Stuck in Line by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingI missed my flight to Nashville, Tennessee, because I was standing in line at security.  It was the weekend of the manhunt in Boston and airport security / TSA were on high alert. All bags were being checked. All documentation was being thoroughly screened. I had an hour to make it through security and to the gate for departure. After a mad dash leaving me disheveled and breathless, I arrived at the gate as the attendant closed the doors to the flight. She instructed me as well as two other passengers that once the paperwork is filed, there is no admittance. I dragged my frazzled self and heavy suitcase to customer service to re-book.

Forty-seven minutes of my sixty had been spent standing between the nylon bands in the security screening line. As the other passengers and I realized the glacial pace of the line, we started sharing flight information. The gentleman in front of me was going to Boston and his flight was scheduled four minutes before mine. We wondered aloud if he would make it. I turned to the lady behind me in line and noticed she had tears in her eyes. Gently, I asked her about where she was headed. She shared that she and her husband had traveled to North Carolina for her son’s birthday, and while away, the bombings had occurred near her neighborhood in Boston. Because of frequent flier miles, she was taking a different flight than her husband, and she was feeling left behind. She started to cry. Gently, I asked if she was alright, and she said, “Boston is home. I want to be in my city with my people. Instead I am standing in this line and I know I am going to miss my flight. My husband flew home last night, and he told me Logan airport is terribly difficult to navigate right now. I need to be home, and I am stuck here.” My heart hurt for her and my words were, “I hope this trip goes far easier than expected and I hope you make it safely home. I am sorry this is happening.” With that, she dried her eyes and changed the subject back to, “Is this line moving?”

I do not know if I said or did the right thing. Her hurt was so fragile, and all I had at hand were words. However, I am a firm believer in kindness birthing hope. I knew I could not make that line move faster or will the airplane to wait for her, but I knew I could be kind. Kindness always feels like answered prayers to me. When I am most overwhelmed I pray for God to not abandon me. As I go through the chaotic day, I look for the kind gestures, smiles, and words because that is God answering my prayers. I hope my kindness made a difference to my Bostonian friend. And I hope God placed many along her path home who could birth hope through kindness.

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.

 

Demystifying Christian Vocation by Molly Marshall

Molly Marshall“I am working in the field of adoption. I wasn’t able to find a church position after I finished seminary.”

“I oversee the freshmen dorms at a state university. You would not believe what comes through my door, but I am not sure this qualifies as Christian vocation.”

These comments came from two 30-somethings, concerned about their fidelity to a call from God. I visited a sister seminary this past week to offer lectures and listened to these graduates describe their work, both feeling as if they were not really in ministry.

I think it is time to demystify our language about what it means to be “called” and how we exercise our giftedness. This will grow increasingly important as we realize that guaranteed lifetime employment in a congregational setting will most likely become less of an option for seminary graduates. Rather than relegating persons who serve in other contexts to a differing status, it is important that we rethink our theology of vocation.

Rather than the old language of “full-time Christian vocation,” which meant paid pastoral staff work or long-term missionary appointment, our day requires a more comprehensive and imaginative description.

I believe that some of the most important ministry will occur beyond the walls of the church. Those not considered religious “professionals” will offer much of it.

Educators, engineers, endocrinologists, essayists, entrepreneurs and entertainers — to just name a few “e” professions — have distinctive contributions to make, and they can be expressions of gifted Christian vocation.

Are the gifts we use in the service of the church different from the gifts we use in our other work? What makes a gift “spiritual?”

Jürgen Moltmann helps correct some misconceptions about the nature of spiritual gifts by linking call and endowment. Instead of opposing natural gifts to spiritual gifts, he sees that when people are called (1 Corinthians 7:17), God “puts their whole life at the service of the coming kingdom, which renews the world.”

When offered to Christ, all gifts become charges, and nothing can be called unclean. Powers and energies that a person might regard as mundane can become instruments of the Spirit.

New thinking about vocation can assist in bridging the secular-sacred divide that has long plagued Christian thinking. Emergent Christianity finds these categories a false dichotomy and strives for a porous interface.

Anything that gets labeled as “secular” seems to be of negligent concern to God — or Christians, for that matter. Cultural and civic life matter, and Christian witness in them must be strengthened. Indeed, there are many channels for God’s work in the world, and divine power enlists human agency wherever possible.

