Love Church? No! by Tammy Abee Blom

“You cannot make her eat,” said the pediatrician. I am certain I looked at her as if she had grown a second head. With my toddler, Eve, in tow, I had come for my well child visit and just rattled off a laundry list of ways I was trying to prompt a defiant toddler to eat.  Dr. Y repeated her comment, “Tammy. You cannot make her eat. There are some things we cannot make children do. You can set up appropriate boundaries for when she says, ‘no’ to all proffered foods but you cannot control when she chews and swallows.”

For several weeks, my toddler had been using her newfound sense of “no” in regards to her food choices. She would either eat nothing or only certain foods. I was convinced her nutrition was poor, and therefore, her health at risk. I was sure that as her mom, I was supposed to make Eve eat. The words from Dr. Y opened up a new world to me, a world where I could create opportunities but could not force the outcome.

Now as a pre-adolescent, Eve has found a new focus for her steadfast, “no.” Eve does not want to attend church. The daughter of a minister, Eve has been attending church since she was six weeks old. She has been given freedom of choice about participating in children’s choir or in children’s ministry events. She has not been given a choice about attending Sunday school and worship. However, she is consistent in her Sunday morning whine and protest. She lists all the things other kids (and adults) list as reasons for not attending church. She can be quite convincing, almost.

Eve is nine years old, and I take her to church despite her protests. I struggle with her dislike of church. As a minister, participation in a faith community is vital for me. Firmly I believe in the community of the saints, and I believe the saints sit next to you in the pews. I believe in the church universal. I believe that Christians all over the world gather to worship, and I want to be counted as one of their number. Attending church is bigger than whether or not I want to show up. I can explain that to an adult, but what do I say to a nine year old?

Currently, I tell her, “We attend church as a family and you are part of this family. Get dressed, and be ready on time.” As of now, I can take her to church but soon, the decision will be hers. Will my heart accept it if she chooses to not be a church goer? I know she is growing in her faith journey. She is learning the faith stories and has made a profession of faith. I am not worried about her loving God. I am worried about her turning away from something I value and hold dear. I guess this is a part of becoming an adult, part of casting parent as other so you can form your identity. But every Sunday, when she whines, “But I don’t want to go to church” my heart catches in my throat, and I wonder if I can accept that I can’t make her love church.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Gather ‘Round the Table by Tammy Abee Blom

The best part of my Easter celebration was the meal with my immediate family. Earlier we had worshipped with our church family and exchanged greetings of “Happy Easter,” but somehow participating in worship felt like work. Even though we were garbed in our new Easter dresses, the day did not feel festive.

Once we were home, I put the rolls in the oven while the girls set the table with the wedding china. I poured icy glasses of sweet tea and filled with table with food. We sat together, held hands, and started sharing. In that moment, I recognized the joy of Easter. I felt the presence of community and the connectedness of people who know me. All day I had longed for the revelation of community, and here it was.

Like most churches, our gospel lesson for the Sunday after Easter was Luke’s account of the road to Emmaus. Still trying to reconcile why I did not experience the risen Christ in our worship at church, I began preparing my Sunday school lesson plan. As I read the passage, I commiserated with the two friends on the road to Emmaus. They were friends of Jesus who had dressed up and shown up. They had been in Jerusalem for Passover and then present for Jesus’ death and burial. They had hoped for Jesus to be the Messiah. On the third day after his death, they decided to seek community and condolences elsewhere, particularly Emmaus.

The friends wanted to experience the risen Christ just as I had hoped for a joyous experience of abundant life. They had looked for Jesus in the place where they expected him to be and not finding him, they decided to move on. Even though Jesus had shared the journey with the friends, they did not recognize him until he sat at table with them.

Like the friends, I looked and looked for the risen Lord on Easter morning in the place I expected him. Then I gave up and headed out. I had marked the day up to “an Easter that just didn’t connect with me.” And then I sat down with Doug, Eve, and Audrey, and we asked the blessing, passed the rolls, and shared our stories. In that moment, I recognized the joy of the risen Christ. An immense peace settled over me as I shared food with the ones I love and who love me. Jesus was at table with us and I recognized him.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.

