DEAR ADDIE: Callings, Love Stories, and Doing the Math

Addie ProvidenceDear Addie,

I am dating a really great guy. I like him a lot. In fact, I think I may love him. The problem is that I am attending a pretty progressive seminary, while he attends an extremely conservative one. He wants me to transfer to his seminary so that we can be together. But at his seminary, I wouldn’t be allowed to take preaching classes. I wouldn’t be able to be open about my call to ministry. So, how much of myself do I give up to be with him? Should I transfer? Our long distance relationship works okay, but part of me wonders if we really have a future together and the other part of me wants to marry him and be with him forever.

Is This the One?



Dear I.T.T.O,

Your relationship is a long distance one in more than geographical ways. “How much of myself do I give up to be with him?” indicates distance between who you are and the person you will pretend to be for the sake of the relationship. You start answering that question in your letter. For starters, you would give up a school that I assume you love, or at least like, to be with him. You will give up preaching classes, those opportunities to discover, explore and develop your gifts for communicating God’s love. You will give up a supportive community that could embrace your call and prepare you more fully for it. You may have other items to add to your giving up list.

Why doesn’t he transfer to your seminary? The fact that he wants you to move to a school that will diminish your calling, and ask you to hide the reality of it, troubles me. Even if the details of your calling are less clear than his at this point, why does he want to limit your opportunities to explore and develop your commitment to God? You are at a crucial time of preparation when God wants you to discover your voice rather than hide it. Loving you must mean loving your call, too. If your potential husband does not understand this, you are giving up too much.

When ministers marry they need to believe that their partnership will make each of them a stronger minister. Ministry marriages thrive when the couple senses that who they are together makes each of them more effective. What works wonderfully well is when each partner takes the other’s call to ministry as, or more, seriously than their partner.

When it comes to relationships, the Christian faith offers interesting mathematics. When we share joys, they multiply. When we share troubles, they divide. When we give ourselves away, we find ourselves. My hope for whatever relationship you choose is that within the constant giving that committed relationships require, you find yourself becoming more of who God created and called you to be, and never less. That is the surprising mathematics of marriage and ministry.




Tuesday Prayer from Baptist Women in Ministry

For all the saints who went before us
who have spoken to our hearts and touched us with your fire,
we praise you, O God.

For all the saints who lived beside us
whose weaknesses and strengths are woven with our own,
we praise you, O God.

For all the saints who live beyond us
who challenge us to change the world with them,
we praise you, O God.

Janet Morley



Another Room in God’s House by Jane Hull

Jane Hull WatkinsvilleJane HullJane HullAfter more than forty years as a Baptist pastor, the well-known and beloved John Claypool left the Baptist world to become an Episcopal priest. When quizzed as to why he would do such a thing, he responded, “I am just moving to another room in God’s house.” While in no way equating myself with John Claypool, I now find myself in the same situation. In less than two weeks, I will become the pastor of Union Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Watkinsville, Georgia. Leaving behind sixty years of being a Baptist, I find myself “moving to another room in God’s house.”

A few Sundays ago I had the privilege of attending the Episcopal ordination of a dear friend, Mary Bea Sullivan. Mary’s husband is the son of a Baptist pastor, is a former Baptist pastor himself, and is now an Episcopal priest. Sitting two rows in front of me was another Baptist minister friend who, years ago sang an original song as hands were being laid on my husband during his service of ordination as a Baptist pastor. As the service progressed, familiar words that were sung at my own ordination by my Baptist minister daughter, Emily, were being sung by the congregation:

I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry.
All who dwell in dark and sin, my hand will save.
I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright.
Who will bear my light to them? Whom shall I send?
Here I am Lord, Is it I Lord? I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

Why the history lesson? As I sat in the back of the sanctuary, the memories that were flooding over me helped me arrive at a clearer understanding of this ministry to which we are all called. It does not matter in which “room” we serve. What matters is that we listen to God’s call and follow that call wherever it may lead. Today I am thankful that my new experience is a “both/and” and not an “either/or.” Both my sixty years of Baptist heritage and ministry and my new calling to the Disciples of Christ are joining together. I am still a Baptist Woman in Ministry and a Disciples of Christ pastor. God is good!

Jane Hull will begin service as pastor of  Union Christian Church, Watkinsville, Georgia, on June 2, 2014. 

Closing the Gap by Eileen Campbell-Reed

 eileen cr 2014Despite progress, the gender gap among Baptist pastors remains persistent.


In recent weeks two prominent progressive Baptist churches moved to call well-known Baptist pastors. Notably in both calls the pastors are women. Riverside Church in New York City is set to call Amy Butler, and Watts Street Baptist, Durham, N.C., called Dorisanne Cooper.

Calling women to larger, more prominent congregations signals another shift in the 50-year history of women’s growth in pastoral leadership in the United States. Baptists have lagged behind the trend, yet Baptists are also slowly closing the gender gap.

Among the most significant changes to religion in America in the past 50 years is growing leadership of women as pastors, priests, rabbis, CEOs of religious nonprofits, theological educators and denominational heads. Fifty years ago virtually no women were pastors of congregations in America.

