“Start on Monday” and Other Lessons Learned from the Church Ladies by Tammy Abee Blom

One summer Sunday morning, I was sitting with a group of elderly ladies prior to worship. We were chatting about the heat, the taste of fresh peaches from the farmer’s market, and other summer topics, when I looked at my watch. It was time to get ready to lead in worship so I stood to make my departure. I heard a sickening rip. A nail on the chair had torn a four-inch hole in the back of my skirt. Fifteen minutes until worship and it was not a “robe” day, so what was I going to do? I felt panicked. I must have looked that way because one of the women said, “Go to the Sunday School supply closet and get some masking tape. I’ll fix your dress.” Thankfully I was wearing a slip so my modesty was preserved as I procured the tape and stood patiently while three women taped the hole shut from inside the skirt. They did a great job because after worship not one person commented on my torn dress. This was one of the first lessons I learned from the church ladies. A torn skirt can be repaired temporarily with masking tape.

This same group of elderly, and mostly widowed, ladies, would invite me to visit them. As both a new minister and young woman in my twenties, I was nervous about visiting women who I thought were more sophisticated and wise than I. With anxiety, I made the calls and set up the visits. It was worth every minute. While I sat with these women, they told me about the church’s history through their stories of “when my kids were in the preschool” and “when we had my husband’s funeral.” They shared gracious words about church staff that had come before me and thoughtful insights about how the church’s ministries continue even though church staff may come and go. While sitting on their sofas, I learned that presence is invaluable. There is no substitute for simply being there and hearing the stories of the church members. They will tell you who they are, if you’ll listen.

While dining at the table of a teacher who had taught Sunday School for over forty years ,I learned this lesson: “Start on Monday,” she said. I was preparing a teacher training session for the new Sunday School year and had asked her, “What one piece of advice would you give to teachers?” She told me that every Monday she read the Bible passage for the week and the teacher’s guide. She went on to say, “Then whatever comes up during the rest of the week, I know that I am started on my lesson and I can adapt my schedule for preparation.” Being one of the wisest pieces of advice I’d heard, I adopted her practice for writing sermons, teaching Sunday school, and even writing blogs. I am fifteen years into starting on Monday and I am thankful for all the times I have been well on my way to having my sermon, teaching plan, or blog prepared when the unexpected happened at the end of the week. You can’t plan for children who spike a fever on Friday or for people who walk into your office “just to talk”. But you can start on Monday to be prepared for next Sunday.

Three lessons shared by senior women who were all over seventy years of age. And this is just the start of what I could tell you. If you are ever near Columbia, SC, give me a call and you can sit on my sofa and I’ll tell you what to do if two families argue and fight during the church meal before the funeral. And don’t worry about my Sunday School lesson, I started on Monday.

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

In a New Voice by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

I’m often amazed, amused, and at times even taken aback by what the internet does for us. It is remarkable to have such endless and uncensored access to news (and non-news) and opinions, and even more remarkable to be able to respond back to it all in the ever-present “comment” section following each article. Usually, a quick read through comments left by other readers is at least as interesting as the article itself, and even the most innocuous topic can become a hotbed in the virtual discussion that follows.

Now, I do know that you can’t believe everything you read online–and I believe this includes “comments,” where the excuse of anonymity allows people to be more aggressive, more angry than they might dare to express IRL (“in real life”). But I also have a hunch that, at times, behind the internet-induced bravado, there may be kernels of hard truth among the “comment”-ary.

Last week an article about women in ministry made the rounds, shared in the statuses of Facebook friends, sent from email inbox to inbox. As good journalism should (at least the way I was taught it!) it included quotes from people on both sides of the argument; I thought it was basically straightforward story, the arguments that have been the arguments for years, nothing-new-to-see-here.

Then I read the comment section.

I expected to find some ire in the comments… but I expected it to fall along the lines of the typical debate for and against the role of women as preachers and church leaders. Instead, I was surprised to find a great deal of anger at the church itself.

What really struck me were comments along this line (and there were many): Sure–let women preach. As long as they meet the qualifications of being power-hungry and only interested in money, then they are perfectly suited for the job.

 

After I got over my initial **OUCH** response, and after I admitted a grudging appreciation for the commenters’ sense of equality, I couldn’t stop thinking about what so many internet-anonymous posters were really saying: that while they could believe in the leadership of women, what they couldn’t believe in was the church.

I can’t begin to reflect on the reasons for such anger. I know every person–including each one of us–has a story, and has experiences of churches, of pastors, of religion and even of God-self that have brought us to our current understandings and feelings, for better and/or for worse, deserved or not.

But I continue to wonder how we all–women and men, vocational pastors and laypeople alike, have a gargantuan job before us: to be the kinds of ministers and Christians who represent a God whose deep love is humanity, not domination; whose activity is full of grace, not greed; and whose church is peopled with humility, not hypocrisy.

It is a job we must all do together–women and men, pastors and laypeople. We need to give the church a new voice, and it occurred to me that women may be in a unique position to do just that, by proclaiming the love of God in feminine terms, with feminine sensibilities, and in, literally, a feminine voice. We are called not to a ministry-marketplace-competition, nor to an angry demanding of equal rights to power, but rather to serve in partnership so we can more fully witness on behalf of the God in whose Image we all are made.

