If You Haven’t Got One, Get One by Tammy Abee Blom

The last Friday of the month brings joy just to see it on my calendar. On this day I call my spiritual director who resides in New Jersey while I am home in South Carolina. The hour I have with her is sacred, joyful, centering, and greatly anticipated.

All women in ministry (or any minister for that matter) should have a spiritual director. I have connected with the same director for over ten years and have encouraged my colleagues to be in relationship with a director as well. However, not everyone embraces this idea.

Two objections frequently arise.  I hear “I don’t have the time to schedule one more meeting a month. I can’t do anything else.” I counter with “Spiritual direction is not something you do. It’s an embodiment of who you are.” When you sit with your director, you are with someone who knows your spiritual journey. They know where you’ve been, how you got to where you are, and are more than willing to walk with you as your journey unfolds.  In your meeting time, you focus on your relationship with God and how it is being lived out. You get to discuss where God is in your life and where you most need to connect with God. Ministers spend hours hearing other people. A spiritual director hears you.

The other objection to spiritual direction is “I don’t like the idea of a ‘director’. I don’t want one more person telling me what to do.” For me, this argument is semantics. Instead of director, use the other names such as spiritual friend or guide. A spiritual director or spiritual friend walks with you. They don’t chastise you or demand that you subscribe to a particular spiritual discipline. This friend is someone who nurtures his/her relationship with God and then can be with you as you nurture your relationship with God. A good spiritual director hears where you are, helps you reflect on where you’ve been, and then assists as you discern where God is leading you.

So how can you find a spiritual director? I recommend asking your minister if she knows a director that she’d recommend. If not, ask someone in the state or national office of your denomination. There are many websites to check as well but I think word of mouth and personal experience are excellent ways to locate a spiritual director. Or you could get lucky like I did and have the spiritual director ask you. However it comes about I recommend you get one.

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

Random Thoughts about Baptist Women in Ministry by June Holland McEwen

The Vocare Spring 2011 was in my mail this morning. Thumbing through this issue brought to mind events from 1980.  A small group of women at Southern Seminary and Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, were talking, meeting, thinking, and evaluating the changes needed in Southern Baptist life for women in churches and for women called to ministry.  This small group evolved into a formal meeting that was in Pittsburgh at the 1983 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention. (That 1983 gathering was the first meeting of the organization now known as Baptist Women in Ministry).

The Spring 2011 issue of Vocare has a  two-page list (small print) of churches participating in the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching!  Such changes in three decades!

I recall the bravery and the anxiety felt by many of the women examining and calling for drastic change.  Could women preach?

Should women teach men?  Should churches ordain women?  How did pastors and pastor’s wives work out individual callings?

After I returned to Chattanooga, Tennessee, following the 1983, I began meeting with women from three or four churches for lunch at First Baptist Church of Chattanooga.  Nervously one woman observed, “Let’s be careful and not rock the boat.”  Another promptly asserted, “It is long past the time.  Let’s do rock the boat.”

In the intervening years in Chattanooga, First Baptist Church and Signal Mountain Baptist Church ordained women as deacons and eventually ordained women to ministry. Those churches called women to serve on church staff and to fill other leadership roles.

Enjoying the most recent issue of Vocare causes me to celebrate and to give thanks, but I am also reminded of what remains to be done.  I cheer for Baptist Women in Ministry and the work of yesterday, today, and the work of tomorrow!

June Holland McEwen is one of the thirty-three founding mothers of Baptist Women in Ministry. She lives in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.

There is No Way I Can Do This! by Susan Rogers

I remember sitting in the office of a friend in ministry six months ago when she looked me in the eye and said, “You know, Susan, there is no way you can do this . . . only God is capable of doing something this grand.” In my cynicism (not really appreciating her direct tone) and my mounting to-do-list, I quickly moved on to the next conversation of the day, but her words lingered with me.

