothers and provides some suggestions for balancing life and ministry.

My guess is that Baptist women minister moms face the same challenges encountered by women of other denominations. And my other guess is that talking openly and honestly about the ups and downs of motherhood and ministry is a conversation in which many Baptist women ministers need to participate! Would love to hear your stories!

(PHOTO: Robin Anderson, associate pastor of education and outreach at University Baptist Church, Baltimore, Maryland, and mother of three incredible children!)

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.