Letting Go by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingI enjoy preaching. Most of my preaching experience happens as a guest preacher in a colleague’s congregation. The joy is in preparing and offering my gift of words about the Scripture. The struggle is I don’t always know the congregation personally.

Awhile back I preached for a colleague who was on vacation. I was honored to be asked and prayerfully and carefully crafted my sermon. As I preached, I felt a lack of attentiveness as well as a lack of energy in the congregation. I caught myself wondering, “Is it me? Do I look wrong?” Or, “Is it them? Had something happened within the life of the church family that I didn’t know?” My doubts crept in and even though many said, “Good sermon” as they exited, I fretted over what had just happened. I perceived that my sermon had missed the mark.

On Thursday of that week, I received a card in the mail. The card read, “I sat by my friend in worship. She leaned over to me and said, ‘She’s a good preacher. I am glad she’s here today.’” And the card ended with, “I hope you will come again. You are a blessing,” Not only were the kind words welcomed, but I realized the writer of the card had taken the time to call the church office for my home address. Her effort as well as her words touched me. I had convinced myself that I had failed the congregation in some way. I had fretted over my perception of how God was working and missed the reality that God takes our gifts and uses them in ways that we may never know unless someone volunteers to tell us.

During the January phone conversation that was hosted by Pam Durso of Baptist Women in Ministry, I was inspired by the words of George Mason, pastor of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. He spoke about his twenty plus years in the same congregation and when asked about what he had learned along the way, he said something like this, “I have learned to let go of other people’s opinions and to not try to please everyone. I have chosen to find places to give myself away and not worry about criticisms. I believe God works in and through us. If I am giving myself away, God is working.” His words led me to wonder, “How can I let go and give myself away?”

When I served as a hospital chaplain, my supervisor encouraged us to enter each room with the thought, “Here are my gifts. I offer them freely.” Then we were to relax and let God work. I too often forget that–the assurance that God works through our gifts. Instead I fret over, “Did I do enough? Did I say the right thing? Did I do my best?” I forget that God gave me the gift of preaching and if I preach honorably in the name of God, God will work through me. When I find myself fretting, I remind myself of what God has called me to do and I let it go. I offer my gifts freely and trust God to use 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.

 

Sharing Stories by Brittany Riddle

Brittany sharing storiesI recently had a phone conversation with someone who was interviewing “professional women.” I did not know the interviewer and don’t know how she got my name. Normally, I politely decline such phone calls, but something about this conversation kept me talking. The interviewer was clearly reading from a script, but our conversation was friendly even though her questions clearly were meant for the business world and not for ministry. She insisted that all professionals are selling something, whether products or services, and she wanted to know what I sell. I paused for a moment, not sure how to answer, so I just said, “I’m a minister (hoping that would be enough for her to move on to the next question).” The next words I heard, “So you sell God?”  Me: “Ummm, no?”

When she asked me about my favorite part of my job, I told her that I love helping people find ways to share their story. In the silence that followed, I could almost *hear* her rolling her eyes. Finally she said, “Okaaaay, anything else?” My answers surely did not fit her expectations, and this conversation probably would have been humorous to someone listening outside my office doors.

For her, a professional woman should be selling something, producing tangible goods, collecting data, and coming up with a bottom line. There is nothing wrong with these things, but none of those things are my primary calling as a minister. Sure, I keep a budget and perform administrative tasks, but people and their stories come first in ministry.

Yet before the woman hung up she went off script and asked, “I was thinking about what you said about sharing stories. What did you mean by that?” I told her that I believe we all have a story worth sharing—stories of where we have been, who we are becoming, what makes our light shine, and what our hopes and dreams are for the future.  I told her that my job as a minister is to listen to peoples’ stories and to walk alongside them as these stories guide them to (re)connect with God, with other people, and with themselves.

“Your answers don’t fit my questions,” she finally said, a little perplexed and a little frustrated. “I don’t know if I have a story, but I will give it some thought.”

I will probably never see this interviewer or talk to her again. I don’t know what her background is or where life has taken her. But I do know that she has a story worth telling, just like you and me. Stories that are more meaningful than anything we could sell or produce. Stories of the beauty, chaos, and messiness of life. Stories that remind us of who we are and who God is calling us to be. Thanks be to God for our stories—and for the people willing to hear them.

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

 

DEAR ADDIE: Does It Fit?

PrintDear Addie,

My seminary life is coming to an end, and I’m starting to interview for ministry jobs.  What are clues to discovering the place where I need to be?  Will I “just know” whether or not it is a fit?

Almost, M.Div.

 

Dear Almost, M.Div.,

Congratulations! As you start this new chapter of ministry life, try to enjoy the interview process, not just endure it. Each interview is an opportunity to learn something new. Take a deep breath, and recognize this as a chance to talk with those around the table about why ministry matters. Share your vision, hopes and dreams, and ask for theirs. Learn what the needs are in their church and community. Think together about the gifts that best address those needs, and whether or not this particular position has your name on it. Ask God to help you discern what the conversation tells you as you choose your responses and hear theirs.

What may help most in the discernment process is asking about the needs that the church hopes your ministry would address and listening carefully to what they say.  As you listen, also pay attention to your own responses to what you hear.  Ask yourself:

* What gifts do I have to offer in these ministry situations?

* Could I imagine new ways to involve others in serving here? What do those look like?

* Do these needs baffle me, paralyze me, or make my ideas flow?

* Does the possibility of this work make me feel more alive, or exhausted?

* Do I picture Christ’s presence with me in new ways if I commit to this work?

* How would this ministry help me grow spiritually?

