The Helpful Sermon by Aurelia Pratt

Aurelia Pratt

Every time I have to preach, it never fails; negative thoughts flood my mind.

“Who are you? You’re an impostor! You have no experience. You have nothing to say. You have no authority! You are one-dimensional. Every sermon sounds the same. No one takes you seriously. No one believes you. You’re not smart enough; you’re not talented enough; you’re not called to this. You don’t know what you’re doing. Who are you?”

Last week was no different. Weighed down by the oppressive force of my doubts and insecurities, I finished my sermon later than ever because I was too intimidated to start writing in the first place. So I didn’t finish it until Saturday, leaving me less than 24 hours to review my manuscript.

Sunday happened to be Trinity Sunday. Coincidentally, I had told my husband, Lyle, precisely one year ago, as we were leaving a Trinity Sunday service at First Baptist Church, Austin, “Wow. That was an impressive sermon! I find the Trinity one of the hardest doctrines to try and explain. I would hate to have to preach on it.”

So here I am, one year later, with this sermon I’ve written. I felt like I didn’t give it the time it deserved. I felt like I was going in with a first rough draft. I felt like I didn’t say what I was really trying to say. I felt like it was fragmented and incoherent. I felt like I didn’t really give a thorough explanation of the Trinity or stick to the text enough. I moaned and groaned (yes this is all very self-absorbed), and I dreaded having to deliver my sermon, exposing my incompetence. I complained to Lyle, and called a preacher friend the night before begging for her advice. Finally, I resigned myself to the fact that I had to deliver it; it was simply too late now to make any changes. But oh! How I didn’t want to share what I had written.

So I prayed. GOD. Please. Can this impact just one person? Just one person outside of myself?

 And I went, and I preached. I gave what I had to give. It wasn’t a great sermon, but it was what I had to offer. And then this happened:

One person. One hug. One teary eyed “Thank you” and even a “I’ve been waiting to hear this sermon for years”. One “I’m so relieved; so grateful to have found this place”. All from one person. One person who was spoken to, affirmed, and encouraged.

As a preacher, to strongly impact just one individual, to help one person on their journey, to be included in even a small part of their story, to encourage growth in their faith is more than I could ever hope for. What a wonderful, undeserved gift.

I’m not sure how or why I ended up here, preaching, ministering; on the road towards ordination. I struggle often with whatever this calling is. But God is teaching me an abundance of lessons. I’m learning that I can’t write sermons for everyone, every time. All I can do is stay true to the text, write a thorough exegesis and pray God gives me the best word he has for me. Even if that word only speaks to one person, it is valuable. I am learning to trust that what he gives is not just enough, it is just right.

The great Joel Gregory, my preaching professor who saw something of a preacher in me, once reminded his class, “Don’t try and write a great sermon every week. Just try and write a helpful sermon, and every once in a while, you’ll end up with a great one, too.”

On this particular week, I was honored to have written a helpful sermon. I pray God will continue to help me, guide me and speak to me in this very important task of sermon writing and preaching. To God be the glory. Amen.

Aurelia Pratt is spiritual formation pastor and teaching pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Round Rock, Texas.

Your Words Met a Need by Jayne Davis

jayne DavisI’ll never forget the words scribbled at the end of my divinity school theology paper.  “Your words met a need in my own life.  I look forward to your future ministry.”

Future ministry?  I hadn’t even imagined that far ahead!  It is amazing how a word of encouragement, an affirmation that you are on the right track, can propel you into God’s future with passion and possibility.

Churches need encouragement that God is up to something in our midst.  Pastors need affirmation that they don’t walk this road alone.  We all need friends on the journey who notice the Spirit at work, who sharpen our thinking and stretch our imagination in ministry and in life.

That is the premise on which Hopeful Imagination was born in 2009.  As a staff at First Baptist Church in Wilmington, North Carolina, we felt God calling us to speak a word of hope and encouragement to pastors and to churches who were discouraged or stuck or just seeking a fresh wind for their sails to move into God’s future for their churches  So we decided to invite anyone who wanted to come to join us at our place to listen to stories of what God had been doing at our place.  We had no ‘models for ministry’ to share, only stories of transformation and hope; testimonies to what God can do if we give him room.

We partnered with Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, the Columbia Partnership, and the Center for Congregational Health, and in October 2010, we held the Hopeful Imagination conference–“encouraging traditional churches seeking God’s direction in a changing world.”  If seventy-five to one hundred folks had showed up, we would have been overjoyed.  Nearly 350 people from forty-five churches in five states made their way to Wilmington.  Why?  Because the church is hungry for words of Hope and in need of one another to spark creativity and imagination.

