Notes from a Weary Volunteer by Tammy Abee Blom

A friend of mine says, “May is the new December. You think you are busy with Christmas but end of the school year beats it hands down.” I think she may be on to something. Not only do schools host end of the year festivities but so do churches. With all these activities for children, volunteers are in high demand. I am a weary volunteer and wish the leaders of the events knew some basic principles about utilizing volunteers.

1-     Ask me personally. A group email or note in the worship folder begging for help rarely prompts me (or anyone else) to step up. I respond readily when asked personally. I respond best if you ask me and then say, “Let me know after you have considered it.” There is a phrase in my church called, “voluntold.”  A committee will meet and say, “Tell Tammy she is in charge of snacks for Vacation Bible School. She has just been voluntold.” The concept is done with humor and joviality but the reality is you were signed up for a task and not asked. If you need volunteers, ask them personally and give them time to consult calendars to see if they can actually commit to the task.

2-     Tell me exactly what you want me to do. In one of my seminary classes, Joyce McKichan Walker of Nassau Presbyterian presented an hour long session on supporting church volunteers. She said, “We have job descriptions for every volunteer opportunity in our church. When you sign up, you receive clear instructions about how to complete the task and the time frame for getting it done. Telling people what you expect is a form of respect. You respect their time and their commitment.” Her words have lived in me. Not only am I clear when I recruit volunteers but I want leaders to tell me clearly what they need of me.

3-     Treat my time with respect. More is not always better. I have been asked to assist with school parties as well as our church’s children’s ministry only to show up and discover the leaders have recruited so many helpers there are not enough tasks to go around. When I am faced with this scenario, I feel frustrated by the poor planning of the leaders. And, the next time I am asked by this leader for assistance, I am much more likely to decline.

4-     Give me an out. I have noticed a new phenomenon at both church and school. Volunteers are either doing a poor job with the hopes of being asked to resign or they stop showing up. Often these volunteers have told leaders time and again they need a break or they need to step out of the role and the leader said, “Just hang in there until I find somebody.” Sometimes the leaders are really trying to find a replacement and sometimes, they are just hoping the volunteer will stay in place so they don’t have to find another volunteer.  A volunteer role is not a forever role. Volunteers need opportunities to step out of roles. They need to be asked if they wish to continue and their desires for departure should be graciously received.

Before the end of May, I have three more events for which I have volunteered my time and resources.  I will graciously give of myself.  I hope the leaders of the events will be respectful of my gifts.

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.

Why Are You Still Single? by Brittany Riddle

This time last year I anxiously awaited the moment when I would walk across the stage, receive my seminary diploma, and for the first time in my life, not be a formal student. I had been searching, discerning, and interviewing with churches for months, but suddenly the reality hit that for the first time in my life I did not know what was next. I did not have a plan. All of my energy and time shifted from completing my thesis and internship to sending out resumes, networking, interviewing, and sending out more resumes.

Recently, I have been reflecting back on those seemingly long months between graduation and being called where I am today—those months when I wasn’t sure whether my resume was even making it through cyberspace or snail mail. Those months as I interviewed with search committees never to hear from them again. Those months when every letter telling me that a search committee was “moving in a different direction” felt like a personal rejection.

In retrospect, those months in limbo were not nearly as long as they seemed. And looking back, I realize that this process was a crucial part of discerning my first call to full-time ministry. I learned a lot about myself and the church, and I met many ministers and lay people who were passionate about what God was doing in the lives of their churches and communities. At the same time, the process was a painful one on a personal level. I expected to run into questions about my age and experience. After all, I was fresh out of seminary with many years of internships and part-time service in the church but no full-time experience. For obvious reasons, I was also prepared and re-prepared to run into questions about my gender.

What caught me by surprise were all of the questions about why I am single (which I know is an extension of the gender issue). Almost every church I interviewed with asked me some version of “why are you still single?”  Some simply seemed curious. Others asked it in such a way that implied that being twenty-five and single is a major character flaw (why are you STILL single?). I had direct questions about my dating life, sexuality, and all sorts of other things that I had difficulty imagining would make a significant difference in how I minister. I found myself initially getting defensive about these questions and had to do some exploring about my own response. I did not fit what search committees imagined their new minister to look like, and I began internalizing the insecurities of the committees as they interviewed me. Do married ministers get asked questions about why they are married?  Does being single lessen the value of my calling and all of those years of education and training?  Am I not enough by myself?