Last night as I arrived at my daughter’s girl scout dinner carrying my half-baked mac-n-cheese, wearing stained pants, and accompanied by my pouting seven-year-old, I was reminded of her words. Just an hour before arriving at the dinner, I had realized I had underestimated the time it would take to do all I needed to do in the next hour. I rushed at a record breaking pace, throwing ingredients in a dish, even breaking a plate along the way, but somehow we managed to make it there on time. I was a mess . . . and to be honest, I am a mess most days. I forget things, don’t get near enough sleep, realize my children have nothing to wear to school because I have not washed clothes yet, clean well only when we’re having company (sorry, honey!), and I could go on. I’m a mess.

I want to make a confession. So, here I go: There is no way I can start a church. My friend was right. I cannot pretend any longer that I have the leadership skills, the experience, the education, the creativity, the perseverance, the patience, or the ability to multi-task a billion-and-one things. If this is going to happen, I will have to get out of the way and make space for something much more powerful, much more creative, much more patient, more experienced and more persistent to bring this into being.

My friend’s words have lingered because I need to remember them. I need to confess my inadequacies, to remind myself and those around me that what God wants to bring into being is far greater than our abilities. When I try to manage and manipulate it into existence, I end up exhausted and ineffective. When I remember that it is God that is capable and God has called me I am free to show up with my half-baked casserole and enjoy the meal anyway. It was never about me in the first place.

Susan Rogers is a church planter in Jacksonville, Florida. This post is from her blog, “Losing and Finding.”

Most Improved Player by LeAnn Gunter Johns

Last Friday and Saturday my facebook feed was full of congratulatory responses to students winning end of the year awards. It’s a good reminder of one’s accomplishments that have been recognized by others and took me back down memory lane. Perhaps one of the awards I am most proud of was not awarded to me by my college or seminary but by my middle school volleyball coach.

The daughter of a multi-lettered high school athlete, I inherited my father’s love of playing sports. I fell short of the “natural athlete” gene and realized early on that I would have to work hard to be a good team player. I was elated when I made it on the girls’ volleyball team my eighth grade year. My parents were strict about maintaining good grades while playing sports. That fall semester I earned my best grade point average yet. On the court, I relied on our top players to help me hone in good technique. It was Nancy who taught me the team cheer and how to serve. Heather demonstrated the perfect set. At home and at after school practice, I worked to practice what these more seasoned players had taught me. By the end of the season, I had been moved from the second string to one of the starters and most memorably, I was given the award for the “Most Improved Player.”

As a thirteen-year-old, it was a good lesson for me to learn. With discipline and hard work, improvement can be made. I didn’t do it alone though. It was with the help of my teammates who were willing to coach me along. These are lessons I still take with me in ministry today. There are gifts in ministry that are God given and the tools I received in seminary, but it’s the instruction of my peers in ministry who have taught me how to use them in the real world. Those peers include Tamara who gave me instructions on how to sit on the platform and David who taught me how to slide my manuscript without distraction. There are the countless others who have read through a sermon and offered encouragement. They are all a part of who I am as a minister today.

I believe we should all be making improvements in our role as ministers. Let us not forget that God is always calling us to be who we are and to share from that place with others. Congratulations recent Seminary graduates! As you begin your ministry placements, find your “teammates”, ask for help, and keep sharpening your skills in ministry. As we move forward, perhaps the greatest lesson found on the court and in ministry is that we are never alone.

LeAnn Gunter Johns has served on church staffs in Georgia and California. Now living in Macon, Georgia, she is busy writing, preaching, and enjoying her husband, Barry, and son, Parker.

Celebrating Six Months by LeAnn Gunter Johns

This month, we’ll celebrate six months since Parker drew his first breath of life into this world. The last six months have radically changed my life. These moments have been full of blessings and joys. We’ve also faced (and conquered) unexpected illnesses. I’m remembering the college habit of what it means to function on very little sleep. I’ve learned that multi-tasking with a baby at your side requires extra skills. My growing son is teaching me something new about myself each day.