As a person engaged in theological education, I care deeply about preparing persons for certain leadership roles for congregations, but I do not see our school’s mission as confined to that. We are preparing people to serve the common good in myriad ways.

There is a mission to humanity that is more encompassing than churches often envision. Our graduates exercise their callings through social services, public policy, collegiate ministries, health care, teaching in public schools, journalism, sustainable farming, hospice and counseling. All are contexts for transformative investment.

And all are worthy of being considered Christian vocation. Even as we encourage churches to “cultivate a culture of calling” so that new generations of pastors will emerge, we must not neglect a wider vision of vocation for the whole people of God.

I had an opportunity to speak again with these capable Christian ministers after the lectureship, and I inquired whether I had affirmed that what they are doing is truly Christian vocation.

They said that they sensed a new dignity in their professions and that they had not “left ministry.” I commended them for their remarkable work. They have opportunity to be the hands and feet, indeed the very presence of Christ, with those whose lives they intersect.

 is president and professor of theology and spiritual formation at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Her “Thinking Theologically” column appears biweekly at ABPnews.com. Her weekly blog “Trinitarian Soundings” can be found at www.cbts.edu This post reprinted with permission of ABP.

Remembering to Celebrate: Baptist Women in Ministry at Thirty by Pam Durso

Pam VBWIM 2In 2011, the year of my fiftieth birthday, I realized that I wanted to mark that significant milestone. I wanted a memorial experience to look back on, so I threw myself a wonderful dinner party. I planned for months and reserved the back room of Violette, one of my favorite restaurants in Atlanta. I sent out invitations to my most loved friends from various seasons and places of my life. I gave great thought to how the party would unfold, and then I waited for the day to arrive.

To my great surprise, friends from far and wide came! My friend, Julie, and my sister, Kenda, both flew in from Texas just for the party. My friend, Suzanah drove from Florida, and several friends came from south Georgia. What began as a party for me became a celebration of friendship—of deep and lasting connections and of newly formed relationships. For in addition to the amazing food, we shared a time of prayer, words of blessings, and reflections on the love that binds us together. That night lives in my memory as a reminder of the powerful gift that is friendship. So at fifty, I finally gave importance to the celebrating of a major milestone birthday.

This year, in 2013, Baptist Women in Ministry has a milestone anniversary. The organization, which was founded in 1983, is about to be thirty years old, and we need to celebrate. We have made substantial progress in the last thirty years. The numbers of women pastors has grown from 14 in the early 1980s to 150 in 2013. Some 2,250 ordinations of Baptist women have taken place since 1964, when Addie Davis became the first Southern Baptist woman to be ordained. Women make up nearly half of the student population at moderate Baptist seminaries. We have much to celebrate, and yes, much more work still to do.

As an organization, BWIM has endured despite almost total dependence for most its years on volunteer leadership, despite cutbacks to already small budgets, and despite two major office moves. In 2013, BWIM has a stable budget, a full-time, fully funded executive director (and I thank God every day for my fully funded job), and comfortable office space on the Atlanta campus of Mercer University.

Nancy SehestedOver those thirty years, BWIM has been blessed with strong leaders—women and men who invested themselves in the work. Nancy Sehested was the dreamer, the one who saw the need and articulated the vision for an organization that would advocate for women ministers. Her persuasive leadership, contagious enthusiasm, and prophetic preaching paved the way for a new vision for Baptists, whom she called to be more inclusive in their leadership and language and to give attention to all who suffered injustice and lived with oppression.  Every time I read or hear Nancy’s name I have a strong sense of gratitude for her strength, courage, and wisdom, and I am so thankful that she will be our preacher in June at our thirtieth anniversary worship service.

I look forward to June 26, when we can gather at First Baptist Church, Greensboro, North Carolina, and share a time of prayer, speak words of blessings, and remember that it is the love of Christ that binds us all together. I hope you will be there to be memorable time of worship and celebration.

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

 

“It Seems that I Have Friends” by Jane Hull

Jane Hull PintlalaI am a Baptist minister but am currently serving as interim pastor of First Christian Church, a Disciples of Christ congregation, in Birmingham, Alabama. The transition to a Disciples church has been an easy one for me. Baptists and Disciples are very similar in theology and practice, but one major difference is that the Disciples observe communion every Sunday. It is led each week by church elders and is a beautiful portrait of laity leading in this most important element of worship in a Disciples church.