After one particularly painful set of questions, I remember recalling Jesus’ seemingly simple words in Matthew 7, “so in everything do to others what you would have them do to you.”  I could not imagine that a search committee representing a church would ask questions in such a condescending and hurtful way. I could not imagine that any one of those committee members would appreciate being asked the same questions in the same tone. I quickly learned that how a search committee asked personal questions told me a lot about their fears, insecurities, and ability to extend grace—individually and presumably, as a congregation.

The process was a learning experience for me—learning to trust myself, learning to share and set appropriate boundaries with search committees, and learning to carefully consider how I ask questions of other people. Not all of my interactions with search committees created such angst within me, though. In fact, many of my interviews were filled with laughter, sharing of stories, and a healthy dose of reflection.

Six months ago I was called to my current ministry position after a long, but encouraging search process. The committee kept me informed as the process moved forward. They asked questions—even difficult ones—with grace (and some helpful coaching from the pastor). They compassionately responded to a family crisis that required moving my start date at the church back a month. My time in my new church has been a whirlwind of busy-ness, blessings, meeting hundreds of new people I am learning to love and call family, finding my voice and new ways of serving God, and an affirmation of my calling to ministry. The search committee that called me took their job seriously but extended grace and compassion in the process. They have become good friends, encouragers, and guides as I have made this transition—for that I am grateful.

Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church, Vinton, Virginia.

 

Still My Story by Elizabeth Mangham Lott

I was sitting in the carpool line listening to NPR when I heard the story of a Methodist pastor who left her parish and later announced she was an atheist. As I listened to her story, I quickly experienced a dozen reactions: judgment of her for not discussing any of her personal struggle with her congregation, personal rejection that yet another thinking person could not reconcile reason with faith, and jealousy that she could walk away from a vocation that is an all-consuming way of life . . . and be lauded for it.

The next day, not yet having heard the NPR story of the outgoing clergywoman, a Presbyterian pastor friend shared this quote by Tomas Halik, “The real difference between faith and atheism is patience. Atheists are not wrong, only impatient . . . . Faith is a patient endurance of the ambiguity of the world and the experience of God’s absence. . . . Patience with others is love./ Patience with self is hope./ Patience with God is faith.” Clearly, I do not know the full story of this former Methodist pastor or the substance of her struggle and journey that led her to no longer find truth in the Christian tradition. My desire here is not to speak to her choices or her journey, but I do stand beside her as a doubter and seeker of truth. The questions she has raised are not new or frightening to me. If anything, I wonder sometimes what keeps me within the fold and what prompts me to continue rethinking and reinterpreting the way I understand the story of God.

God knows, I am impatient. Often. Impatient with my children, impatient with myself, impatient when trying to figure out what the next thing will be for work or school or home or dinner. I work consciously to resist my urge to know all and hurry through all. Being aware of my impatience is a good task for my life in the church, as well. Anyone who is having honest conversations about the future of the church in North America is talking about dwindling congregations and gigantic campuses to maintain. We are shifting from doing the old programs of a church week to a more fluid notion of understanding ourselves as living within a story as local faith communities that live out a theology together. We easily grow impatient when wondering what the next step will be, and that impatience can prevent us from fully seeing and knowing the present. What we have known as church for years is dying, and much of it really needs to perish.

But as I sit with my honest questions and ponder the complicated relationship between my deepest fears and deepest hopes, I remain a person of faith in a God who moves and creates and weaves a story. For weeks now I have reread the introductory words from Lauren Winner’s newest book, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis. Her words on faith and doubt speak to the impatient, unknowing, waiting place of life and ministry and risky theism. Winner nudges us toward understanding doubt as an element of faith, as Paul Tillich suggested. She writes of the doubting place:

“[I]n those same moments of strained belief, of not knowing where or if God is, it has also seemed that the Christian story keeps explaining who and where I am, better than any other story I know. On the days when I think I have a fighting chance at redemption, at change, I understand it to be these words and these rituals and these people who will change me.” (preface, page xiv)

I want to find out how the story ends. I want to know how God’s story will continue to write my own. I really do want to jump ship sometimes, but I just can’t do it. I’m too impatient! I want to find out how that next chapter goes.

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.

Roses for Mother’s Day by Tammy Abee Blom

When I was a child, my mother cut red roses from her garden and pinned them on our church clothes. We, her five children, wore red roses, and she wore a white one. She explained the wearing of roses was to honor our mothers both living and deceased. As an elementary-aged child, I did not question this tradition of wearing roses to church.

