Simple and Good by Tammy Abee Blom

As the summer began, my girls and I visited my sister and her new baby. Cooking dinner is one of the standard gifts for new moms, so the girls and I prepared grilled chicken, boiled new potatoes, and fresh cantaloupe. I had promised myself I would keep the menu simple so I could optimize my time holding the baby. Cousins, grandparents, and the new parents gathered around the table and the time was so engaging. We shared stories, laughed, and passed around the baby. It was a very simple meal, but the company was so good.

I shared this story with my spiritual director, and she encouraged me to spend my summer looking for the simple, good moments. Now that school is back in session and the first signs of fall are appearing, I am savoring the simple, good moments of summer. These three moments are my favorites.

A Card in the Mail. As all parents know, having the kids home for the summer changes all the routines. Change of schedules is not a bad thing. It is just a major revamping of how things get done, when they get done, and how long it takes all of you to sick of each other. Not long into the summer, I was ready to declare defeat and let anarchy reign. In the mailbox I found a card from my friend. On the cover was a child screaming, “Mom!” and inside were encouraging words for me. Through her words my friend conveyed, “I know you. I care about you. We are in this together.” My friend has the gift of sending just the right card at just the right time. Her caring is simply refreshing to my soul.

Swimming and Talking. I co-teach first and second graders in Sunday school. Between us, my co-teacher and I have six kids under the age of sixteen, so planning Sunday school during the summer months was a challenge until she invited me to bring the girls over to swim with her kids while we planned. Sitting on her back porch with the ceiling fan stirring the air and sipping glasses of iced tea were blissful moments for me. My girls wore themselves out playing with her kids, and I came home having shared my stories as well as planned several lessons for our class. I am grateful for my friend’s hospitality. Sitting with her is simply good.

Baked Spaghetti on Wheels. To conclude my summer adventures, I had sinus surgery. It was timely and greatly needed but slowed me down considerably. When I told my friend about the upcoming surgery she asked, “What night can I bring dinner for your family?” Later that week she arrived with comforting food and kind words. She noted that the cake recipe was simple. I know it was not simple for her to shop for food, prepare it and deliver to my house while managing her two children. However the result was so good. I am thankful for her gracious gift of comfort.

This summer I learned there are simple and good moments throughout my day, and I appreciate the encouragement of my spiritual director to be thankful for those moments. As I head into fall, I will continue to expect God’s grace in my life.

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.

 

Number Crunching and List Keeping by Pam Durso

Every couple years I put on my accountant hat and crunch numbers. Not my tax-paying accountant hat—I put that hat on every year by April 15 and sweat over numbers. My number-crunching-accountant hat is the one I put on when I start counting up the number of women pastors and co-pastors.

In 2005, I started keeping this list—a list of all the women I knew who were serving as pastor or co-pastor of Baptist churches. I am an obsessive list-maker, and so it seemed like a really good idea to have a women pastor list. Okay, the truth is that I am a researcher and a historian, so I didn’t just one day wake up and decide to keep this list. Rather my list-keeping grew out of research that Eileen Campbell-Reed and I did in 2005 for the first State of Women in Baptist Life report that was commissioned by Baptist Women in Ministry. I cannot remember why I was the lucky one to get the pastor list assignment, but somehow I beat Eileen out of that assignment!

I have kept this list ever since—faithfully updating it every time a woman is called by a church, deleting names of women who have retired or moved to a new church position or walked into a new season of life outside ministry. When I started keeping the list in 2005, we chose to research women affiliated with four Baptist bodies: the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We did not add American Baptist women pastors to this list—the ABC-USA keeps really good records so there was no need to duplicate that really good work. And we did not add Southern Baptist women to this list—although some of the women on my list are in dually aligned churches and thus are still part of SBC life.

When I began my list-keeping in 2005, I emailed and made phone calls and discovered that 102 women were pastoring or co-pastoring churches in the four denominational bodies mentioned above. Eight years earlier, Sarah Frances Anders, who was the long-time list keeper for Baptist women, had found only 85 women serving. So I felt pretty good that the number had grown to 102—until I crunched the numbers and discovered that the percentages of churches was low, really low. The Alliance was the only bright spot in the number crunching—with 22% of its churches being pastored by women. CBF had at best 5.5%, and the BGAV (1.1%) and BGCT (.19%) almost didn’t even make it on the chart.

The next year Eileen and I completed another report, and the overall number of women pastors increased to 117. In 2007, we wrote yet another report, and the number fell to 113. Looking back I don’t know if it was because of tiredness (gathering all that information was a huge, huge task) or depression (due to the decreasing numbers), but for the next two years, there was no State of Women in Baptist Life report.