In 1964, Addie Davis became the first Southern Baptist woman to be ordained to ministry. Her ordination came from Watts Street church, where Cooper is set to begin as pastor this summer. Davis served most of her career among American Baptists, who ordained women earlier, but did not begin calling women as pastors in any substantial numbers until the 1960s. That trend is similar across other mainline churches. Today the number of female pastors in mainline denominations stands between 20 percent and 30 percent.

The impact of women’s religious leadership in America has not yet been sufficiently analyzed. Several studies are currently underway, including an ecumenical andlongitudinal study of ministry that is tracking 25 women (and 25 men) from seminary through first-call and beyond. To understand the impact of women’s leadership in American churches, however, a good first step is to understand more about the gender gaps and why they are so persistent.

Gender gap

A survey of women’s leadership, pay and advancement in business and the professions today reveals an ongoing “gender gap.” The gap remains significantly larger in religious leadership than other professions. Reasons for the gap are numerous and interlinked with other subtle and overt forms of discrimination based on race, class and sexuality. Digging into two persistent factors will help illuminate why closing the gap is so challenging.


The gender gap is fueled by what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg calls the “ambition gap” and results in lower pay and slower (or no) advancement for women. This ambition gap is not merely the lack of desire by women to accomplish, succeed or lead, however. The gap is also connected to the often-studied (and contested) social difference in likeability between successful men and successful women.

Several studies find that the more powerful and successful men are, the more they are liked. Conversely, the more powerful and successful women are, the more they are disliked. Successful women work against this bias in a variety of ways, building likability by building trust and showing genuine concern. Successful women also navigate the inevitable resistance to their leadership. Men face similar challenges, yet they are penalized less for their success. Often the likeability gap leads to fewer promotions or career advancements for women. In churches, this means moving to a second church assignment or moving from associate to senior pastor are steeper challenges for women than men.

Promise vs. accomplishment

Women are hired and promoted based on their accomplishments. Men are hired and promoted more often based on their promise or potential for accomplishment. An often-heard argument in pastor search processes: women are not “ready” (experienced enough) to be hired by big churches. Yet those same churches will hire a man in his early 30s with less experience because he shows promise of good leadership.

Women overcome large social and psychological barriers — jumping the likeability gap and the accomplishment gap — when they move successfully into leadership. In ministry settings the move is even more daunting because the gender gaps are more deeply entrenched. Gender bias is bolstered by scriptural interpretations, the long history of women’s roles as supporters (rather than leaders) and the inertia of institutions. Churches and religious institutions are designed to resist innovation, and women’s pastoral leadership remains an innovation in many churches, even progressive ones like Riverside and Watts Street.

Closing the gap

Many of the social and psychological barriers that create the gender gap remain hidden, unconscious or implicit. In other words, such barriers are not easy to see or correct. This point was driven home to me recently when I took a short quiz at Project Implicit, an ongoing Harvard study of hidden biases. Despite years of working on issues of women’s leadership in religion and my conscious belief in equality, I still came up “moderately associating” women with family and men with work. I demonstrated gender bias. The online test highlights how implicit bias rests outside our observable awareness by measuring in milliseconds how we react and make associations.

The only known pathway to change implicit gender bias is to see and experience more women in leadership, allowing visualization and normalization of women’s leadership as pastors. The power of visualizing and normalizing successful or effective women leaders challenges bias across all professions. Failing to see women’s work of ministry keeps the gender gaps in ambition, pay and advancement in place for churches. In other words, news coverage of stories like Cooper’s and Butler’s are essential for changing implicit gender bias in ministry.

Among moderate and progressive Baptists, Cooper and Butler, and others, are already leaders, widely-known and well-networked, preaching at Baptist meetings, blogging and serving in denominational roles. A growing ecology of networked connections is also key to advancing beyond a first pastoral call for women in Baptist life.

For nearly a decade Pam Durso and I have continued to track trends in women’s leadership in moderate and progressive Baptist circles. Durso’s list of pastors stands at 160, expanding more than 10-fold since 1986, when there were 14. Women currently pastor just over 5 percent of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregations, nearly 30 percent of Alliance of Baptist congregations, and almost 10 percent of American Baptist churches.

To be sure, Butler likes to tell a story of an early defining moment in her ministry when she was advised that she could either make her work about women’s advancement in the pastorate, or she could just do her work as pastor. She says, “I try not to be defined by my gender.” Although she prefers to defocus on concerns over women’s progress, she, Cooper and scores of others are the inheritors of women’s advocacy in the last five decades. They are also the leaders, who by their very presence, are closing the gender gap and changing the way we see the pastorate.

Eileen Campbell-Reed is co-director at Learning Pastoral Imagination. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

This article appeared originally as a commentary at the ABPnews/Herald.