Today, Hopeful Imagination continues as a ministry to local churches and pastors.  Most recently we have added a spiritual formation page to our website, providing a space where folks involved in spiritual formation can find and share ministry ideas, spiritual practices and Christian education resources.  Each week the site is updated with a new idea, article or resource.

Hopeful Imagination is about churches encouraging churches. There are many great things happening in our congregations worthy to be shared and many more that could happen with some fresh ideas and a word of hope.

Baptist women in ministry–individually and collectively–thank you for the encouragement that you are to me and to the body of Christ.  “You have met a need in my own life.  I look forward to your future ministry.”

Grace,

Jayne Davis

 

Jayne Davis is the minister of spiritual formation at First Baptist Church, Wilmington, North Carolina.

Rude Words by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingAlways, I am surprised when someone speaks rudely. Most of the time, people speak either kindly, or at least neutrally. Rudeness catches me off guard.

Back before everyone had cell phones, I had to drive to visit a parishioner who lived way out in the country. I had only driven on the main road through the area where she lived, so after several turns, I was lost. I started looking for a place to ask for directions and saw a gas station, where several men were gathered around the front door. I assumed they were from the area and would know how to get me back to the main road. As soon as I asked, “How do I get back to 74?” one of the men gave a quick series of directions involving big trees, large rocks, lefts, and rights. Frantically I dug in my purse for a note pad on which to write. He finished his spat of directions and looked blankly at me. Now with notepad in hand, I asked, “I didn’t get all that. Could you tell me again?” He tilted his head and asked, “What do you need a map? I already told you.” I saw the other men were amused by my predicament so I made a hasty exit. Once in the car I could not shake my surprise at what had happened. I had not expected the rude words.

Recently, I was working on a ministry project with someone with whom I had only worked once or twice before. Together, we laid out the plan for the project, and then, I noted a discrepancy and commented, “Why don’t we re-think this part?” With head down, she snapped, “I don’t think so.” I thought that maybe I could clarify my concern, so I made my suggestion again. She looked me in the eye and said, “This is the way I do it.” Her tone and finality were clear.  I thought we were working together, and I was there to offer ideas. I did not know that she had already decided how it was going to be done and that my opinion was unnecessary. I was surprised by her rude words.

I fretted about this encounter for several days. I wondered how I missed the clues that my role was not what was stated.  I wondered what I could have done differently. Then I remembered the sage advice of my field education supervisor at Mercer Medical Center. He told me, “When you enter a hospital room, offer your gifts. If the person refuses, or clearly does not want your gifts, then wrap them back up and take them to the next room.” He taught me that not everyone can receive the gifts you offer, and when rejection is encountered, it is not a reflection of your gifts. Rejection is a reflection of the other person’s inability in this time and place to receive your gifts. I had forgotten his advice and had fretted over my gifts being rejected. Even though I was hurt by the rude words, I was glad to be reminded that my gifts fit in some places and not others, and that is okay.

I imagine rude words will always surprise me, but I hope to remember the words are not reflections of me but reflections of the person who offered them. 

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.

Words of Gratitude from Krista Manuel

Krista ManuelApril 29, 2013

 

Hi Pam,

I wanted to let you know that I was ordained to ministry this past Sunday, April 28, by Tomahawk Baptist Church  in Richmond, Virginia.  It was a most sacred and wonderful experience and I personally wanted to say THANK YOU to BWIM for the incredibly helpful worship and ordination planning resources you provided on your website. I used them and read the book you recommended, Ordination, as I prepared for my ordination council and the service itself.  It was a most incredible experience.

I want to thank you for the support of Baptist Women in Ministry, for without your encouragement (although I doubt you knew it!) I would not have had the courage to pursue my calling into vocational ministry.  Thankfully, I was permitted to serve my seminary internship under the incredible leadership of a most gifted senior pastor, Rev. Mary Richerson Mann, who not only exemplified a model of what a woman preacher can be, but her grace, leadership, and gentle spirit have truly inspired me to be a faith-filled servant of God as I follow my own calling into ministry.  Thank you for the support of BWIM.

As I anticipate graduation this May 2013 from Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, I am reminded that I am going into ministry not on my own, but I am sustained by the network of prayers and encouragement from women across the country who have been serving faithfully and providing examples and encouragement to me over these past five years that I have been in school.  All this is to say that I appreciate BWIM and what we as women in ministry stand for, the good works that we do, and the resources and encouragement that we can give to support and sustain one another along the journey.

