Pretzels for Lent by Tammy Abee Blom

On the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, Eve, Audrey, and I made pretzels. I showed my daughters how to roll the pieces of dough into long strips, bring the arms up to make a U shape, twist the arms, and fold them down. As we rolled and twisted, I demonstrated how the folded arms of the pretzel look like arms folded over the chest in prayer. I told them about the priest who, while making bread during the season of Lent, baked pretzels as treats for the children, either as rewards for saying scripture verses or as reminders for prayer. As we worked, we talked about how Lent is the forty days preceding Easter and how Christians for centuries have offered penitent prayers during these forty days. We concluded our afternoon gathered around the kitchen table snacking on warm, salty pretzels. As we sat there, I thought about this tradition being passed from 7th century priests  to modern Christians, and I recalled who passed the tradition to me.

While in seminary, I met Joyce MacKichan Walker, minister at Nassau Presbyterian Church and walking archive of resources for Advent and Lent. Best of all, she is willing to share those resources. She gave me packets of resources from her Lenten Journey, a treasure trove of hands on activities, prayers, suggested hymns, and good ideas.

Using her resources as inspiration, I shared the tradition of baking Lenten pretzels with the church family of Bridgewater Baptist Church, where I served as a seminary intern. I have since shared the tradition with youth in North Carolina, minister friends in Tennessee, my current Sunday school children in South Carolina, and with my two girls. Because Joyce was willing to share her time and resources with a seminary student, the tradition of the pretzel has spread through many states.

Joyce and the priest of long ago are kindred spirits. They took their love of God and their joy of teaching and put it in the hands of those willing to learn. I am thankful for those mentors who share their talents and their experiences freely. During Lent, I plan to pray the names of the mentors who have shared their love of God and their joy of ministry with me. As I anticipate Jesus giving his life for us, I will offer thanksgiving for those who have given their stories, time, and guidance to me.

And I will eat pretzels. . .warm and salty.

Tammy Abee Blom preaching

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.

A Creative Journey by Brittany Riddle

Britt-StoleI recently read a study that found that over 80 percent of five-year-olds are using their “highly creative” capacity, but by age twelve, only 2 percent of children (and later, adults) are considered “highly creative.”  These numbers struck me as I would be the first to admit that most kinds of creativity do not come naturally to me—and never have. I instantly get nervous when I walk into a room or a meeting and there are art supplies sitting out. I always feel inadequate when I see the artistic abilities of those around me. This has been true for as long as I can remember. I took an art class one summer when I was young, and the only thing I remember about the first day is that I cried until my mom came to get me, and she promised that I would not have to go back.

After many years of telling myself that I am not creative, I have come to believe it. Recently, though, I have felt like part of me is missing, so I have been on a spiritual journey to (re)discover and (re)claim my own creativity. As the first step on my journey, I decided to register for an online art journaling class with thousands of other people from around the world. This has been a lot of fun, and I find myself enjoying playing with watercolors, crayons, and markers as I create each page of my journal. At the same time, I find myself stressing over each page. Permanent markers and watercolors can not be fixed with a backspace button. Whatever goes on the page in my art journal, stays on the page.

Art Brittany 2Opening up this new part of myself has been a difficult, therapeutic, frustrating, and joy-filled part of my journey. I have had to dig deep within myself to find permission to make a mess and not be afraid to make mistakes. I have had to challenge the message that I am not creative. I have had to change the negative self-talk and open my mind to the possibilities of my own creativity.

In this art journaling course, Brené Brown has challenged us to talk to ourselves the same way that we talk to the people we love. As ministers, we regularly talk about Jesus’ teaching to love others as we love ourselves, which means that we must love ourselves first.  Instead, we ministers are often harder on ourselves than anyone else. We forgive other people when they make mistakes, but have a hard time forgiving ourselves. We beat ourselves up over small mistakes and criticisms. This reminder to talk to myself the same way I talk to the people I love has given me a new starting point for loving others as God would want me to love them—a much more fulfilling and authentic starting point.

Exploring my creativity has allowed me to connect spiritually in new ways as well. As I have been intentional about thinking “outside the box” and giving myself permission to try new things, I see new opportunities for ministry all around me. I find God in unexpected places and people. These opportunities have allowed me to connect with God and the people in my congregation on a deeper level.

Art BrittanyI may never be really comfortable with art supplies in front of me, but this course has helped me realize, and begin to believe, that I am creative. It has opened my eyes to the unique ways every person around me is also creative. Creativity shows up in many more ways than I once believed possible. Even if we have to search deep within ourselves, we all have our own unique ways of being creative. After all, we are created in the image of a creative God. 