When I was in seminary, roses on Mother’s Day led to an emotionally charged moment in worship. On that fateful morning the young children of the congregation went to the front of the sanctuary to be handed a rose to give to their moms. Gleeful little faces ran back to moms with calls of “This is for you, Mommy.” What a sweet moment until a woman in the front started yelling, “I want one. I want a rose.” This woman was a special needs adult who attended regularly. We all knew her, or so we thought. Turns out, she was yelling because she wanted to be a mother. She had asked her parents and her caregivers if she could have a child. She had been told, “No.” When those roses were passed out, her heart collapsed into pleas of wanting a rose, or as I now know, a child. The quick thinking, compassionate person seated next to her procured a rose just for her. In that moment, I began to question celebrating Mother’s Day as a part of corporate worship.

Later on, I served as a staff minister for another church. As we were planning worship for May, the music minister listed the hymns adoring godly families and loving mothers that he had chosen, and the pastor asked if the floral committee was doing the arrangement of roses. Remembering the cry of the lady who so wanted to be a mother, I asked, “Why are we celebrating mothers when so many families are blended?  When there are people who are alienated from their mothers?  When there are families struggling with fertility issues? Why not just celebrate worship as usual?” I was told by the other church staff, “Our congregation will expect us to celebrate Mother’s Day. There will be angry voice messages and curt comments later in the week if we ignore mothers. We can’t ignore Mother’s Day. Therefore, we will do as we have always done.”

It is easy to fall into the pattern of doing as we have always done while ignoring the real lives of our congregants. It is easy to forget that motherhood, either being a mother, wanting to be a mother, or losing a part of the mothering role, is complicated. Mother’s Day while joyous and sentimental for many congregants is a reminder of unhealed hurts and unfulfilled desires for others. My question is “Should we honor mothers during corporate worship when doing so causes discomfort to those for whom mother is not a joyous, sentimental role?”  I come from a long tradition of honoring mothers at church, but I also value the stories of friends and family who feel the pain of attending worship and feeling singled out because they do not have a good relationship with their moms or because of fertility issues. I believe worship should be a place of welcome and healing for all. Therefore, I now question whether Mother’s Day should have a spot in corporate worship.

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.

 

The Gift of a Stole by Ruth Perkins Lee

May 6, 2012

Dearest Meg,

On this special day when your gifts as minister are recognized and blessed by God and this congregation, I offer another blessing represented by this stole.  Two years ago, at my ordination, you laid hands on me and joined a community that I carry within me everywhere I go.  On that afternoon, I was presented with this stole.

This stole was given to me by Rev. Alica Kirkpatrick-Bremer, my mentor and my sister.  She serves as the associate pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Alabama.  This stole came to her by way of Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel, who serves as the pastor of the Plymouth United Church of Christ in Houston, Texas.

Meg, unnumbered women called by the Holy One to the ordained ministry have worn and passed on this stole.  This stole is to be received and then given away.  For two years I have worn this stole and now it is time for me to pass it on.  Meg, you are charged to receive and wear this stole knowing that in the Spirit there are untold women blessing and standing with you in your ministry.  You may not keep this stole forever for there are untold women to follow you.  You are also charged to give this stole away to another woman in ministry.

In grace, as you wear this stole, may you continue to live in God’s love for you and to live out God’s love to all people.  May this stole represent for you the need to give and to receive.  Hear and live these words as blessing, offered as a prayer on behalf of all God’s people…

May you love and be loved.

May you nourish and be nourished.

May you lead and be led.

May you know abundant life!

Now and forever. Amen.

Love,

Rev. Ruth Perkins Lee

Meg Olive is family support specialist at Open Door Community House, Inc., Columbus, Georgia. Ruth Perkins Lee is the minister of students at Auburn First Baptist Church, Auburn, Alabama.  

Rev. Alica Kirkpatrick-Bremer wrote the original version of this letter for the ordination of Ruth Perkins Lee. Ruth updated it for Meg Olive’s ordination service. 

Ministry and Marketing by Carolyn Staley

Pulaski Heights Baptist in Little Rock, Arkansas is located in a great, historic neighborhood.  The community is now comprised largely of young, hip, educated folks, all interested in healthy lifestyles. Young families, singles, as well as some seniors, live in homes in the neighborhood that date from the 1930s-50s.

A year ago we at Pulaski Heights did not know many of our neighbors.  Each Wednesday evening at supper we saw dozens of walkers and joggers. We saw parents pushing baby strollers. And we wondered, “How can we meet these folks? Do they even know who we are and what goes on here?”

What was born of the prayers and discussions that followed those questions is the Hillcrest Farmers Market, which operates May through September on Saturdays from 7 a.m. to noon. The organizing of the market followed a church-wide study about how to be “missional” by serving the community. The market is supported through a grant from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s  It’s Time program.  