Thank you for being a part of my formation!

Krista Manuel

On Calling: Two Years In by Meredith Holladay

Meredith HolladayTwo years ago on May 7, 2011, folks gathered at Lake Shore Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, laid hands on my shoulders, back, and head. That day a calling that began years before I was willing–or able–to see it, feel it for myself, bore down with the weight of words and bodies, calling me minister. 
Recently I found a stack of ordination-related cards and papers. When I first moved into my office in August I threw these things into a pile on a shelf. As I was moving and decorating and reorganizing I sat down and read, and re-read others’ words both spoken and written to me two years ago. It was a powerful thing to be flooded with the memories of hearing or reading them for the first time. My memories of my ordination service are alternatively fuzzy and razor-sharp. It is incredibly humbling to feel deeply known, and that is what this stack of cards and papers has reminded me–that I am known and loved–and lately, I’ve needed that reminder.

 

One dear friend wrote these words, “You clearly, more than anyone I know, understand popular culture as a vehicle for spiritual truth and understanding, and I know that your instinct for making God relevant will continue to bless many lives throughout your ministry.” When I re-read those words this week, I felt all the emotion within me well up behind my eyes. It is an incredible gift to have another person recognize our deepest passions, and name where they meet the world’s needs – what Buechner, of course, calls ‘vocation.’

Meredith Holladay 3My friend and colleague offered the “Charge to the Candidate” on the afternoon of my ordination. His words are one of the moments from that day that are etched, razor-sharp in my memory. He named the beauty of a calling to ministry – the ways that we are privileged to walk alongside people, to help others see the world, themselves, their faith in new ways. He affirmed, as well, my desire to engage culture, and discover what it means to be made in the image of God, through scripture, art, music, film. He also reminded me, and others gathered that day, the loneliness of our vocation – the loneliness of worry, of disappointment, and of feeling isolated in such an “odd and wondrous calling.” But what has seared into my brain is the sequence of verbs he offered as challenge. He affirmed: “What got you to this place are the same things that will take you to the ends of the earth proclaiming the love of God.” The same could be said for any of us – who God created us to be, does not change – it is through who we are, and who we are becoming, that God works; it is in who we already are that we find our calling.  He challenged me to continue to do these things: Cook. Read. Listen. Laugh. Speak. Run.

Meredith Holladay 2How incredibly powerful to re-discover these words and feel called all over again, and to remember how deeply known I am.  The same words of calling I heard two years ago I continue to need to hear, to remember that who I am is a beloved child of God, and I am first, and only, called to be God’s child.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea of calling, specifically into the office of ordained ministry. I shirk off any understanding of ordination that requires me to be different from, or better than other people. I most certainly know that I am not. And yet, we do recognize ministers as set apart in some way. There’s something tenuous in calling ordinary, broken people “Reverend.”

Barbara Brown Taylor (of course) brings into focus this troubling distinction. She outlines a difference between our ‘vocation’ and our ‘office’: “Our offices are the ‘texts’ of our lives, to use a dramatic term, but the ‘subtext’ is the common vocation to which we are all called at baptism. Whatever our individual offices in the world, our mutual vocation is to serve God through them. … My office, then, is the church. That is where I do what I do, and what I do makes me different from those among whom I serve. But my vocation is to be God’s person in the world, and that makes me the same as those among whom I serve.” As she writes, all of us, in baptism, are ordained to ministry.  Which is what many Protestant churches say – all are ministers of the church of Jesus Christ. Why, then, ministry? Why ordain? She writes this: “The ordained consent to be visible in a way that the baptized do not. They agree to let people look at them as they struggle with their own baptismal vows: to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to resist evil, to proclaim the good news of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace among all people.”*

Meredith Holloway ordination 4And yet, still. Why ordination? In many ways I echoed Taylor in what I wrote to my ordination committee in my statement. I wasn’t seeking ordination because I had been already called to a specific church or position. Rather, it felt like a kairos thing – at that time in my life, at that place, among those people.  This is what I wrote:

This particular moment in my life is marked by great transition, perhaps even greater than I am able to admit. My days of being defined as a student are quickly coming to a close. These past months I have been in the process of discerning the ‘next steps,’ and it is the first time that I’m not looking at further degree requirements.  I am seeking ordination, and I believe ordination is an important step, because it symbolizes the blessing of a church community for continued ministry of the church through the gifts of individuals. I do not believe that ordination is about me, or any given individual. It is a moment when a church community calls out persons, responding to God’s call to develop particular gifts for ministry, yes; more importantly it signifies the call of God to continue the work of the church.  Ordination is a promise that the work of God through both individuals and churches will continue to operate towards hope and new life.