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

What a Difference Thirty Years Can Make by Tina Collins

Tina jpgIt was the fall of 1984. If the building were still standing, I could show you the exact place. It was a Sunday afternoon and I was home from college for the weekend. I was having lunch at a local restaurant with my dad after church.

For some reason, that was the time I chose to tell him that I was changing my college major. It was not a huge change, but it was, in his opinion, a rather bold change. I was making a switch from Music Education to Church Music. I remember him asking what I was going to do with a degree in church music. I could not be on a church staff or be ordained because I was a woman. Had I really thought this through? Now, Daddy meant no harm and he was not being discouraging, just practical. It was a bold move on my part and he knew that as well as anyone.

I had grown up in the same conservative Southern Baptist church my entire life. I knew women were not invited to serve on church staffs, but something I could not explain to my dad or the countless others that asked me the same question was that I only knew I HAD to do this. God was calling me to something, and I HAD to be obedient to God’s voice.

I found myself breaking new ground everywhere I went. In every church I served, with the exception of the one I am in now, I was the first woman on staff. I was the first woman to ever serve as a Minister of Music in those churches. It was a learning curve for everyone, including me!! There were folks in those churches who were warm, welcoming and supportive. There were folks in those churches who disapproved and made it their point to tell me often that I was not following God’s will for the church. With each passing year, though, with each church I served, it became a little easier. I became less of a novelty and more of an acceptance. I began to meet other women who were serving in ministerial roles and we worked together to help young women understand how to use their gifts and callings, too.

What I did not realize during many of those years was that my daughter was watching closely. She was absorbing life as a “minister’s kid” but she was also constantly being surrounded by strong women who were telling her that she could be anything she wanted to be. They were encouraging her to set her sights high and never look back, to never allow anyone to tell her she was not good enough or smart enough.

As I have watched Emily grow, I have recognized the beautiful gifts God has given her. Nothing, though, prepared me for Sunday, March 2. Emily stood in the pulpit of our church and preached her first sermon. At the age of twenty, as a junior in college, she is preparing for a life and work in ministry. Her calling? To work with impoverished children. She has already completed two summer internships, one in New York City and one in Washington, DC. This summer will take her to South Africa and a later trip to the Dominican Republic. Her thoughts are turning now to seminary and what is to come. She is remarkable. She is talented. She is beautiful.

On that Sunday, Emily boldly stood and preached about the moments where God is with us. She told stories of the children she has met and how they have changed her life. As she spoke, I could not help but reflect on my own road in ministry. It looks nothing now like it did on that Sunday afternoon thirty years ago, but it has been fulfilling and challenging. I pray that God has been seen in me. I pray, too, that I played a small part in breaking down a few barriers and making the path smooth for my daughter and the young women who will come after us, continuing to use our gifts to serve the Creator of all gifts. Selah.

Tina Collins is a graduate of Carson-Newman University. She has served churches throughout east Tennessee and is currently  on the staff at Ball Camp Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tina also sings with the Knoxville Choral Society and Knoxville Chamber Chorale. This post first appeared on her blog, Living in Two Worlds. 

Too Quiet by Tammy Abee Blom

snow TammyLike most of the southeastern United States, our neighborhood got snowed in last month. Authorities instructed drivers to remain safely at home due to the ice covered road ways. Many businesses closed so as to not risk the health of their employees. All signs pointed to having a quiet day inside. A local man was interviewed at a service station several miles from his home. The interviewer asked, “What made you come out in this weather? Are you without electrical power or heat?” The man replied, “No, I came to get a cup of coffee and get out of the house. It is too quiet there, and I knew if I got to the store, I’d see somebody I knew.” After all the warnings to drive only in an emergency situation, this man chose to drive away from the quiet. Not all of us are suited to long periods of quiet, but there is a benefit to our spirituality if we can be still, if only for one day. Being still permits our brains to rest. We can silence the constant loop of errands to do or church visits to make. Being quiet allows us to stop. For many years, I have been enamored of the verse, “Be still and know I am God.” Psalm 46:10. Being still and quiet can be a challenge for me. Yet I believe there are paths to God that can only be taken if I am still and quiet. There is a poem by Robert Wicks that calls me to the silence of snow. Snow Falling on Snow      Outside, the snow is swirling, the wind whooshing,      and the tree branches scratching against the house, wanting to come in.      Then in the spaces in between, when the wind is forgotten and all is quiet…      I open my heart to listen. I like the phrase “in the spaces in between” because that is where I find my quiet. In the spaces between supervising homework with my girls and washing dinner dishes, I find the quiet to whisper, “Thank you, God, for people who need my brain and my hands.” In between folding laundry and writing paragraphs, I pray, “Thank you, God, for the opportunity to care for my family and share words about you.” Sometimes, it is too quiet and I find myself fighting against being still or struggling to create room for the open spaces. And other times, I thirst for the open spaces because in those places I am renewed. 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.