Being Parker’s mom has been another lesson in relinquishing control, a life lesson that I find difficult. It’s also encouraged me to let my own high achieving expectations go. In the midst of these lessons, we struggle to find a common ground from which to understand each other. Most recently, during a particularly fitful crying episode that I’d like to blame on teething (simply because that seems to work when all other causes are eliminated) I decided we’d load up in the car and go for a drive. My mostly mild-mannered child who loves to ride in the car screamed louder while resisting and fighting me to get strapped in his seat. Exhausted and frustrated that I could not meet his needs, I collapsed into the floor in front of him in a tear-filled moment of my own. I thought to myself, “What kind of mother am I?”

In spite of my doubts that day and others that follow, each night Parker confirms I’m the right mother for him as he curls up into my arms. It’s in these moments as he settles down to snuggle before drifting off to sleep that God quietly reminds me that in His grace I am enough. I’m not perfect (someone remove this from the archives so Parker can’t remind me of this when he’s a teenager), but I am the mother for Parker. And in each new discovery, the promises of God and His love for me are displayed through my growing baby boy.

LeAnn Gunter Johns is a Baptist minister, wife, and mother. She lives in Macon, Georgia.

A Song We Can Still Sing by Lanta Cooper

Every time I read the proclamation from Jesus in Nazareth in Luke 4: 18, I am struck at his precision in articulating his life purpose as the Messiah. When he arrives in his home town, he unrolls the scroll and emphatically recites the words from the servant song in Isaiah 61, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

In Luke, this event takes place at the beginning of the gospel to set the tone of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus clearly shares his messianic role, letting us know that he is a servant of God who will fulfill the desires of the poor and oppressed.Jesus’ whole life was lived according to the theme of bringing freedom to the marginalized of society. His first public words after reading the scroll begin with today: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled.”Jesus announced the inauguration of the mission of God in the world, and he sang the servant song until his death.

When I hear the songs of our Baptist forefathers and foremothers who truly joined alongside the mission of God, none ring louder than Lottie Moon. I grew up hearing Lottie Moon’s name frequently in church, especially on Wednesday nights during Girls in Action. I can recall two key takeaways about Lottie Moon that I learned as a child: 1) she was an important Baptist woman missionary, and 2) there is a Lottie Moon Christmas offering. I have only recently, however, understood the depth of her contributions to missions in Baptist life. When I look at her life as a missionary in China, I believe that she sang the same servant song that Christ did that day in Nazareth.

From the start of her ministry, Lottie Moon was clear about her call to be a servant of God. She was committed to doing kingdom work, believing that God’s kingdom was present in the world. She was persistent, dedicated, and loyal to her service in China, remaining there for thirty-nine years; yes, you heard me correctly: thirty-nine years! She managed a girls’ school, built relationships with the people in local villages, taught classes and preached. Words cannot appropriately describe the song of love that she shared with others in China through her teaching, preaching, and striking hospitality. Though she was often ridiculed and referred to as a “foreign devil,” she knew she had a message to bear.

Lottie Moon stuck to her guns and even challenged Southern Baptists back in the United States to become more missions-minded. She saw today as an opportunity to live out the mission of God. When famine hit in China, she knew that many of her friends in the community were not able to eat. She refused to live under better conditions than her neighbors, and she died while making a humble sacrifice to live in equality with those she loved. Like Jesus, she spent a lifetime living alongside others in community, serving their needs and spreading the hopeful news of God’s kingdom on earth.

Christ carried the tune of love in his sacrificial ministry, Lottie Moon marched to the tune of servanthood in China, and we can sing the same servant song today. Each of us have a song to sing and a message to bear; each of us have a call to be the presence of the kingdom of God. As we try to be lifelong servants of Christ, may we look to those who have come before us. Like Lottie Moon, we can follow the example of Christ’s ministry in our world today, participating in the already-present kingdom of God.

Lanta Cooper is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.

Advocacy by Eileen Campbell-Reed

“One of the hardest things women in ministry have to do is advocate for themselves.”