Dear Addie by Katrina Brooks

Dear Addie launched April 1, 2012. Our first letter came from a young mother wondering if motherhood and ministry are possible. Another came from an associate pastor who works with a pastor who pledges allegiance to the sole authority of the pastor to the point of ignoring anyone else’s input. Sound familiar?

Baptist Women in Ministry’s  Dear Addie ministry was launched for those types of questions . . . and to provide a safe space to ask a seasoned minister, an Addie, for some advice. Seventeen ministers have agreed to serve as Team Addie. These women bring years of experience, gleaned from a host of ministry positions, to the conversation. Each “Addie” will serve as part of a monthly rotation, providing a listening ear via e-mail and offering a response to questions within 48 hours.

You can help by praying for this ministry. Pray for grace and wisdom as Addies respond.

You can also help by spreading the word. Tell your colleagues. Announce it in your seminary classrooms. Publish it in your church newsletters. Post it on Facebook. Blog. Tweet.

Dear Addie is one of the ministries of encouragement and edification that BWIM provides. I invite you to partner with us in prayer . . . and partner with us financially as we strive to advocate for, encourage, edify, and connect women who are following God’s call into ministry.

Katrina Brooks is a member of the Baptist Women in Ministry Leadership Team and is the coordinator of the Dear Addie Project! She is an adjunct religion professor at Danville Community College and lives in South Boston, Virginia. 

Memories Captured by Meggie Dant

I like to take pictures.  For me, there is not a more comforting feeling than being behind a camera.  Looking through a lens, I can see, capture, and appreciate the beauty that surrounds me.  While photographing an event, I often search for special moments; moments that must be remembered.  I try to capture the emotions, expressions, and relationships taking shape.  Never has the search been easier than when I attended the Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia’s Spring Gathering. 

On Saturday, March 24, fifty women (and a few men) came from all over Georgia for the annual gathering that involved time for worship, recognition, and fellowship.  The steering committee covered every detail in organizing the event, but something happened that was not necessarily planned.   The sense of community and support the women provided for one another was more evident than ever before.

As pastor for the day, Katrina Stripes Brooks expressed how difficult it was for her to compose her sermon.  She felt God really placed something on her heart to share, but she could not find the words to say it.  She expressed the hurt that females in ministry often experience and presented an honest portrayal of the fatigue and self-consciousness that arise.  She stressed the fact that, as fellow women in ministry, we need to be constantly giving support and encouragement to one another.  We are not to be torn down and ignored when we know that we have a gift to share.

We were reminded of the character Abeline from the book, The Help. She nannied a young girl who rarely received any attention from her parents and reminded the girl each day, “You is kind, you is smart, you is important.”  This message is one that cannot be spoken enough to our fellow women in ministry as a simple reminder of our individual and shared worth.  Katrina led a time of blessing in which she, along with the organizations newly elected president, Gwen Brown, handed each woman a bead, looked them in the eyes and told them, “You are kind, you are smart, you are important.”  There was not a person in the room who did not need to hear this. Tears filled eyes, hugs were shared, prayers were spoken.

The emotions, expressions, and relationships taking shape were never more evident than in this moment.  I did not have to search to capture a moment worth remembering.  The moments were evident in every interaction.

 

Meggie Dant is a McAfee School of Theology student and an employee of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She also serves on the Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia’s steering committee.  This blog was first posted on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s blog. 

Lattes with Love by Marquette Bugg

When I first heard my mother describing the idea, I thought she had lost her mind. But as it turned out, that was not so much an indictment on her as it was against Holy Spirit.  The older I get, and the more I buy in to the stories describing God’s activity in the Bible, the more I realize the rabbit hole of God’s creativity.  The fact that “the coffee house” in Stillwater, Oklahoma, even exists, that it operates on a minimal (but sufficient) budget, that it is run by volunteer (college student!) staff, and that it’s “business” is growing serves as a modern-day testament of God’s ability to create and sustain.  So, it is only appropriate that I begin this little report on “the coffee house” by giving all attention to the author and sustainer of the place: Our God.