More and more I feel called to speak on behalf of the church. I see ordination, in concert with my formal theological education, as a choice to take on the mantle of the church and to accept the great honor and responsibility to speak for the church in and to the world—to be a voice of hope and courage in a world that so desperately needs and wants the church to work for justice, peace, and reconciliation.

And I still believe that. I believe that my calling – whether I remain in the church office, or find my way to another ‘office’, as BBT would say, is to speak on behalf of the church and the world, and continually find ways to make both relevant. In essence, to blur the lines between sacred and secular so much that the line ceases to exist.

In the words of Linford Detweiler (Over the Rhine): We’re all broken, and it’s all sacred.

Amen.

Meredith Holladay is associate pastor at First Baptist Church, Lawrence, Kansas. Meredith blogs at Windows Down.

 

*Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life, 30-31.

The Feast by Jenny Call

Jenny CallAs a Baptist, I grew up associating food and religion. There was nothing better than a potluck after church—we would always have fried chicken, of course, and a table filled with desserts. I loved the way the smell of the meal permeated the sanctuary, along with the sounds of people working in the kitchen and preparing the fellowship hall. Something about those days just seemed more holy. It makes sense as I think about the many times Jesus taught around the table, or shared stories that dealt with food. The celebrations of many faiths are built around “feast days” where the faithful come around the table to share, to remember, and to be in community.

There is something about gathering around the table—when sitting, we are on the same level. We see the eyes and the smiles of friends, and the weight of the daily cares fall away. We can stop our busyness and preparations and enjoy a different rhythm of time. Our senses are engaged as we pass the bowls and smell the meal. Our mouths water in anticipation and laughter fills the space as we talk with one another. Food that is shared always tastes better.

VBWIM 2013When I think of a feast, the food is central, but it is more than just the eating; it is the act of gathering together, the anticipation of celebrating a day out of the ordinary with friends. Virginia Baptist Women in Ministry’s annual Feast event is a beautiful example of this. On Friday, I attended my third such Feast. Upon arriving at Grace Baptist Church, I was welcomed into the space by friends on VBWIM’s Board. The tables were being set (as “setting the table” was this year’s theme). The perimeter of the room was an art gallery showcasing the work of many hands through photography, needlework, painting, and other arts and crafts. I was struck by the many ways we perceive and share God’s beauty in our world. But even more lovely were the opportunities to connect and reconnect with other women in ministry. Though we are separated geographically and by different ministries, it is always renewing when our paths and stories intersect. We are all bound by our calling and our shared struggles and successes. I was able to talk in person with those I’ve only “known” through Facebook, and even spend more quality time with close friends than our schedules normally allow.

VBWIM 2013 3As we gathered around the tables, our hunger was sated by the Word shared through liturgy, song, scripture, and sermons. Judith Bledsoe Bailey, Pam Durso, Betty Pugh Mills, and Mandy England Cole preached messages about the women who had set the table before us so that we could find our places. Through the stories of women, both named and unnamed, we were filled with the important legacy that has been created through their words and acts of service. And we were made aware that we continue to make places for other women at the table, those who will follow us and continue to advance the standing of women in ministry.

I always leave Feast filled . . . with good food, yes, but also with affirmation and support from my sisters in ministry and by the many others who offer their encouragement. It is a time of spiritual renewal, a creative outlet, and an event of unparalleled hospitality where I don’t have to question where I stand, but know that my place has already been lovingly set for me at the table.

Jenny Call is university chaplain at Hollins University, Roanoke, Virginia.

A Quiet Day in Conyers by Pam Durso

VBWIM Pam 4In August 2010, after I completed my first year with Baptist Women in Ministry, I decided that it was time to take a day to pray and to dream about the future of the organization.  I wanted some time away from my office and from the demands of life. I needed some time alone to make lists, look at the calendar, figure out next-steps for BWIM.

So I drove to Conyers, Georgia, to a Cistercian Monastery, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. It is located in a quiet, remote area near a lake. And the monks in Conyers dedicate themselves to the worship of God . They live in solitude and silence. I decided it would be a perfect place to spend five or six hours praying alone.

When I arrived at the monastery, I headed to the Abbey church and slipped into one of the wooden pews at the back of the church that are reserved for visitors. This was August, during a lovely heat wave. The building has no air conditioning, so before settling in to pray, I turned on a fan near my pew. And then I began praying–thanking God for the good things of life and for God’s work in and through me. I prayed for my family—my children and my husband, my parents and sisters and nieces and nephews. I prayed for my friends, my students, for women ministers I know. I prayed for Baptist Women in Ministry, for its leaders, for its work and its future. I examined my heart, confessed by sin, prayed for forgiveness. Then I prayed some more. And finally, I was all prayed out. And I looked down at my watch–it had been all of fifteen minutes!