* Would this work involve leaps of faith to make me humble and dependent on Christ?

So many concerns can distract us in the discernment process:  how we like the town or the climate; restaurants where we would love to eat; search committees that are made up of potential best friends. If the committee sounds like a Chamber of Commerce trying to sell you  their location before you sense a call to the work, stay focused. Keep asking about purpose, needs, and gifts.

Whenever I consider a new ministry, I remember this quote from the author Madeleine L’Engle:  “The largest part of the job of the artist is to listen.  To listen to the work and go where it tells you to go. And that involves faith. Letting go of your own control and having faith in something you do not control.”

Ministry is an art that asks us to listen to the work and go where it tells us to go. Sometimes this call makes us uncomfortably aware of our deep desire to be part of God’s response to the world’s hurt. Sometimes our gifts seem made for this work.  Listen to the needs for ministry—and your reactions to those needs. If you focus on the work that is needed, you will have better clues about where you need to be. May you ask good questions, listen well, and recognize the place where your gifts fit the needs for which God made them.

Happy interviewing,

Addie

 

If you have a question for the Dear Addie blog, please send them to: dearaddie.advice@gmail.com

There’s Plenty by Tammy Abee Blom

Communion HandsAfter the holidays, many of us can easily voice with conviction all of the behaviors and mannerisms of our families that annoy us. Clarity of faults is the product of being with family over the holidays. However, I returned from my family’s gathering with gratitude for something they exhibit every time we gather. When my family hosts a meal, there is always a gracious plenty. The bounteous feast for all of us start with our big pots. Rather than cooking or baking small portions, we pull out the 13 x 9 casserole dishes and the large Dutch ovens. A crowd of at least thirty people is always expected, but we also know that many will bring guests. The first tenet of a gracious plenty is the commitment to bringing generous amounts to share. As I surveyed the buffet for our Christmas meal, I marveled at the gallon of green beans, quart of gravy, two hams, trays of cookies, and multiple layer cakes. My family prepares food for all who are expected to come, and for a few more, because we always welcome guests. In worship this past Sunday, one of the children whispered, “Are you serving communion today?” After I nodded, she said, “When I come up, can you give me a big piece of bread? I love communion, and the bread is good!” While communion is not about getting a big piece when a small piece will suffice, we may have forgotten how amazing it is to share in the graciousness of a meal. As I began to serve last Sunday, I calculated how much bread I had and the number of people to be served and realized there was more than enough to serve good-sized chunks. I watched as the children grinned when I gave them a big piece of bread, and I wasn’t surprised when some of the adults furrowed their brows at me for serving large portions. But we had plenty of bread, so why not give it in abundance? In this New Year, I am looking for the places where there is a gracious plenty, whether it is home cooked food or joy in the ritual of communion. I plan to take lots to share wherever I go. Where there is a gracious plenty, there are people who come with more than enough and are willing to share. I am thankful to the child at church who reminded me of the joy of getting a generous piece of bread and for my family who always cooks for all who come to eat. 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.

Remembering My Calling by Brittany Riddle

Brittany Riddle holiday bookWhile visiting my parents for Christmas, I was given the task of going through all my old “stuff” to decide what I wanted to keep (and take with me out of their basement) and what could be thrown away. I sifted through some of the random treasures I had collected in my younger years, some trophies and medals from my days as a gymnast, and many binders and folders filled with schoolwork and science fair projects. One of the most treasured pieces I found was a book I wrote in first grade titled, All About Holidays, a book carefully written and illustrated with page after page about the many holidays that people around the world celebrate, from birthdays to Christmas to Kwanzaa to Hanukkah. I have no idea where I learned as a six year old about holidays such as Las Posadas and St. Lucia Day, but I attended a very diverse school, so I am sure those celebrations were either part of the school curriculum or traditions that some of my friends celebrated.

This book, of course, stayed in the “keep” pile. While it was hardly a theological reflection, it was as close as my six-year-old mind could get. Looking through the pages of the book reminded me that the seeds of my calling to ministry were planted in me long before I knew who God was calling me to be, and as I read I thought about the cultural and religious celebrations in my own family and faith tradition as well as those of others around me–something that I was clearly already curious about when I was in the first grade.

Brittany Riddle holiday book 2Not until many years after writing this book did I discern a calling to ministry, but in re-discovering this book, I was reminded that my calling has been a process. My calling is a journey that takes me back to my earliest days of writing when a first grade teacher allowed me to pursue my interest in holidays (when I was probably supposed to be writing a wonderfully imaginative story). My calling was being woven into the fabric of my life long before I could articulate theological understandings or explain the best practices of pastoral care. As a six-year-old, I just knew that I celebrated some holidays and not others, and I was especially curious about those holidays my friends celebrated that I did not.

I imagine many of us have a similar story. I imagine many of us began our journeys into ministry because of a question or curiosity that led us to engage more fully with God and the people around us. This is one of the things we do as ministers–we (re)connect with God, ourselves, and each other. We walk alongside those who are doing the same. It is our daily work, and it is a lifelong journey.

A new year is upon us. A time when it seems natural to look back on our past and consider the possibilities of the future. I look back at the words and drawings in my holiday book and am reminded that even on the most difficult of days, my calling to ministry is not just something that happened in an instant, but is something I grew into over time, and continue to grow into each and every day. The seeds were planted long ago, but it took a village of people ready to care, listen, and nurture me over a long period of time to provide the space for my calling to grow. God’s calling in my life is not just a job. It is not just something I do. It is who I am. And who I have been since before I can remember. Thanks be to God.

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