It is a response we owe to The One who gifted and called us. It is also a mission we owe to a world that has been injured, angered, torn apart by those who seek control and wealth in the name of God, and by means of the church. Their positions can be powerful, their pockets stuffed with bills, their speeches booming, but it is for us to communicate to a world that has been deafened by their noise. It is for us to speak a new word, in a new voice, so that all may hear.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in San Antonio, Texas. She blogs at www.onefaithfulstep.blogspot.com.

Semper Fidelis by Aimee Day

Semper fidelis has been the motto of the United States Marine Corps since 1883.  It is a Latin phrase that means “always faithful.”  The phrase has been on my heart a lot lately because of two journeys–one that is my sister’s and brother-in-law’s and one that is mine.

My sister married a Marine three years ago, and he is currently serving our nation on his second tour of duty, this time in Afghanistan.  Since the day he joined up, semper fidelis has been a part of our family and a way of life for my sister and her husband (or as my sister says, more accurately, semper “gumby”–always flexible!)   The phrase, however, has become a more personal motto for me as I begin a new journey.  I am going to seminary.

Whenever I tell someone I am going to seminary, I am almost certain to get two questions: (1) why are you going to seminary? and (2) what are you going to do after seminary?  Until lately, I have found both of those questions difficult to answer.  One answer, however, is becoming clearer and clearer.

I am using the term “journey” to describe the next three years that I will spend at seminary.  And, well, I guess you could say I am in the “packing and preparing” stage of that journey.  I expect there will be many stages to come and many lessons to learn.   But, in the “packing and preparing” stage I have learned one very important lesson–the God we serve is always faithful to those who will follow the call that has been placed before them.  There have been many questions and roadblocks in this stage of the journey.  Where will I live?  Will I find a roommate?  Where will I work?  How will I afford rent, tuition, and books?  But no matter what seemingly dead end I run into, God has always provided a way.

So, while I still can’t tell you what I will be doing after seminary.  I can tell you why I am going.  I considered going to seminary because I felt a call on my life.  I am going to seminary because God has provided a way.  And I believe with all of my heart that God will continue to provide.  I know this because the lover of my soul has never failed me yet.  My God is always faithful.

Semper fidelis–not just for the Marines.

Aimee Day is a first-year student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, and she is also the newest staff member of Baptist Women in Ministry. She will serve as the executive assistant. God is indeed faith and provides a way–for this next step forward for BWIM and for Aimee.

On Ordination by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

When a new acquaintance learns of my church gig, one of the first questions is usually, “How long have you been a minister?” Well, it depends. I think I’ve been a minister for a while now. My first unpaid role was team leader of a Young Life group in 1996, and I excitedly accepted my first church staff position in 1998 at Birmingham’s Baptist Church of the Covenant. I have about fifteen years of ministry experience, training, and theological education tucked away in my memory, but it was only this past spring that I was officially ordained.

Supporters and clergy friends have asked another popular question in these past months: “How does it feel to be official?” I know it is a well-meaning question that implies fondness and love for who I am and the work that I do. I get that. But part of me has felt like that’s a pretty lousy question to ask because it undercuts those other years and the ministers who have gone decades without the mark of ordination.

I have felt the sharpness of the ordained/unordained line for many years. So much so that I questioned the necessity of ordained ministry in my congregational structure and in a time in which the church is changing irreversibly. Is it outdated? Is it necessary? Aren’t we all ministers together? Does ordination really just create an exclusive, divisive club? I waited for resolution or better questions.

Until this year, seeking ordination never quite made sense for my place in life. Why would I have been ordained at any other time? For what purpose and by what people? There were times in younger years when I could only imagine my ordination as a coronation, and I knew that visualized exaltation did not reflect the servant Christ I professed. I waited for a shift in understanding.

When I took a hiatus from serving a local church to get the hang of being a mother, I felt even more disconnected from my calling. Ordination certainly did not make sense for this mother who cobbled together writing, blogging, and pulpit supply. I waited for a merging of my selves into a unified whole and a broader understanding of vocation.

Ultimately, the questions of “how long” or “being official” don’t matter. For me, ordination was really about this ongoing, growing sense of becoming a unified whole. There is the self I share with the church, the self I share with my family, and the self I always have been. The ordination process was a rich, beautiful, lush, dreamy, humbling, awe-inspiring, remarkable time of friends and mentors and family and colleagues standing around me to bless the whole “me.”

Whether it is through ordination or in other ways that we gather, we need to bless each other’s journeys. We women in particular need to whisper these blessings over one another. I certainly feel marked and blessed for the vocation of ministry, and I am unendingly grateful for that piece of ordination.

But what I hold most closely and feel most strongly is the blessing of that particular moment in my personal, spiritual, and professional journey: blessed in who I have been, blessed in who I am, blessed in who I am becoming. On days when the calling gets blurry again or the next leg of the journey is unclear, I can hold those blessings tightly and move back into that holy space.

Not a bad way to make things official.

Elizabeth Mangham Lott lives in Richmond, Virginia. In addition to her mothering job, she also serves as associate pastor at Richmond’s Westover Baptist Church.