I took those two years as a vacation from number crunching—but not from list keeping. I keep adding to my list and discovered that Facebook makes Baptist statistic keeping so much easier! In 2010, I crunched numbers once again, and Amy Shorner-Johnson and I worked together on another State of Women in Baptist Life report. My depression was lifted. My tiredness dissipated. My list now had 135 names!

Throughout 2011, my list kept growing. I discovered a few new sources for obtaining information, and I kept scanning Facebook, pestering seminary friends for names of women graduates called as pastor, and gathering info from state BWIM organizations. The list kept growing.

Last week I was polishing up a journal article that I have been working on—I read my list, checked it twice and few more times for good measure. And on August 14, 2012, I looked down at my list and saw that the number of women currently serving as pastors and co-pastors in the Alliance, BGAV, BGCT, and CBF is . . . drum roll please . . . 150.

The number is up. The overall percentage of churches calling women is rising. Progress is being made. List-keeping makes me happy in so many ways, but my women pastor list has this week made me especially happy and thankful! I thank God for 150 women pastors and co-pastors. I thank God for the churches that listened to the Spirit and followed where the Spirit led them in their search for a pastor. I am thankful for the working of God among us!

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

There is a Place by Aurelia Pratt

I almost missed her. She thought I had left. And she could have left, too, but instead she sought me out so that she could give me a gift. I had just preached my first sermon at Covenant Baptist Church, where Kyndall Renfro serves as senior pastor. She was an elderly lady who was just visiting on this particular Sunday. She knew the woman who had passed and had come for her memorial. How unlikely that our paths should cross, and yet, she had this gift for me.

Her skin had aged with the years, and there was a slight purple tint to her lips. Her voice was quiet and shaky, and she spoke slowly, but with assurance. Mostly though, she drew me in with her eyes. In them, I saw deep kindness and wisdom. A bit teary, they gave away a mix of flooded emotion, partly suggesting a sense of victory and partly projecting the feeling of great relief. It was her eyes that made me throw off my insecurities for a moment. It was her eyes that made me believe her when she said there is a place for me.

“I go to a funny church” she said with a wink. Kyndall and I looked at each other and smiled. We knew this was code that actually meant she attended a church where women were not welcome in the pulpit. “I was really impressed by you this morning,” she went on, showering me with encouragement and compliments that I felt sure I didn’t deserve.

Then came the gift.

She looked at us both and said something like “You know, there’s never really been a place for women”, and she motioned toward the pulpit. “But you’re showing that women can do it, and they can do it just as good.” In that moment she looked so proud and so victorious, as if the years of keeping quiet had finally been defeated. And those eyes of hers were dancing, portraying just how much she really meant it. And she smiled at us in a way that made me feel like I was just given a really important secret that I couldn’t keep to myself.

I don’t always know what it means to be called, but I would imagine it’s kind of like holding a water balloon in your hand. You can’t hold it too tightly, and its form is constantly changing as it rolls across your palm. But I do know one thing about calling. It is a gift. We don’t necessarily ask for it, but when it’s given to us, we feel compelled to open it and use it. That nameless elderly lady gave me a gift when she looked into my eyes and dared me to accept her words as truth. There is a place in the pulpit for men and women. There is a place in the pulpit for me.

Aurelia Pratt is a May 2012 Truett Seminary graduate, receiving both a Master of Divinity and a Master of Social Work degree. She will  be serving as one of the teaching pastors at a new church plant, Grace Baptist Church, in Round Rock, Texas. This post is used with permission from the Truett Seminary blog.

A Holy Encounter by Courtney Allen

Courtney Allen (in the white stole) on the day of her ordination.

It was a holy encounter . . . one I did not expect and almost did not show up for. I suppose that is how such holy encounters usually happen, unexpectedly and nearly missed. With her cheeks near my ear I heard, “I don’t know if you remember me, but . . . ” As soon as she spoke those words, I immediately sensed the connection and reason for this great embrace. “I was a friend of Barbara’s, and I remember you when you were this tall,” she said motioning with her hand.

This unexpected and nearly missed holy encounter with Grace Powell Freeman at the Baptist Women in Ministry Meeting of Georgia gathering in April brought tears to my eyes. Grace had been a dear friend to the first female minister I ever knew, and one of the most important holy women in the early years of my faith, Reverend Barbara Oliver. Like many others, I called her the “holy woman.” As she led me in worship, taught me in Bible Drill, and nurtured the Jesus into me as a young person, Barbara was, indeed, a holy woman, and I loved her with my whole heart.