I panicked—how could I possibly spend another five hours at this place. What had I been thinking—going to a place of contemplation and quietness. Should I just give up and go home!?

What you need to know about me is I am a do-er, an organizer, an achiever. All the personality test indicators say that I am scheduled, structured, orderly, planned. I don’t do sitting very well. I don’t do waiting very well. And as much as I appreciate and am so grateful for the monastic tradition within our Christian history and as much as I long to be a contemplative person, I struggle in that area of my spiritual life. I find it very hard to relate to the life choices of monks and nuns, especially those who live isolated lives of silence and contemplation. So I sat in complete panic—in this silent church with only the swooshing sounds of a fan, trying to get comfortable on a hard wooden pew and to stay cool on a hot, hot morning—trying to figure what to do with myself.

Eventually, I did what any self-respecting woman of faith would do—I got up and went to the gift store.  Shopping always helps! Plus I knew that the monks in the gift store would have to talk to me if I bought something! I did buy something, several somethings. I bought a book of prayers and some of the chocolate fudge that the monks make!

After thirty minutes or so I finally worked up the nerve to go back to the Abbey church. I went back to my same pew, sat down with my new book of Catholic prayers and began flipping through and reading some of the prayers. Just a casual reading, thinking more about how these prayers developed and have been used historically by Catholics than thinking about what they actually could teach me.

But when I got to the prayer to the Holy Spirit, I stopped and read and re-read it – over and over again—and one sentence became my prayer that day, I read it out loud. I whispered it to myself. I wrote it in my journal over and over. And it became the prayer of my heart. And I relaxed into that prayer, sitting quietly with it. Breathing it into my spirit. Resting in an awareness that God was there with me—surrounding me, speaking to me.

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

I breathed those words, sat with them quietly, ran my finger over them on the page, and closed my eyes and rested.

About an hour later the monks began to file into the church, one or two at a time, each taking their place for worship. And I could tell that these men each had their own place, a place to be in that community, a place to stand, a place to worship, a place to pray. They each had their place! Then the noon day service began—soft quiet music, sung in Latin, beautiful sounds of worship.

After ten minutes of singing, a monk stood to read the scripture passage of the morning: 1 Peter 5. In that epistle chapter, the writer offers words of encouragement and advice to the “elders among you” – those serving in the name of Christ as leaders, caregivers, overseers.  In verse 2 of chapter 5, these are the words Peter offered: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be, not greedy for money but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock.”

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.”

The monks finished their worship and walked quietly out of the church to have lunch together, but I remained, sitting and sweating on my wooden pew, listening to the words that now filled my head and my heart:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.”

Those words echoed over and over. And I finally began to understand. This day that I sat aside for planning and scheduling was of my own design, my own need for structure. And in the midst of that, God was offering me something more than a well-organized calendar and a strategy for the future. God was offering me assurance and presence.

In that first year with BWIM, I had moments in which I have wondered if this work was indeed what God had called me to do. After all, my training, educational background, and experience is as an academic. I know how to work and live in the academic arena, but this new BWIM role was been about leadership and about caring for and encouraging women ministers. So during that first year, I questioned my new role, wondering if this position was something I had created because of my own needs. I struggled with self-doubt—and frankly, I struggled with embracing myself as a minister leading other ministers, caring for other ministers, supporting and encouraging other ministers.

But there in Conyers, Georgia, God offered me these assurances:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

“Be a shepherd of God’s flock that is under your care.”

In the years since that experience, I have pondered these assurances and have embraced the truth that I have gifts—gifts I have never explored, gifts that are developing, gifts that others have recognized and affirmed—holy gifts, given by God. I have also embraced the realization that God has indeed given me flocks to tend over the years. Some of those flocks have been within the church—I have been a shepherd to Sunday School classes and Bible study groups to youth groups to senior adults, but I have also been a shepherd to a good many flocks that are outside the church, flocks that were entrusted to me to love and care for – including my children, my friends, my peers, my students. My present flock is a rather undefined flock, one that is constantly changing and expanding. I have a flock under my care of women who need encouragement, support, guidance—they need me to listen, to offer practical help, to pray with them, to give them words of hope. And every day I am thankful–for words of assurance that came to me on a quiet day in Conyers.

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