I am loving this interim pastor role and enjoying the opportunity to lead a church through the calendar year. For the most part, I am preaching the lectionary texts and working with the minister of music to design worship. In my past ministry positions, I had planned and helped with Lent, Holy Week, and Easter services, but now that Pentecost is quickly coming, I realized that this is my first time planning and leading a Pentecost service. I want to do this well. What to do?  What to do?

A few years back, Michael Douglas starred in the movie The American President. As president, Douglas made several attempts to buy flowers for his love interest, played by Annette Bening. Finally, in the last scene of the movie, she is carrying a bouquet of roses. When asked where he got the flowers, the president responded, “It seems I have a rose garden.” That is how I feel about Pentecost. It seems that I have friends who can help me.

Last week I emailed five of my women minister friends to ask for help with Pentecost planning: Amy Jacks Dean, Pam Durso, Karen Massey, Julie Pennington-Russell, and Mary Bea Sullivan. These are friends and colleagues whom I love and respect. Surely, they could help. I was not disappointed.

I once preached on Pentecost Sunday for at Park Road Baptist in Charlotte, North Carolina, where Amy is co-pastor. I knew she loved this Sunday. In her reply email to me, she wrote, “We always set the communion table ablaze—almost literally. We cover it with a red cloth and have tons and tons of red candles burning—tapers, fat candles, and tea candles—all shapes and sizes and heights. All red. It is gloriously beautiful. On our walkway that leads from the parking lot to the sanctuary, we put streamers mounted on boards of yellow, orange, and red tulle so that as you proceed down the walkway it feels as if you are walking through the flames.”

Karen, my worship professor at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia, suggested:  “Have persons who speak different languages read the Pentecost passage in Acts 2. I have had the text read in English, French, German, Greek, and Spanish. Have each person alternate reading a couple of passages. Then when you get to verses 17-18, have them all read those verses at the same time. It gives the flavor of all the many languages that were heard on that first Pentecost.”

My friend, Mary Bea, noted that in her Episcopal tradition, they often use a Taize chant, Veni, Sancti, Spiritus. I received all this and other advice from women whom I love and respect. As women, we are blessed with the resource that is our friends and colleagues. I encourage you to reach out for help but also to be a resource for each other. “It seems that I have friends who can help.” What a gift!

Jane Hull is interim pastor of First Christian Church, Birmingham, Alabama.

Martha Stearns Marshall Month: A Discipline and an Accountability Practice by Eric Porterfield

Eric PorterfieldI am blessed to pastor a church where it is not unusual for women to preach. I am blessed to be married to Alicia Davis Porterfield, an outstanding preacher. It has been my privilege to preach with Alicia on occasion at our church and to hear her preach in our pulpit. It has also been a great joy to invite other women to preach at various times in the six years that I have been at Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Because we have a tradition of women preaching and because I had often invited women to preach in the past, I confess I initially shied away from embracing Martha Stearns Marshall Month. I rather arrogantly thought this emphasis was for churches that were not “as far along” in their support of women in ministry as my own. And then I started counting; as the male senior pastor I did most of the preaching each year. We have male associate pastors who are excellent preachers and who preach each year as well. Two realizations followed: first, though women have preached often in the past, the overwhelming majority of our sermons are preached by men. Second, if we were not intentional and disciplined about inviting women to preach, we could easily go a long time with no female voice proclaiming God’s word from our pulpit.

Given those realities, I have come to fully embrace Martha Stearns Marshall Month as a discipline and an accountability practice. I know I will be inviting a woman to preach every February, and our church knows that a woman will preach for us each year at this time. We are in a rhythm now, and that is a good thing. I certainly want to invite women to preach at any time of year, but now there is a pattern in place that makes sure a woman will preach at least one time every year.

I am also thrilled to share that this year an African American female preacher helped us celebrate Martha Stearns Marshall Month. The Rev. Danielle Glaze is on staff at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Wilmington, a church with whom Winter Park has a very close relationship. I do a “pulpit exchange” every other year with their pastor, the Rev. Dr. Terry Henry, and our churches have come to treasure that experience. Now we have broadened our shared worship experience and deepened our fellowship through Rev. Glaze’s pulpit ministry among us, thanks to the discipline and the structure the Martha Stearns Marshall Month provides.