My world and that of our congregation turned upside down when Barbara was diagnosed with leukemia. If we just prayed enough, God would help Barbara survive, and if everyone believed in God enough, everything would be okay. At least, this is what my young self and faith believed about the situation at hand. But, it was not okay, and Barbara’s bone marrow transplant was not successful in curing her disease.

I vaguely recall Grace coming to visit Barbara those many years ago in her final days with us, and knew that she was a special friend to this holy woman, who meant so much to me. And, unexpectedly a few months ago, I had a holy encounter with that sacred soul friend of the Holy Woman. The embrace Grace and I shared was in the midst of a great cloud of witnesses of other women in ministry, and in some ways it felt as if things had come full circle. I was now also an ordained minister of the Gospel, serving in the an area close to Grace, and we had embraced each other as two women bound together by our love for a dear, holy, and influential friend, whose life and death, had a significant impact upon our lives. Barbara’s death caused me to ask hard questions about God, and to a young girl her life was an example of what it means to be a woman in ministry and a witness to the wide embrace of God for all people, especially children.

Grace Powell Freeman (in the red stole) on the day she received her Church Woman of the Year Award.

To make this encounter even more remarkable was the fact that Grace Powell Freeman was honored that day by Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia as the “Church Woman of the Year” for her work and ministry with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field personnel. Tears ran down my face as I watched her receive this award and listened as her colleagues witnessed to her gifts. I wished Barbara had been there with the two of us, and the whole host of us women that day. I suppose she was present with us in the way that her life, ministry, and death shaped me and Grace. In fact, I am certain of it.

This nearly missed holy encounter reminded me of several things. One, showing up and participating in the fellowship of groups like Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia is important for me both as a minister and as a child of God. You never know who or what you might encounter by choosing to be present with these women. Two, the lives of those who have influenced me continue to live on and be important way beyond the years of those well-lived and influential lives. And three, the relationships among women in ministry and their ability to impact and shape future generations of ministers is rich and essential, holy and more important than any of us might ever imagine.

I hope somewhere near the right hand of God, Barbara has gotten word that I am a Baptist woman in ministry now and that her old friend Grace continues to do remarkable ministry with missionaries all over the globe. And if for some reason heaven doesn’t work like that and messages do not get delivered that way, I am certain that this holy encounter made the heart of God smile as two sisters in Christ embraced and recalled the life of one of God’s servants, our holy sister, Barbara, whom we loved deeply.

Courtney Allen is minister of community ministries and missions at First Baptist Church, Dalton, Georgia. Courtney blogs at On Seeing the Sacred and this post is from her blog!

You? Me, Too! by Tammy Abee Blom

Our girls were happily engaged in gymnastics class, and a fellow mom and I were sitting in our favorite coffee shop. We had met at the gymnastics class a few weeks before, and since we were both new to Columbia, South Carolina, we decided to have a cup of coffee and chat. Our girls are close in ages so we were chatting about birthday parties, local preschools, and how hard it felt to get to know other moms in the area.

I shared about a birthday party I had attended with my older daughter and how I answered a lot of questions but didn’t really connect with anyone. She laughed and said, “I bet they asked you the standard three.” She explained, “When people want to figure out where you fit, they ask, ‘Where does your husband work? What college did you attend? And, which church do you go to?’” I was shocked into silence. Somehow she had illuminated my recent encounters. With amazement I said, “You are so right. I have answered those questions over and over again.” She said, “Yep. They are trying to figure you out.” That spark of “That happened to you? Me, too!” launched one of my very first friendships in South Carolina.

I read somewhere friendships are born when the stories of two people connect. When you are in a conversation with someone and you share common experiences, a friendship can begin.

It is important to have friends who share our ministry experience. Ministers should have friends who are ministers, mainly because the opportunities are boundless for one minister to say, “That happened to you? Me too! Let me tell you about it.” When ministers connect with friends who are in ministry, we become smarter, braver, and kinder.

Our minister friends can share their stories about how they engaged conflict or crafted a sermon and we can learn from each other. We are smarter together. Also, I find myself braver when I know I am not the only woman in ministry who has been chastised for her choice of high heels in the pulpit. A friend of mine shared about riding a motorcycle to her preaching engagement when she was noticeably pregnant. With a story like that, I can manage comments about my shoes. And we become kinder. Goodness knows we need to be kinder to ourselves. Being a mother leads to constant self guessing. Add a congregation or non profit to the mix and we can become a ball of anxiety about what we are not getting done. My minister friends remind me that I am enough just as I am, and the tasks on the list will get done, all in due time. Friends in ministry share our journeys because they are on a similar journey.

Ministers have a natural connection because of our roles. There are universal stories about serving a congregation. If we develop friendships with other ministers, we don’t go it alone. We can hear our friend’s story and say, “That happened to you? Me, too!”

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.