Toot Your Own Horn – by Tammy Abee Blom

Tammy Abee Blom preachingNervously, I sat with the other parents at middle school orientation. Most of us could not grasp that our gangly, half child, half adult fifth graders would be allowed to roam free in such a large school, and would be expected to locate classrooms and show up on time, every day. What were these people thinking? The school counselor gained our attention with these words, “Middle school is about learning to advocate for yourself. In the elementary years, parents advocate for students; here, we teach students to advocate for themselves.” She explained that students would learn to ask questions about assignments, follow up with teachers about grades, and learn to speak up for themselves. Middle school is about learning to advocate for yourself.

As I completed my final year of seminary in the early 1990s, I knew ordination was the next step for me. Wise, kind leaders had assured me that ministry jobs were easier gained for non-ordained women. These leaders wanted me to have a chance to serve in a church, so they discouraged my ordination. However, I knew I wanted to be ordained,  and  I was serving a church that I perceived would be open to my ordination.  In the months prior to graduation, I mentioned my desire for ordination to several church leaders. I waited for someone to initiate the process, but nothing was happening.  I expressed my frustration to my mentor, Mary Lois Sanders, a woman in ministry. She shared a phrase of her mother’s with me. “She that tooteth not own her kazoo, the same shall not be tooted.” With these words of encouragement, she counseled me to submit a letter requesting ordination to the pastor and the church council. She assured me that if the letters did not incite action, then she knew of further steps to be taken. Shortly after the letters were submitted, the church voted to ordain me. I was ordained on May 22, 1994 at Bridgewater Baptist Church in New Jersey. The ordination service, as well as the reception, felt like a celebration of not only my ministry, but the ministry of the church. I would have missed this joy if I had not advocated for myself.

Advocating for yourself does not simply require “putting the word out there,” or even asking for what you want. Self-advocating is a multi-layered process of utilizing the system, seeking counsel, and persevering in your request. Advocating for yourself requires courage and patience. Speaking up for yourself makes you vulnerable – and to hope while waiting is taxing. Speaking up for yourself seems in direct opposition to the habits of pre-adolescence where they want to blend in as best they can. Maybe that’s why my daughter’s middle school emphasizes advocating for yourself. Rather than permitting pre-teens to fade into a group, being in middle school gives them the tools for standing up and possibly standing out. Like my daughter and her peers, God has gifted each of us with talents and skills. It seems appropriate that we would speak up for places of service. Advocating for yourself enables you to live out your calling.



DEAR ADDIE: Feeling Stuck

Dear Addie,

For two years I have been on staff at a fairly large church.  Recently, several strong women leaders in the church had some complaints about the programs I direct.  Instead of coming to me, they went to the pastor.  The situation has bogged down, and now I am stuck in a messy triangle of conversation.  While I need lots of advice about handling conflict, my biggest question is why other women seem to be my harshest critics and the least supportive of my ministry role?  I just assumed women would be my very best supporters.

Feeling Stuck


Addie ProvidenceDear Feeling Stuck,

Did you ever play the “Tangled Up” game?  A group forms a shoulder-to-shoulder circle and grabs hands with someone across from themselves.  The goal is to re-form the circle without letting go of anyone.  This leads to a tangled mess, with strangely postured people facing in different directions.   Your letter makes me think about this challenging, painful, usually played once game. You need to be untangled and certain moves can help.

First, change the “messy triangle of conversation” into a circle with everyone involved.  Center the dialogue on those programs that seem to be the focus of concern.  Demonstrate your desire to make these church ministries as strong as possible.  When church conflict becomes personality-centered rather than ministry-centered, rediscovering common ground by working on ministries together often resolves situations, or moves them forward.  Is it time to re-dream the program?  Are there new ideas and interests that you need to hear? Describe your best hopes and ideas to the others.  Explain why you are passionate about certain directions and choices. Explore what you would like these ministries to help your church learn and experience.   Listen to others offer their hopes, ideas and passions.   Consider new possibilities together.  Keep focusing on the church’s ministry.  If, and when, participants share concerns, address them together in this place of constructive conversation.

Secondly, remember that effective ministry creates helpful patterns of communication rather than spreads hurtful ones.  Ministers who urge people to speak directly with those that they have issues with, and who model this practice themselves, provide rare wisdom and spiritual leadership.  In a church of your size, creating this healthy atmosphere takes effort.  If your church has a history of hurtful communication, changing this pattern will be challenging and sometimes painful.  At the same time, such leadership will be invaluable for the church.  Learning to speak the truth in love is may be the spiritual growth your congregation needs to experience most.

The word “stuck” also applies to why other women are sometimes less supportive of a woman minister than you might expect them to be.  When churches fail to see that everyone in Christ is gifted for some form of ministry, we get stuck.  Women who are not supportive of women clergy may have gifts and callings for ministry that were never encouraged or supported.  As a minister of the gospel, you have the opportunity to build up the body of Christ by holding the door open for those women who need encouragement and opportunities to offer and use their gifts for ministry more effectively.  You have a place in which to connect the strengths of others with the needs their gifts could meet.

Christ’s church grows stronger when all members share in ministry.  Those who find their place in God’s joyful, consuming, purposeful mission, usually have little need—or time–to tear down or criticize.  Those who are the harshest critics may choose that role because they don’t see another.  Could you challenge, equip and redirect them with new possibilities?




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