Monday. I’m sitting in on a monthly meeting of the “Heightening the Role of Women in Baptist Life.” It is a conversation hosted by Pam Durso and Devita Parnell. We hear from five women about women serving as ministers in difficult places. A pastor on the west coast says this spring she’s still introducing herself meeting after meeting to other pastors in her association. They ask her, “Now who are you? What is your role in that church?”

A seminary placement officer tells us about a pastor who upon arriving in her new church put a “glass panel in her office door” so no one would suspect her of doing something amiss. She also tells us about the isolation she hears from women in ministry who have no place to relax, to be themselves or “let their hair down.”

A minister with college students tells us about preaching a few weeks ago. Before she rose to speak an elderly woman on the second row asked loud enough for everyone around her to hear, “Is she preaching? Well, then I’ll have to leave.” She got up and went. The minister preached about Jesus being rejected in his own home town.

Yet another woman told us about searching for a place to serve and finding a deafening silence, a lack of support, and discouragement after sending her resume out. For years.

And of course there are success stories. More than a hundred women currently serve as pastors and co-pastors in Baptist churches in the south. But those women still get beat up by personnel committees. Some of them are still seen as the junior partner or church secretary by folks in the community or even in the church itself. And it’s not limited to churches. Tenure review committees still disrespect assistant professors and lawyers still block women who are up for partner, and female doctors are still underpaid.

The problems are not new. Neither are they going away without kicking and screaming. No wonder it is hard to advocate for oneself. With a constant undertow of covert, institutionalized sexism it is exhausting just to keep your head up some days, or let your hair down, much less ask for equality, or a little respect, or just a break.

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“To your courage and your grief”

When the women in the meeting finish their stories Pam asks for responses to what we’ve heard. Some folks start offering strategies for overcoming these difficulties. I appreciate the strategies, but my heart cries out to make a pastoral response.

I tell them about one of my favorite movies “Hanging Up” where Meg Ryan’s character is a daughter who is taking care of her aging and cantankerous father (played by Walter Mathau). He is in the hospital dying. She has had a wreck in the parking lot, and her work is driving her crazy. She is struggling with her two sisters to manage their father’s care. And her son and husband have their own demands. She finds herself across the table from a very compassionate woman pouring out her troubles. And the woman after listening and empathizing raises her cup of tea. And she says,

“To your courage and your grief.”

This is the first gesture of response I want to make to the women who are struggling to live out their vocations. They are also finding ways to thrive. They are pastors of large and complex churches. They are elected as leaders in their state organizations. They are placing scores of men and women in ministry positions. They are teaching, preaching and contributing to the life of faith in countless ways. I want to honor their courage and their grief.

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“The servanthood dilemma”

Later in the conversation another woman makes an important point. She says, “We don’t know how to put ourselves forward or to advocate for ourselves.” Another says, “It’s hard to advocate for yourself, for what you need as a woman, because it is seen as self-serving.”

This gets at the “servanthood dilemma” I like to call it. Jesus calls followers to be servants, self-less and giving to others. To those with power this is exactly the right call. But that message is not the only one or the even the appropriate one in every case. He also says “don’t hide your light under a bushel” and “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” For those without power this is the leading message. It is a tension especially for women in our culture who are both powerful and disempowered at the same time. Both messages apply, but not in the same measure. One is sometimes more pertinent that the other. Living into the wisdom of both takes years of practice and being willing to push past the frustrations of being misunderstood.

A few weeks ago as I turned toward the final push for finishing my current book, I knew I needed some extra encouragement. I have supportive family and take part weekly in a couple of writing groups, but I needed some extra doses of support. To get it, I needed to advocate for myself. I put it off unintentionally for several weeks. Then I got my courage together and took the risk. I sent an email asking for encouragement and support. Thankfully my friends and colleagues took me up on it.

No doubt this move evokes other feelings in people. The sexism I’m trying to lay bare in this blog and my book is insidious and takes up residence in our hearts and minds. It projects self-loathing onto others and hates it in them. It takes the same ill feelings and produces deep depression and rage in still others. It fosters jealously and anxiety, too. But we’ll never change or transcend these debilitating feelings and structures of sexism without the vulnerability of risk, which is yet another paradox of grace.

