Starting with a Clean Slate by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingIt does not surprise me that redemption and back to school are related. The idiom, a clean slate, originated with students who used slates and chalk to answer questions in school. When a student wiped the slate, the mistakes would disappear. A clean slate was an automatic “do over.” There is joy in starting again.

Tomorrow is the first day of school for my girls, and they will have new classrooms, teachers, and classmates. Of course their backpacks are stocked with new composition books, freshly sharpened pencils, and untangled ear buds. Lunch boxes sit at attention awaiting sandwiches and fresh fruit. There is a hopeful energy in our house. Whatever tension or struggle happened last year in school is in the past, and a new chance begins tomorrow. Both girls go to school with a clean slate, and they are anxious to get started.

We go to worship because we want clean slates. Often folks say, “I did not get a thing out of that worship service.” I don’t think that means the Holy Spirit did not move or that God was absent. I think it means the person needed to hear, “This week you can go out there and try again.” Or in theological terms, “God is always redeeming you. “

As believers we have weeks that deplete our hope. We say hurtful words to our dear ones. Or we get test results that lead to unanswered questions and more tests.  Marriages crack. Often we show up for worship like students with ripped composition books, backpacks full of detritus, and a pack of Nabs rather than a healthy lunch. We feel used up, and we need a place to start over.

When I was learning to preach, a friend of mine critiqued my sermon. He told me I did a good job explaining the scripture and then added, “You forgot to preach the Good News.” He explained, “You told them what the Bible said and how it applies to us in our every day lives but you never offered the hope and redemption that comes from the Good News.” The Good News is Jesus lived, died, and was raised, and because of that we live in hope. We get a fresh start because we are forgiven. I had forgotten to offer the Good News.

I recall that during the season of Lent, Sundays are referred to as Little Resurrections; and Lenten fasts can be suspended for the day. Even during the most penitent of seasons, there is a place for renewal and revival. Worship is our place to wipe the slate clean, to call for a “do over” and to catch our breath for the week ahead. Worship is the place where we embrace the Good News, and like children wiping our slates clean, we get renewed hope for the week ahead.

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.

Lessons From My (New) Office Chair by Brittany Riddle

Brittany purple ballAfter hearing many good things about their posture and health benefits, and after doing a little research myself, I recently replaced my office chair with a balance ball. I wasn’t sure what to expect that first day when I sat on the balance ball, while working on my computer. It was surprisingly comfortable—until someone came up behind me, startled me, and I almost fell off!

It has been a few weeks now, and using the balance ball as my chair has become my new normal.  Not only does it allow me to move a bit while I work, which helps me stay on task, but it also has become quite the conversation starter in the church office! People who walk by my office and say “hi” now stop, take a few steps back, and say, “WHAT are you sitting on?” or “Now THAT is a cool chair” (which I heard while I was writing this blog)! You just never know what kinds of ministry conversations might happen all because a big purple balance ball catches someone’s eyes.

Balance BallI have learned that you have to have fairly good balance to sit on a balance ball most of the day. It would certainly not be recommended for everyone, but so far, it has been a good addition to my office. The ball is more fun to sit on than a regular chair, and it is also a constant reminder of how important balance is in my life and ministry. I can sit on this balance ball for a couple of hours with no problem, but if I try to move too quickly, I can feel my body and balance wobble a bit. If I want to change positions, I can’t just spin my chair around like I used to, I actually have to stand up and move now. These seem like minor adjustments, but they are the difference between sitting and getting work done and ending up on the floor.

The same is true in so many other areas of my life. Last week I was in a staff planning meeting in which we began our time together by talking about our spiritual, professional development, and personal goals for the next six months. Keeping these three areas of life in balance can be quite a challenge as a minister, but this balance is key for health and wholeness. If one of those three—spiritual, professional, or personal—get out of balance or get neglected, I end up (metaphorically) on the floor—emotionally, and physically exhausted, not productive, and not present for those who need my full attention.  It can be a delicate balance, but if I do not take care of myself, I cannot care for and be present with other people.

Getting used to using a balance ball as my main chair has taken some practice during the past few weeks. I am more acutely aware of where I am in relation to my books, papers, computer, and desk as well as more aware of where I am in relation to other people who come into my office. I have to pay just a bit more attention so I don’t fall off the balance ball. As I continue to practice my physical balance on the balance ball, I hope it will continue to be a reminder to me to be more aware and intentional about keeping balance in the rest of my life and ministry.

Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia.

Women Ministers by Dennis W. Foust

Dennis FoustIn 1991, at the conclusion of an evening of worship during one of the early meetings of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a woman was in tears sitting alone on the back pew of the sanctuary. I knew her and sat down on the pew in front of her just to offer a presence. As she gained her composure, she said, “Dennis, God has called me to serve the church. I have completed seminary and I am gifted for ministry. But, my home church refuses to ordain me.” I tried to offer encouragement, suggesting that she was a pioneer and that pioneers often move forward without the blessing of others, without being understood. Pioneers never live in structures already constructed by others. They make trails which others eventually find and follow.

This past Sunday, August 4, 2013, it was my blessing to gather with others in the sanctuary of Central Baptist Church, in Richmond, Virginia, for the ordination of Mary Beth Gilbert Foust, our daughter-in-law. She was set apart to a life of vocational and professional ministry through Christ’s church. Mary Beth is married to our son, Caleb. They both graduated from Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond this past spring. Along with her family and close friends, Paula and I have witnessed her commitment to a life of servitude, experienced her concern for the poor, discussed her call to vocational ministry, and noted her desire for congregations to pursue excellence. So, when Central Baptist approached Mary Beth to discuss ordination, it was no surprise to us.

Mary Beth Foust 1Last year, Mary Beth read scripture for Caleb’s ordination. Last Sunday, Caleb read scripture for her service. Laying hands on Mary Beth last Sunday were her sister, Katie, and her mother, Karen, both ordained ministers of the gospel and active members of Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM). BWIM emerged as an inspired idea in the spirits of some brave women in the 1970s and found its organizational legs in the early 1980s. Here is the rest of this story!

 On October 3-5, 1982, St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, hosted a national conference entitled, “Theology is a Verb.” One report during that conference was, Issues Affecting Women. As a result of that conference, wheels began to turn and soon thereafter, BWIM became an organization.

 One of the many wonderful characteristics about St. John’s is that the congregation is supportive of women ministers. In fact, long before most congregations of any denomination–and way ahead of most Baptists–St. John’s ordained women for ministry. Our church is so accustomed to women ministers that we cannot fathom why some narrow-minded congregations consider us to be odd at best or ungodly at worst for embracing women ministers.

So, last Sunday, as I worshipped God in Richmond, our associate minister, Martha Kearse, proclaimed from the St. John’s pulpit. And, last Sunday, as I walked forward to place my hands on Mary Beth’s head to offer a word of blessing, I also saw the face of my pioneer friend from twenty-two years ago. In fact, I saw her footprints on the trail which passed through St. John’s in 1982.

Shalom to all the pioneers out there and to all those who pick up their trail along the journey!

Dennis W. Foust is senior minister of St. John’s Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina. 

What’s New to You? by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingEve whispered in my ear, “I am so disappointed.” I whispered back, “Me too. Should we get Audrey and go?”

As we left the penguin exhibit at the zoo, both girls were hurling complaints at me. They were riled at the presenter, who had arrived five minutes late, never acknowledged the crowd with a smile or a welcome, and then proceeded to talk in a hushed, monotone merely reciting what she had obviously recited to hordes of children before. The complaints were coming quickly, “We got there early.” “I couldn’t hear her.” “She said there were boys and girls. Which ones are the girls?”

The presenter lost an interested audience, who wanted to know all about penguins. Instead our presenter actually yawned widely during her presentation.

Leading Sunday School week after week can tempt me into boredom. Summer seems to be the time when I become automatic and routine. Lesson preparation feels like drudgery because I feel certain there is no new song, no new Bible story, no new craft or interesting game under the sun. I feel uninspired, and I feel like my well of good ideas has run dry. However, after my experience at the zoo, I realized how important it is to find the new twist, idea or concept in the Bible story so I can relate it to the children.

Having experienced first hand what it was like to have disappointed children, I want the children in my class to be inspired and engaged. To do this, I have begun asking myself, “What is new about this Bible story?” When I read the text in preparation for the lesson, I ask, “What didn’t I know or see before?” Once I have hit on the new to me idea, I get energy and enthusiasm for planning the craft and games. And better yet, I feel inspired to tell the Bible story.

Summer can feel long and dry. However when our congregants come to worship, it is our role to present the good news . . . without a monotone or a yawn. What’s new to you?

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.