What exactly is “the coffee house?” you ask.

“the coffee house” is a non-profit, volunteer-run establishment that operates out of a building owned by University Heights Baptist Church and is located one block from the Oklahoma State University campus. It is a cool little space that was the original home of Hideway Pizza.  “the coffee house” functions on a monthly stipend provided by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma, because we are considered a mission, and University Heights Baptist Church currently provides funding and support for a coffee house intern who oversees the ordering of supplies, the recruitment of volunteers, the scheduling of special events, and so much more.  With a pool of some twenty college student volunteers, we run smoothly on Mondays-Thursdays, noon to 11 p.m., and Sundays from 3-8 p.m.  One hundred percent of our proceeds are donated to local and international organizations that help to create change in the world: World Vision, Samaritan’s Purse, His Nets, Faith Medical Missions, and so forth.

How did it begin?

Four years ago the vision was planted: An expensive espresso machine found in the church + a building with fantastic potential sitting vacant on most weekdays + Holy Spirit adding a dash of imagination = a non-profit coffee house run by volunteer college students.  It took two months to get the place up and running, several hours watching YouTube videos on “How to Make a Latte,” and a further two years of “business” before the students began to take ownership of the operation.  Now it is a fully functioning coffee house that is, in short, a miracle.

What is its purpose?

From the very beginning, the goal of “the coffee house” was to provide a safe and positive environment for students to study.  Its goal was not to raise funds for “helping” organizations, nor to proselytize, nor to be a trendy outreach tool for the church. But with that being said, every week “the coffee house” serves as a venue for a dozen Bible studies ranging from Athletes in Action to Life Church Life Groups to a community-wide women’s discipleship group; it is home to countless one-on-one discipleship meetings; it has served more than a dozen students and campus organizations (this school year alone) with a space for benefit concerts; and its walls are continually absorbing the sound of volunteers building relationships and having intentional conversations with patrons.  We’re seeing students (who know Jesus and those who don’t) drawn to the place; they continually comment upon its unique atmosphere.  We hear words like “peaceful” and “positive energy.”  You and I both know that it can only be Holy Spirit.

In conclusion, God is at work in our midst in “the coffee house.” The next time you’re in our neck of the woods (Stillwater, Oklahoma) come and experience it for yourself: a latte with love at the corner of Third and Knoblock.

Marquette Bugg is university minister at University Heights Baptist Church, Stillwater, Oklahoma. She wrote this column for the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Okahoma‘s newsletter.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner: A Week of Reviews

The Beginnings of a Book Review by Lydia Pratt Tatum

A couple of us Church Daughters are still in school, so our reading outside of our syllabi is rare these days.  I say this mostly to place a disclaimer on this premature review.  You see, I am one of those Daughters still in school; and while I have the next week of classes off for “reading days,” I still work.  Break shmake.  These days are to be used primarily for catching up on all of the work of my course load, but I am intentionally taking some of the time to do a bit of selfish reading.  I will not finish an entire extracurricular book, but I will skim a good bit of something I love.

Lauren Winner’s new book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, arrived on my doorstep with impeccable timing last Thursday.  While I was at school studying for midterms, my husband called to let me know that this unexpected surprise had arrived with a sweet form letter from the author.  The thing about Lauren (you know we are on a first name basis now, as I dream I am with all of my favorite authors) is that she writes with such beautiful honesty and vulnerability.  I fell in love with her writing and her story the first time I read Girl Meets God; and her letter, though only a form with my name inserted for a more personal feel, was characteristically Lauren – pure, honest, raw.