Thank you, Baptist Women in Ministry, for giving us this annual push! Thank you for giving us a discipline that helps us embrace the gifts of women in ministry and a discipline that helps us support the call of women to preach.

Eric Porterfield is pastor of Winter Park Baptist Church, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Creating a Church Culture in Which Women’s Voices are Valued by Pam Durso

Pam Durso CBF AR 2012 1In establishing Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching (MSM), the BWIM Leadership Team’s dream was to find churches in which young and starting-out Baptist women ministers could preach. We had heard so many stories from women who never had opportunities to preach other than in their seminary classrooms—and we were hoping that churches would invite college and seminary women into their pulpits.

As the idea developed and then came into being, we also saw MSM as an opportunity to call churches that were “not yet open” to women as pastors or perhaps not even open to women preaching at all to take a step and invite a woman. And in the ensuing years we have come to realize that MSM serves as a change agent for our Baptist culture—and so many remarkable stories have unfolded.

We have had numerous churches whose male pastors were hesitant to invite a woman into their pulpit but were encouraged by our MSM to take that step, and some of those churches have participated every year since. Having a woman in their pulpit is now longer unusual or controversial.

I am optimistic enough to believe that more churches are beginning to embrace the idea that women are gifted and graced for ministry and that those churches, when their pulpit is open and they are searching their next pastor, will be open to calling a woman. But I am realistic enough to know that the progress is slow in Baptist life—and I know that real change takes time and continued encouragement. So what can churches do once the February emphasis is over? How can Baptists work to bring change to their churches? How can you be an advocate for the leadership and ministry of women in your local congregation? How can you effect change in your church with regard to women in the pulpit but also with women in leadership roles within your church?

Next steps are important, and an important next step is to ask women to preach NOT just during MSM. For churches that have “broken the ice” and had a woman preach for the first time, they can invite a woman to fill the pulpit when their pastor is on vacation or needs a pulpit supply. In 2010, Jim Dant, who was then pastor of Highland Hills Baptist Church, Macon, Georgia, pledged to do just that. Every Sunday he was out of the pulpit for a full year, he asked women to preach.

Another significant next step is for male pastors to make their support of women ministers public and visible. They can include stories about women ministers in their sermons and blog about women in ministry. They can make sure photos of the women church leaders are included in media pieces. Visibility matters in our culture, and moving women from invisible to visible leaders/preachers/ministers has a powerful influence on churches. Last year, Taylor Sandlin, pastor of Southland Baptist Church, San Angelo, Texas, blogged about his church’s involvement in MSM and then blogged several other times during the year about women in ministry. His blogs are helping to create a welcoming culture in his church and community.

Another great next step is to move the story of Martha Stearns Marshall outside the church walls—and use technology and social media to get the word out. Last year Don Flowers, pastor of Providence Baptist Church, Charleston, South Carolina, produced a You Tube video for his church, introducing them to MSM Month and telling them about the woman who would be the preacher for the day. His video was posted on the church’s Facebook page and shared multiple times. That kind of verbal and visual support of women preachers is an excellent use of twenty-first century communication.

One of the most important next steps is to for pastors to be advocates for women who are called and gifted. Last year, Derik Hamby, pastor of Randolph Memorial Baptist Church in Madison Heights, Virginia, invited a young college student, a “child of their church,” to preach for MSM Month, and then he realized that she would not have many preaching opportunities so he began asking his pastor friends and colleagues to open their pulpits to her. His advocacy on her behalf has given her experiences she would never have had, and Derik is working to bring change not only in his own churches but in churches in his area.

Seeing the passionate support of women ministers, learning about the creative ways of offering encouragement, and knowing that so many are working to create welcoming church cultures is making a difference! I would love to hear your story—what is your church doing so that women are able to use all their gifts?

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

Maybe There is Still Time for Us by Chris Smith

All these people earned a good reputation because of their faith, yet none of them received all that God had promised. For God had something better in mind for us, so that they would not reach perfection without us. (Hebrews 11:39-40, NLT)

Chris Pic Option 3 2012In the words of the late Elton Trueblood, every generation has the bittersweet task of “planting shade trees under which we know full well we shall never sit.” To plant those trees with joy or resentment is a choice. At times, pride, pain, regret, and bitterness prevent persons, even those with a wealth of wisdom and experience, from helping others who are coming after.

