Food Courts and Fender Benders by Pam Durso

We have not yet arrived—not completely and totally. Baptist women serving in ministry still hear words of opposition, encounter suspicions and doubts, and experience the pain of exclusion. We are not fully embraced by all, not welcomed in every church, not included in all positions of leadership.

One of the harder aspects of my work with Baptist Women in Ministry is listening to pain-filled stories told to me by women. Those stories haunt me—keep me up at night, which is why I am always thankful when words of affirmation are spoken, when appreciation for the calling and work of women ministers is expressed, when women are given full opportunity to explore and to use their God-given gifts.

But sometimes affirmation comes from surprising sources—words are spoken at unexpected times, in unanticipated places, by some astonishing folks. In the late spring, I had one of those experiences—an out-of-the-blue affirmation of women in ministry.

On Tuesdays, after the chapel service at McAfee School of Theology, a group of twenty or so students drive to the nearby shopping mall, waltz into the food court, shove five or six tables together, and sit and eat their Chinese noodles, Chik-fila sandwiches, or cheese pizza. I often go with them—mostly because I like to hear the funny stories they tell about their classes and professors and the wild, crazy tales they share from their church experiences.

In April, during one of those food court lunches, Meggie Dant got a phone call. One of her fellow students was leaving the food court parking lot and noticed that another car had “rolled” into her car. She went out to check on her car, and eventually, everyone went out to check on Meggie. Her car was surrounded by her twenty seminary friends, all taking pictures with their phone cameras, examining her car for damage to the fender. Someone called mall security.

The mall security officer, who was really friendly, came and stood with us—while we all waited for the driver of the offending car to come out of the mall. While waiting, we speculated about the other driver. The car was an older Mercury Grand Marquis. Its side mirror was held to the car with gray industrial tape. It had a cane lying on the backseat—and a Bible. And so we waited—pretty sure we were waiting for an older person.

The students all had to be back on campus for class, so they left. I stayed with Meggie, and we waited some more. Finally, Warren came out, walking slowly. We had a rather awkward conversation and told Warren that his car had rolled into the front of Meggie’s car and that his front fender was now conjoined with her front fender.

Meggie and I learned some of Warren’s history as they filled out accident report forms and exchanged information. Warren is ninety years old—I saw his driver’s license! At ninety, he is still driving, still regularly eating at the food court. He worked for the U.S. Postal Service for decades and retired before Meggie was even born. As we were finishing up and getting ready to leave the scene, I told Warren that Meggie is a seminary student, and he turned to her and asked, “So what are you going to do?”

Without hesitation, Meggie pointed at me and said, “Well, she says I need to be a preacher.” I held my breath for a moment, wondering how ninety-year-old Warren would respond, waiting for words of opposition, expressions of doubt. But Warren surprised us both. “Well, these days,” he said, “women can be preachers. Women can be anything God wants them to be.”

Meggie got into her car, with its slightly realigned fender, and drove back to campus. I got into my car and sat, holding on to Warren’s unexpected words of grace and affirmation.

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

Let’s Celebrate! by Tammy Abee Blom

School was out for the summer, and both girls asked, “How are we going to celebrate?” I thought we had celebrated with a trip to the ice cream shop on the last day of school. But the girls were requesting another celebration. Digging through the pantry I found graham crackers, a chocolate bar left over from Valentine’s Day, and a bag of large marshmallows. S’mores! What is more celebratory than S’mores?

As Doug, the girls, and I sat around the fire, licking sticky marshmallow off our fingers, I looked at the happy faces and thought, “What a peaceful moment. The girls are smiling. Everybody is deliciously full. And we don’t have to get up and go anywhere. This is good.”

In Eternal Echoes, John O’Donohue expresses what I was feeling as my family lingered together after the S’mores. He writes, “The desire to celebrate is the longing to enter more deeply into the mystery of actuality.” To celebrate is to spotlight what is good right now. Celebrations do not focus on the past or the future. When we celebrate we are not longing to go back to a different time or jump ahead to what comes next. Celebrations joyously embrace the now and honor the goodness of the moment.

Audrey, my kindergartener, attended a school friend’s birthday party. After the children had played to exhaustion, they all gathered around the birthday girl and sang, “Happy Birthday.” The birthday girl grinned in delight and then blew out the candles on the cake while all her friends cheered.  The clapping for a friend turning six years old was the perfect moment because they were acknowledging how good it was to celebrate this milestone with this friend.

In church, we gather around the table and sing, but do we celebrate? Often communion is called “Celebrating the Eucharist,” but we tend to focus more on the sacrifice of Jesus’ life for the forgiveness of sins than the celebratory nature of coming to the table.  As we receive the bread and cup, we can celebrate the goodness of this moment with these people in this particular place. No church is perfect, and we can name our frustrations with the shortcomings of our church. But when we gather around the table, we should pause for a moment to name something good and right with our church family. Coming to the table is a time of remembrance but it also a celebration of a meal among family.

When we celebrate, we honor the present. We don’t have to worry over how we could have done something differently a day or year before, and we don’t have to stress over decisions to be made tomorrow. We are in the now. There is redemptive power in recognizing the value of the now. When we relax into the goodness of this moment and refrain from trying to fix the past or anticipate the future, our souls can be at peace. As my summer continues, I plan to look for ways to celebrate the now and to relax into the peace of the moment.

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.

Mother-Daughter First Sermons by Tammy Abee Blom

I was twenty years old when I preached my first sermon, and I can tell you right now it was not so much preaching as reading anxiously from a manuscript. Two of my friends and I were asked to preach on a Sunday evening at First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to celebrate the church’s college ministry. That evening we led worship in the smaller chapel with a congregation of about seventy-five people. I was fully confident that nothing I had to say would be original or of interest to anyone there. My voice simply had to fill five whole minutes.

I agonized over every word as I tried to share my spiritual journey. Really, who comes up with these topics? Share your spiritual journey in five minutes? That’s like asking your mother to explain her favorite cake recipe in five minutes! It is personal, complicated, and maybe not what you want to share with seventy-five strangers. But, I did it. My primary emotion after my first sermon was relief.

Recently, my nine-year-old daughter, Eve, was asked to write and present a reading on freedom for the 11 a.m. worship service at our church. The children’s director asked me to ask Eve to participate. As soon as the words “read in worship” left my lips, Eve exclaimed, “Preach! I’d love to preach. When is it?” For a few days I tried to clarify for Eve that she would simply be doing a two-three minute reading. But once she went to VBS and told everyone that she was preaching on Sunday, I gave up. I agreed to let her preach. Together we wrote three paragraphs about freedom. Her idea was to talk about Moses leading the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Her third grade school class had studied slavery in the United States, and she wanted to connect that history to God’s people. Over several days she and I drafted, edited, and condensed her words. Not once did she doubt the value of her words nor fear proclaiming them in front of a congregation. She was just pleased to preach.  She did admit to getting nervous just before she stood in front of the sanctuary filled with about two hundred congregants. But soon her voice rang out with words about God calling people to freedom.

I preached my first sermon with great self doubt and misgiving when I was a sophomore in college. Until I attended First Baptist in Winston-Salem, I had never heard a female preacher. Eve attends a church where she hears the preaching voice of a woman every Sunday. And she has heard her Mom–no longer quaking in her boots but welcoming each preaching opportunity–preach. I believe that it matters if  a young girl sees and hears a woman in the pulpit. The preacher models to the girl what she can do and be when she grows up. The preaching voice of a woman gives confidence to the budding voices of girls.

I am awed by my daughter who exclaimed, “Preach?! I’d love to.” May there be many more daughters who respond with the same enthusiasm.

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.