Lauren’s new book is not intended as a memoir but as a confession of where she has ended up after the newness of conversion has worn off and life has marched on with its inevitable ups and downs.  She suspects, and correctly so, that many Christians (if not all) have a point where they wind up in the middle of their journey – far enough from the beginning point that the warm fuzzy feelings have faded and the reality of disappointment and doubt distract the journeyer from truth.  Lauren tells her story unapologetically.  And, I respect the hutzpah (catch that Lauren?) that it takes to offer such honesty to a public that would be content reading Girl Meets God like they would watch a movie–assuming that happily ever after lasted after the last period.  Her sequel, however, tells us otherwise.  In Still, the happily ever after has worn off, and we get a picture of a life of an honest Christian in the middle of her journey.  She has days of doubt and loss, and she has days of seeming clarity.

Lauren’s story is my story, and I suspect it is the story of every honest Christian in the middle.  There are days when I am completely clear on my calling to be a Christian and it seems that God and I are in sync with one another.  But, there are also days when I struggle to make out God’s voice, and I struggle to remember the joy and passion that I first felt as a new Christian.

In her form letter, Lauren suggests that her book be used as a guide through Lent.  She offers a reading guide and discussion questions relating to the book for mid-life Christians.  Though I have only read the preface and part one, I assure you that this book is real.  It is honest.  It is my story.  And, it is probably a bit of your story, too.  We are a week and a half into Lent, but do not let that be your excuse for not picking up this book and grappling with your own mid-faith crisis with Lauren and with me.

Lydia Pratt Tatum is student ministry associate at Trinity Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina. She wrote this review in early March for Church Daughters, a blog she and six other women ministers created. 

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner: A Week of Reviews

A Review of Still by Mandy England Cole

 

When Sue Monk Kidd was experiencing her own time of reshaping, she wrote that, “whenever I’ve managed to find new consciousness and renewals of my work, my relationships and myself, it has been by going down into what seemed like a holy dark.”  A holy dark–sacred space and time–seems exactly what Lauren Winner has invited us into through her latest work.

After the romantic notions of faith wear off and life deals out a portion of difficulty we often find ourselves, like Lauren, on pilgrimage.  And as she noted from the wise words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, “pilgrimage is always a travelling to where I am.”  At the heart of her story is the crisis we each find ourselves in, when we stand before a blank wall and find ourselves in a season where everything–our lives, our faith, ourselves–must be remade.  A time when we must look deeply into the core of our being, of our faith, and walk through the sacred steps through a holy dark.  By sharing her story, it is as if she has laid stone markers on the path for her fellow pilgrims.  And, as we walk with her we find that her story reminds us of moments of holy darkness in our own lives.  Her experience reminded me of the rhythmic process of being reformed, refined, and renewed that I have come to know as faith.

The stories of Still seem to fit the pattern of a labyrinth.  The labyrinth is a divine feminine symbol for the womb and the journey of the labyrinth is ancient metaphor for the process of life, death, and rebirth.

Walking the path toward center is the dying phase, when, you place all your burdens on the altar.  Some call this phase of the labyrinth’s journey releasing but I prefer to use Carolyn Hielbrun’s phrase, “marvelous dismantling” to describe the steps taken when we face the darkness of our lives and spirits, when we name our sins, when we lay down our burdens, when we let loose our doubt, fear, and anxiety.  In essence, we are walking through the shadow of the valley of death with every step.

The second movement of the labyrinth is resting in the center.  This is the core of where we are re-formed and fashioned by the hand of God.  It is where we are remade.  The third movement is when we journey on the path out from the center back into the world.  This is when we find ourselves reoriented with renewed purpose and meaning.

By sharing her “crisis” with us, she is sharing the sacred journey she took of walking through a marvelous dismantling, of being re-formed, and of being reoriented and renewed.

There are those of us who resist this kind of pilgrimage for we fear such holy darkness.  But, within the rhythms of our faith journey, like Lauren’s, lays abundant gifts of grace.  What gift of grace is awaiting you in the rhythm of your faith journey?

Mandy England Cole is associate pastor of Sardis Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina.