DEAR ADDIE: Should I Interview?

Addie ProvidenceDear Addie,

I will graduate from seminary in May and am in the process of exploring two job opportunities. Today, a friend told me how excited she was to be applying for one of these positions. I shared with her that my resume was also at that particular place.  At this point, I feel like my friend is a better fit for the position. She already has some semi-connections with the church, knowing some people there. While I am excited about considering this position as well, I feel as though I am a better match in the second position I’m seeking. Any suggestions on how to proceed? In a way I feel like it is wasting time to continue considering the first position for which my friend seems to be a better match.

Also, this may not be the last time a friend will be applying for the same position[s] that I am. Is there a particular etiquette to observe? Any suggestions will be appreciated.

Needing to Know

 

Dear Needing to Know,

I know how short time seems in your last semester of school, but opportunities to interview with churches are an important part of your education. Whether you are right for the job or not, you may offer something in the interview that the committee needs to hear or think about for their process. The experience may offer you something you need to learn or consider for the future.

Withdrawing from a search process because you feel that your friend is a better fit does not mean that your friend will get the job.  The problem with your deciding which person is the best fit for the church without meeting with the church first is that you don’t have all of the information you need to make that call.

Being on a search committee can be a spiritually significant experience. Effective committees use the opportunity to not only search for a new minister, but to pray about and talk about what new possibilities and commitments God might want them to consider. Like the person who prays, “God, may something happen in worship today that’s not in the bulletin,” churches and ministers who are looking for each other would be wise to pray, “God, may something happen in this process that moves beyond our expectations.”

Talking to a variety of candidates can enrich a committee’s process, spark their imaginations, raise questions they need to hear and ask, and help them listen for God. Your participation would likely help the committee fulfill its own ministry. Finding the right person for a church position takes a village that may need to include you.

Friends in ministry often find themselves applying for the same positions. Being upfront and letting your friend know that you both applied for the same job, as you did, was honest and respectful of your friendship. At the same time, showing respect for a search committee that reaches out to you is important as well. This may mean keeping the conversation you have with the committee within the boundary of that meeting. Keep remembering that everyone in this picture is trying to be faithful to the call to serve Christ’s church.

Love,

Addie

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

The photo of Addie Davis is provided courtesy of Special Collections, Jack Tarver Library, Mercer University, Macon, Georgia.

The Warmth of Fellowship by Brittany Riddle

SnowWhat would have been a fairly normal Sunday morning worship service felt more like a reunion of long lost friends. We have been buried under two feet of snow for the past few days, and for many in our congregation, worship was their first outing in almost a week. As I greeted people around the sanctuary before the service started, I heard many stories of sledding, cars getting stuck, and kind neighbors who helped shovel driveways and sidewalks. My congregation is generally fairly outgoing and social, and I’m always surprised how much energy can be in the sanctuary at 8:45 am on Sunday mornings, but today, the energy level was higher than usual—people were genuinely excited to see each other.

As an introvert, the first couple of days of being snowed in was refreshing and restorative for me. But I am enough of a people person that after two days, I found myself going stir crazy. I missed “my people.”  I missed the people who stop by my office just to say hello or share a story. I missed our fellowship meal and time of learning together on Wednesday night. In the midst of a lot of snow and cold temperatures, I found myself wanting to experience the warmth I feel when we gather as the body of Christ. The voices on the television in my apartment that I kept on for background noise just did not fill my need for fellowship. I realized that after two years of serving alongside them my congregation has become my adopted family.

When we are at our best, our congregation embodies Ecclesiastes 4:9-10: “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”  We are by no means a perfect congregation. We have our pettiness, our gossip, our anxiety, and our struggles just like every congregation. But I learn from the people in my congregation every time we gather together. I learn what it means to care for my neighbor. I learn what it means to lift one another up—physically, emotionally, and spiritually—when one of us falls down. I learn what it means to truly enjoy being with one another.

I trust that if I find myself in some kind of trouble, someone in my congregation will be willing to help or know someone who can. Even during the snowstorm, people who had 4-wheel drive called to make sure I didn’t need anything from the store. Others called to make sure I was able to clear the snow and ice from my car. I talked with congregation members who shoveled four or five driveways to help out their neighbors. As a minister, a major part of my calling is to serve others. Being stuck inside in two feet of snow reminded me that ministry is not a one-way street. Sometimes we are not just called to be the helpers, but we are also called to accept offers of help and care and concern. It is a humbling experience, but one that makes our ministry richer as we strive to be the presence of Christ to each other. Our care for each other is what makes us the body of Christ, because together, we can do more work for the Kingdom of God than we can alone. Thanks be to God.

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