If we are honest, realizing and accepting that some ceilings will not be broken during our lifetime is painful. As women in ministry, we are still blazing trails. Yet we as women can take the proverbial mallet in our hands, determine to join together, and beat upon the glass ceiling to make a million cracks. We  must decide that the hardships have been endured will not embitter us but instead will embolden us to help bring about change. Harlem Renaissance writer Zora Neale Hurston once declared, “Mama exhorted her children at every opportunity to ‘jump at de sun.’ We might not land on the sun, but at least we would get off the ground.” (87)

Recently, I was privileged to moderate a panel discussion. In response to the question, “What can we do to get beyond the struggles we as women have embracing and supporting one another?” one panelist wisely suggested that we can begin to speak with girls about the importance of encouraging, affirming, loving, and supporting one another. If we plant and nurture those seeds in girls, maybe we can grow a generation of women who will embrace and lift one another, rather than tearing one another down. The unfortunate post script to the recommendation, however, was, “maybe it is too late for this generation.”

Another panelist shared how the lay women in her home church, who opposed female ordination, filed a law suit against the church and its pastor because women (including herself) were scheduled to be ordained.

StainedFor a variety of reasons, women are often the “barrier keepers” when it comes to female clergy becoming senior pastors. While women opposed to female pastors may think their theology supports their resistance, pastors, other factors that are less evident may be at play. For some women, the male pastor is the only man in their lives. He is the only man for whom they can bake a cake or a pie. They may relish the authoritativeness of his voice, or cherish how proud he makes them feel as he represents them in the larger community. They appreciate the male pastor as a role model for their sons, especially for those young men who may not have a father figure at home. The male pastor makes them feel safe and satisfied psychologically. (35-36)

While these and other obstacles may appear formidable, hope still springs eternal. Through positive examples, advocacy from respected women and men, excellence and preparedness on the part of female clergy, prayer, and faith, God can carry us beyond the stained glass ceiling. With hope and confidence, we as women in ministry can choose to model grace, encouragement, and affirmation, and we can support other women coming along.

Healing will not happen overnight. Doors will not fling open immediately. The cracked ceiling may not shatter and fall rapidly, but together, we will break through in God’s time. Let us not grow weary in well doing. There is still time for us!

Chris Smith is pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, Wickliffe, Ohio, and is author of  Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling: Equipping and Encouraging Female Pastors, which is available from Judson Press.  Chris blogs at ShePastor.

Quotes are from Beyond the Stained Glass Ceiling.

 

 

 

Standing Watch by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Blom photoIt was a typical morning in our neighborhood. I was walking down the driveway to get the newspaper. Mrs. D was loading her car for work, while Mr. S was walking his two dogs. Suddenly the abnormal happened. One of the toddlers from next door came running out his garage door, making a beeline for the street. The three adults snapped to attention. I knew if the toddler was on the loose it was because he had slipped out while Mom was gathering all the supplies for preschool. Mr. S walked over to the curb of the toddler’s house. I started across the street to watch for cars, and Mrs. D had her cell phone ready in her hand. All of us expected Mom to appear shortly; but until then, we were standing watch to make sure our toddler friend was safe. Sure enough, in moments, Mom came tearing out the door calling the toddler’s name. She scooped him up in relief, and the three watchers went on about our business. I don’t think Mom even realized we were there, but the three of us exchanged knowing nods. This child is one of our own, and it is our privilege to watch out for him.

Standing watch is a primary element of ministry. Chaplains watch over patients as they struggle with illness and death. They watch over the medical staff as they tend the sick and dying. Pastors sit in waiting rooms with families, anticipating news of surgical outcomes. They hold the hands of those who have lost jobs or relationships. Ministers send emails to divorcees and widows on holidays, reminding those who have lost that they are not alone.

We stand watch because we have claimed the congregation as our own. Not only are these our people, but this is our calling. When God called us to ministry, we were called to be a symbol of God’s presence with God’s people. So it is our privilege to walk the journey, to share the joys and the sorrows, and to be present when no words will help. It is our privilege to stand watch, but we are not the ones expected to swoop in and save. We know God is nearby. God can heal, redeem, and sustain. Our role is to be faithfully watching out for our people while expectantly waiting for God.

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.