 

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner: A Week of Reviews

A Review of Still by Jennifer Harris Dault

There are some books whose stories have you racing through pages, on the back of a prized horse that is determined to beat his competitors. Lauren Winner’s Still is not one of those books. It requires soaking, steeping, simmering. It you are anything like me, it also requires facial tissues. Its short vignettes tell the story of a woman who has experienced heartbreak—or perhaps the knowledge of causing heartbreak. Somewhere in the aftermath of a divorce, God seems to be missing, silent, hidden.

During Lent—this slow, weary journey to the cross—Still whispers to me. I have often said that I am never ready for Lent. I feel and fight each difficult step, knowing and believing that grief is important, but wanting to jump ahead to the joyous celebration of Easter. Still embraces the pain of the middle place, while hoping, praying, yearning to see God revealed in the world. We see glimpses now and again—the woman who takes Communion on behalf of her husband whose illness makes it impossible for him to eat, the friend who blesses the rooms of her house to make it feel safe again after her divorce, the gifts of writers who encourage and inspire, God’s voice speaking—finally—in the midst of a particularly ungripping church service.

As Lauren Winner’s words pour forth from written page, I feel comforted of an ache I didn’t know I had. Churches often make it difficult to speak of the struggle of faith, but here in Still, the thoughts and emotions that sometimes haunt all of us are given voice. That voice offers hope and guidance to all of us who have experienced a “mid-faith crisis.” It gives evidence that we are not alone—not only are we not alone in our thoughts and feelings, but we have not been left by the Hidden God.

Jennifer Harris Dault is a soon-to-be graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri and is the leader of Baptist Women in Ministry of Missouri.

 

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner: A Week of Reviews

 A Review of Still by Stacy Sergent

 

An almost-memoir from an almost-saint is the gift Lauren Winner offers us in Still. Those first pulled into Winner’s story through her conversion memoir, Girl Meets God, may be frustrated with the looser structure of Still. But she gives fair warning that memoir is not what she is doing here, and the book’s subtitle, Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis, fits. These short chapters are like scribbled messages scattered by wind then gathered up again, or like photos snapped from a moving vehicle. “I am not a saint,” she writes. “I am, however, beginning to learn that I am a small character in a story that is always fundamentally about God.” (p. 194)

In the section titled “Wall,” Winner tells us, briefly, about her mother’s death and the end of her marriage, two events that most directly led to this time of spiritual dryness. Though the minutiae of her particular story may arouse curiosity, what is compelling is her very relatable crisis of faith. Many readers will be nodding emphatically at Winner’s descriptions of the seeming abstractness of God, of the crawling passage of time while waiting and hoping for things to get better, of well-meaning Christians offering hurtful words. The aching honesty and subtle humor that make Winner’s writing so engaging are still at work here.

“Movement” introduces people and rituals that help Winner out of inertia. Friends, church members, strangers pray for her, challenge her, share their own stories of “losing Jesus.” Winner reads psalms, gives up anxiety for Lent (at least for fifteen minutes at a time), finds loneliness to be a form of prayer, slips into synagogue on Purim and remembers God’s hiddenness. The choice she makes there–to believe that God is hidden rather than absent–is a crucial one. She infuses these chapters with pathos and vulnerability.

To her credit, Winner does not oversimplify reality in “Presence,” which would have felt like betrayal to this reader. Even the end of the book finds her in a spiritual middle place, where most of us spend the lion’s share of our Christian lives. Winner brings the reader to a point where “God is no longer an abstraction. But God is elusive. With this elusive God there is a certain kind of closeness, one I did not know before God became elusive, one I did not know when God was still nearby as friend.” (p. 162)

The ending feels abrupt, but works as a reminder that this is not an ending so much as another glimpse of the middle. I recommend Still for anyone who knows what it is to feel far from God and alone. Being an academic and theologian, it should come as no surprise that the author engages her experience well both intellectually and spiritually. Many of us have been on the journey Winner relates, but few could write such an eloquent travelogue.

Stacy Sergent is staff chaplain at MUSC Medical Center, Charleston, South Carolina.