We saw that neighbors were interested in community service, and we hoped the market would lend a relevance to our church’s ministries.  We hoped by seeing what we do they might also learn about us and our church and be open to learning more about Christ who motivates our living.

On Saturday, May 5, 2012, we will celebrate the grand opening of our second season. In the last year, hundreds of shoppers have come by. They visit with each other and church folks, sip coffee, buy a gourmet sandwich from the Food Truck, sit on the church steps, and enjoy a leisurely morning.

The market currently has fifteen vendors, all whom bring locally grown products.  Farmers agree they will sell only what they grow or produce.  The market offers seasonal produce as well as cheese, eggs, pasture-raised meats, jams, jellies, and baked goods.

Each Saturday the church puts up a hospitality tent and hands out information about Pulaski Heights. Shoppers may preregister for Vacation Bible School or other church activities. We also invite folks to sign up for emails about other special events they might enjoy. The church sponsors a children’s tent each week, offering craft fun for children as their parents shop. There is also a children’s gardening project, “The Mustard Seed Ministry,” which gives kids a chance to plant seeds in the flower gardens at the market and learn basic gardening skills to carry through life. The youth serve coffee and water and accept donations to their summer mission travel.  The coffee is donated by a local coffee shop.

The market has a food donation program too. Produce donated at the end of the market by vendors is picked up by Dorcas House—a shelter for women and children who are homeless or are victims of domestic abuse.  The vendors receive a contribution receipt for their tax records.

“This ministry may be the most significant thing we have done in a number of years,” said Randy Hyde,  Pulaski Height’s senior pastor.   The church has had enthusiastic response from the residents and merchants. We have experienced positive support from the congregation.  We believe we have found an ideal new program to engage us with our community for healthy living, to serve our neighbors, and for faith growth as well.”

Carolyn Staley is associate pastor of discipleship and missions at Pulaski Height Baptist Church, Little Rock, Arkansas. Carolyn serves on the Baptist Women in Ministry Leadership Team.

 

 

 

 

New Beginnings by Charity Roberson

 It’s been a busy few months.  On February 5, 2012, I accepted the call to be the pastor of Sharon Baptist Church in Smithfield, North Carolina.  I spent February and March transitioning out of my position in campus ministry, a ministry I’d been a part of in some way for eighteen years and a campus minister for almost nine, and got my first house ready for the market.  I had great aspirations for Lent but the truth is, I really wound up trying to survive the lenten season with all of the transitions going on in my life.

I began at Sharon Baptist on April 1.  I knew I was doing the right thing, was certain this was where God was leading, but honestly, I was not sure how I felt about leaving campus ministry.  I wasn’t sure if I was ready to be the pastor of a church.  I found myself thinking, “What am I doing?  What if I don’t have what it takes?”

But it’s been incredible.  I know we are still in the honeymoon phase of our relationship (the church and me), but I love being a pastor more than I thought possible.  Here are some of the things I love.

–  I love preaching.  I love “hosting” worship each week, welcoming people into the sanctuary and a time of worship.  I love offering prayers over people.  This is not very eloquent . . . but it’s such a big deal. I get to step in on their behalf and communicate with God directly for all of us.  It is an incredible responsibility.

–  I love the children.  I did not expect for the kids to take to me so quickly.  I love that a three-year-old crawled in my lap at an event on Sunday afternoon to snuggle with me and have a tickle fight.  I love that one of the four-year-old girls in the church was so excited I was coming that she was announcing it to everyone, including random people in Walmart, that they were getting a new pastor and her name was Charity.  I love that a seven-year-old has nicknamed me “PC” . . . Pastor Charity.  I love that a four-year-old boy would say a prayer in church because, “If Pastor Charity asked me to do it, then I will.”  It such an incredible opportunity not just for me to feel loved on, but an opportunity for them to feel loved by me and then see me offer prayers for them, preach and le,ad worship.

–  I love how I am using all of my gifts in ways I didn’t know they could be used.  Only in the pastorate would one afternoon find you kneeling in the halls of a nursing home holding the hand of a woman who doesn’t know who you are (and sometimes who she is), lead a Bible study discussion that night, have lunch with a well-known business man in the area the next day (a lunch that is interrupted by a phone call from a gubernatorial candidate) and then go sit on bleachers into the night cheering on the softball team.

I love how God is using every part of me for this role.  I love the people of Sharon Baptist Church already.  I am excited to see what God has in store for our future.

Charity Roberson is pastor of Sharon Baptist Church, Smithfield, North Carolina. Follow her blog Living Fabulousness.