A Prayer of Celebration and Thanksgiving by Betty Lou Land

To celebrate Sarah Jackson Shelton’s ten years as pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant, Birmingham, Alabama, Bridget Rose collected prayers offered by church members and friends during the church’s worship services from September 8, 2002 to September 9, 2012. Those prayers became Prayers of the People. The book was recently released by Insight Press. Below is the prayer voiced by Betty Lou Land on Sarah’s tenth anniversary Sunday.

 

“Creator of all, one of your extraordinary gifts to us as your followers is the reason we celebrate today at Baptist Church of the Covenant. Sarah Jackson Shelton brings your love to us through her abiding strong faith and love of you, O God. She has a deep understanding of you, shown to us through her selfless caring for others, kindness to those in need, limitless giving, ongoing patience, endless compassion and wisdom in the ways of God.

Pastor Sarah’s leadership, high standards, bravery, and loyalty shake us to awaken to possibilities for your church. This gladdens our hearts and touches out souls, leading us toward the light. Thank you for her encouragement and empowerment to each of us.

Through her ministry our lives are made richer. with grateful hearts, we ask your blessings on her, her family, and upon us, your people, O Creator! Now we unite our hearts and our voices to pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us, “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever.  Amen.”

 

You can order your copy of Prayers of the People from Insight Press.

Stand in the Light by Tammy Abee Blom

It was one of those afternoons because it had been one of those mornings. The faster I worked the more items were added to the task list. The girls were home from school and homework was not going well. Like me, the girls had too many tasks and not quite enough enthusiasm. I grabbed the camera and said, “I will be right back. Mommy needs to go stand in the light.” For a few minutes I stood in the fall sunshine in my front yard and soaked up the light. When the girls started calling me, I was ready to tackle the afternoon with them.

I was thirty-six or thirty-seven weeks pregnant with my first child, and it was the middle of winter. I was heavy, slow, and weary. As I talked with my spiritual director, I told her how lackluster I felt. She encouraged me to stand in the light. I thought we talking metaphorically or mystically, so I started talking about places in my life where there was light and goodness. She laughed and said, “Yes and no. I mean, Find a spot in your house where the sun shines warmly and stand in it. Do it everyday until this baby is born. Stand in the light.”

Most days, there is enough light in my life. I enjoy friends and family who share the journey with me. I find fulfillment in my roles as minister, mother, writer, and finder of lost things. However, there are days when it feels dark, when it feels like all my roles are filled with obligations. When I feel the darkness seeping in, I remind myself to stand in the light, often literally.

I love the slant of the fall sun. It signals the change of the seasons and the hope of what is to come. Standing in the light reminds me there are more days to come and not all of them will feel darkly overwhelming. I am thankful for my moments standing in the light.

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 Bible and Women by Preston Clegg

I pastor a church where women are free to be and do all God calls them to be and to do.  In the last few years, we have ordained women to be deacons, elders, and ministers of the gospel.  Today, we no longer talk much about women in ministry at Spring Creek for the same reason we don’t talk much about men in ministry.  It’s just part of our DNA, part and parcel to who we are.  For us, Christian leadership has nothing to do with gender.

Some people, especially some of our other Baptist brothers and sisters, believe this practice to be unbiblical, referencing texts like 1 Tim. 2.9-15, 1 Tim. 3.2, and 1 Cor. 14.34-36 as clear biblical prohibitions against women in leadership roles in the church. Given my last two posts, however, I would like to reconsider the “biblical” view of women in the church.

First of all, because Jesus is the interpretive lens through which we interpret Scripture, we must begin with him.   When compared with all the other common views of women in his day, the way Jesus treated women was somewhat revolutionary.  Jesus elevated women to a status they had never enjoyed before.  While most people saw women as something like possessions, Jesus treated them as something like people!  He included them amongst his disciples and commended them as examples.  He equalized their marriage status with the men of his day in his teachings on marriage and divorce.  Women were the first witnesses to the resurrection in all four gospels.  Furthermore, Jesus’ announcement of a Kingdom where people live in mutual love and support becomes strained when one group of those people is a priori relegated to secondary status simply because of their gender.  Unfortunately, the place where women are most restricted in our day is the place where people gather in the name of the one who most liberated them in his day.  From the beginning, I must ask myself:  do our views of women pass the Jesus test?  Do our views of women pass the love test?

Secondly, most of the issues concerning women in the church stem from the Apostle Paul (as evidenced by the three texts mentioned above).  Today, many people view Paul as oppressive at best and a misogynist at worst.  However, several issues must be addressed here:

(1) Is Paul being descriptive or prescriptive?  If prescriptive, is he prescribing decrees for all places at all times or for that particular time and place?  Would our views of women in the church be congruent with our views of the length of women’s hair, which he also addresses?

 

(2) These aren’t the only texts in which Paul addresses women.  Paul speaks of Phoebe who is a deacon in Rome (16.1-2), and he addresses how women should dress when they prophecy, which means PREACH (1 Cor. 11.5)!  In several letters, Paul says something like, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3.28).  In other words, the boundaries and categories which typically define us have been destroyed in the light of the one who gives us a new identity.  Most of us would be appalled at the idea of racism in the church or classism- and yet many of us institutionalize sexism.  Why would the church want to tear down these other walls and perpetuate the other at all costs?  Would the “equal in status but different in roles” argument work for race and class as well?  I sure hope not!