So if you want to join in the work of change, begin by welcoming yourself, by accepting God’s welcome of you. Lift a cup of tea in honor of your own courage and grief. And then reach into that courage to advocate for yourself. And for other women and men you know and love. Sometimes all we need to be our better selves, to be better followers and lovers of God is a little encouragement, a word of understanding, recognition, support. So here’s to you: to your courage and your grief. And here’s to mine. God help us become the change we want to see.

Eileen Campbell-Reed is co-director of the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project at Luther Seminary, St. Paul, Minnesota. Eileen has researched and written extensively on Baptist women in ministry and is currently completely a manuscript to be published soon by Baylor University Press. Read her blog, “Keeper of the Fire.”

Seeing Beyond Situations by Arashal Lawson

Take a moment and close your eyes. Imagine for a moment that you have unable to see with your natural eyes. Tell me what you see. How does the darkness make you feel? Does it overwhelm you? Does anyone sense anything beyond darkness? At the count of three, open your eyes. How did the loss of your vision make you feel? How do you define the word “vision”? Your reaction to the exercise reveals your definition of the word “vision.” According to the dictionary, vision is the sense of sight but it is also the power to perceive in your heart what has not manifested in the natural realm.

Vision can be a goal in your heart. It may be something you want to accomplish for the future or a supernatural vision or dream God put in your heart. When you have a vision for something you want to achieve, you set goals to attain it. In Hab 2.2-3, we read that Habakkuk notes to write the vision and make it plain because the vision is for an appointed time. In this passage of scripture, Habakkuk is questioning God concerning the events of his time. Through his natural eyes, Habakkuk does not see that God is working things out. Habakkuk could not envision the hand of God upon the wickedness within his society. However, after receiving and obeying his instructions, Habakkuk realizes that at the appointed time, which is the timing of God, the vision will surely happen.

In 1879, a visionary by the name of Nannie Helen Burroughs was born in Culpepper, Virginia. Although her parents had been born into slavery and her father died shortly after her birth, Nannie Burroughs saw beyond her situations. At Washington Colored High School, she studied business and domestic science and graduated with honors. After graduation, Nannie Burroughs began looking for teaching positions. Due to her race, the board of education of the District of Columbia refused to hire her. Their decision caused Nannie Burroughs to pursue a vision beyond her natural eyes. She began to desire to build a school for African American girls whereby they could receive an excellent education.

In spite of many obstacles, Nannie Burroughs continued her pursuit toward her vision. She became the associate editor of a Baptist newspaper in Philadelphia in 1897. After returning to Washington, D.C., she took a civil service exam and qualified to teach in the public school system; however, she refused the position. Nannie Burroughs chose to work temporary jobs as a janitor and bookkeeper instead. In 1900, she accepted the corresponding secretary position of Foreign Mission Board of the National Baptist Convention. During that same year, Nannie Burroughs delivered a prophetic speech, “How the Sisters are Hindered from Helping.”  This speech marked the beginning of her career. She became the president of the Women’s Convention the following year.

Nannie Burroughs called upon National Baptist Convention to establish a training school for black women. Initially, they denied her request. However, in 1909, the appointed time of her vision arrived and the doors of the National Trade and Profession School for Women and Girls opened. She became the first president of the school, which was renamed, after her following her death. Nannie Burroughs looked beyond her situations and saw her vision. She wrote it upon the tablets of her heart and believed it would one day happen.

Close your eyes again and envision beyond your situations. Take a few moments and write your dreams upon the tablets of your heart. Now, open your eyes and imagine seeing yourself doing that which you desire. Daily set goals and purse them as Nannie Burroughs did. You must be persistent and see beyond your situation because at the appointed time the vision will happen.

Arashal Lawson is a student at McAfee School of Theology, Atlanta, Georgia.