 

(3) Furthermore, we must address how literal we intend to take the “prohibitions” mentioned above.  For example, 1 Tim. 3.2 states, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife . . . . ”  It’s the “husband of one wife clause” that forbids women from serving in that capacity, some argue.  However, many of those same people would have no problem with a single minister.  At the most literal level, you can’t be the husband of one wife if you are single.  Yet, many of the churches who argue so vehemently about gender never mention marital status.  Why is this?

 

Finally, the overall biblical witness testifies to the irreplaceable importance of women in the history of God’s people.  Women saturate the Bible in ways unique to most other ancient literature.  Joel dreams of a day when “sons and daughters will prophecy (again preach),” and this text is remembered by Peter at Pentecost as a sign of the presence of the Spirit.  Miriam aided Moses, and subversive midwives overcame Pharaoh.  Deborah was one of the greatest judges, and Hannah gave birth to more than just Samuel.  Mary is the paradigmatic disciple in Luke, and the Philippian church would have been drastically different if not for Lydia.  Stories like this frequent the Bible from cover to cover. They also frequent every church I’ve ever been a part of.

 

Again, when we ponder all this, are we sure we ascribe to THE biblical view of women in the church?

Preston Clegg is pastor of Spring Creek Baptist Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. This post first appeared on his blog, The Bright Field.

Welcoming Hands and Steadying Elbows by Tammy Abee Blom

I noticed him stepping hurriedly across the uneven church yard. I worried he may be moving faster than advised. I called, “Good morning!” He called back, “I’m late.” I replied, “Well, grab my elbow and we’ll go together.” At the church door, the greeter opened the door and offered her elbow as he explained, “I’m late!”  As my family and I took our seats in the sanctuary, I noticed him hurrying down the aisle. When he made it to the choir loft, an alto stood and held out her hands. She helped him up the step and then turned to the tenor behind her who placed his hand on the man’s elbow to help him up the second step and into his seat. The choir knew he was coming because the man’s music folder came down the line of men, passed from one hand to another. The senior adult choir was leading in worship, and their final member had arrived.

I found myself a bit amused at the elderly gentleman who hurtled across the church yard and down the aisle after the service had already started; but as the choir sang, I thought about how seriously this man took his responsibility to being present. Neither being late or disrupting the service precluded him from getting to his spot to do his job.  I realized, “Who wouldn’t want to stand with a group of people who welcome you with steadying hands and a prepared music folder?” From the moment the man entered the church, hands welcomed him, and elbows steadied him as he made his way into the choir.  His fellow choir members had remembered him and brought along his music folder. He belonged with them and they expected him to be there.

Helping hands and steadying elbows are the church at its best. Who doesn’t want to be with a church family who reaches out and calls us in? Who doesn’t want to be with a church family who expects us and even better, prepares for us? Who doesn’t want to know their spot is open and waiting just for them?

This Sunday, I hope I can welcome my church family with open hands. I hope each child can hear the joy in my voice as I welcome them to Sunday school. I hope my church family can see the grace in my eyes as I serve the bread and juice. I hope my church family knows I expect them and I prepare for them. And I hope that hands will be reaching out to me as I show up to do my part.

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.

Reflecting Her Story: Priscilla by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

“Reflecting Her Story” is a bi-weekly series of reflections on the stories of biblical women and the ways they model lives of character, boldness, faith and ministry for women today.

 

Paul went to see [Aquila and Priscilla], and, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them, and they worked together—by trade they were tentmakers.   Acts 18:2-3

There are homemakers, and then there are home makers.

In partnership, Aquila and Priscilla made their way together to a new home when the emperor sent all the Jews out of Rome. In partnership, they started up their business in Corinth, stretching and stitching skins and fabrics into dwelling places. In partnership, they welcomed the apostle, bringing him into their home and into their work, and in partnership with him they built tents and built believers.

As part of the team, Priscilla is not spoken of in any distinct vocabulary as a woman among men. Whatever tasks she undertook as a creator of tents and a caller of disciples, her role is equally important to those of Aquila and Paul: equally valued and equally vital to the success of the relationship, the business, and the ministry. The writer of the Acts of the Apostles does not suggest that Priscilla was engaged in “women’s work” to support the men, or even that she somehow broke social molds to do “men’s work” alongside them.

Instead, in the writer’s account, the work is simply the work—every aspect of it necessary and worthy, and accomplished in partnership without comparisons or scorecards between women and men.

When it comes to making homes–whether in new cities, or of leathered skins, or in the body of Christ–partnership is the only way. When we make homes together—in partnership with each other and with God–we build relationships where each person is of irreplaceable value. We build congregations where every job description is respected and where every worker is honored. We build disciples who know that they are called and gifted. That they are unique and indispensable. That they are connected and supported.

We build houses of love, with room for all.

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in San Antonio, Texas. She blogs at One Faithful Step and Ordinary Times.