This is What a Minister Looks Like: Tonya Easterly Vickery

Tonya Vickery photoEach Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features its blog series, THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE and introduces you to an amazing woman minister. This week we are proud to introduce Tonya Easterly Vickery, a member of Baptist Women in Ministry’s Leadership Team.

Tonya, tell us about your current ministry?

I serve as co-pastor of Cullowhee Baptist Church in Western North Carolina with my husband, Jeffrey. We have been at Cullowhee for almost thirteen years! We share the one position of pastor, which means we split the salary, the duties, and the preaching responsibilities.

Where and how have you served in the past?

Before coming to Cullowhee Baptist, Jeffrey and I served for five years as co-associate pastors of a mainline Protestant ecumenical church in a lake community outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. We were in charge of discipleship, outreach, and the youth ministry—and other duties as assigned by the senior minister. In that church, we served with an outstanding Methodist pastor, Russ Brown, who was nearing retirement. He gave us lots to do, and we learned there how to share a ministry position as a married couple. Russ intentionally led the church to hire a Baptist woman as their associate pastor, because he saw that Baptist churches were not giving women opportunities to preach and lead. That experience provided us with a wonderful chance to learn how to be a pastor without all the responsibilities of being the pastor.

What have been some of your “bumps in the road” as a woman minister?

There are “bumps in the road” for all women who serve in leadership roles and that includes women ministers in the church. Serving in the mainline Protestant ecumenical church, I was spoiled by not having to prove myself as a minister. When I reentered the Baptist world, however, I had to break out the “prove myself” skills all over again.

To me, the biggest “bump” for all women ministers is that we are not always heard. When people are not accustomed to women ministers and when others are decidedly against women serving as preachers, they have a hard time believing and accepting us. There have been times when I have not been given access to a church member in ICU. There have been times when I have had difficulty parking in the clergy parking spots, even in major urban hospitals. There was that time at a church softball league game when a pastor was sought out to pray before the game. I offered to say the opening prayer, and the umpire asked if there was anyone else who could lead in prayer. There was also the time when the family of a church member did not include me in the funeral service. That was hard!  But these are all just minor bumps. When the wider Christian community shuns my calling, I really do not take it personally. I find it rather sad that they cannot embrace another worker in the field just because of my gender.

Who was the first woman minister you remember meeting?  Who was the first woman you heard preach?

Tonya baptismIn my junior year of high school, the mother of a schoolmate became a Presbyterian pastor and began serving in Townville, South Carolina. The idea of a woman preaching and pastoring was amazing to me. I remember thinking how courageous and how bold that mama was but also how bold that church was. But I did not hear a woman preach until 1992 when I was in seminary. There I heard Pamela Scalise, Molly Marshall, Anne Davis, and Katherine Chapman all preach, but I really can’t remember who was the first. Although I had never heard a woman preach until then, the gender of a preacher did not concern me. What mattered more to me was what someone had to say about God when they opened up God’s word and proclaimed.

What advice would you give to a teenage girl who might be discerning a call to ministry?

Read your Bible every day. Pray at least every morning and every evening. Find a church family who is open to women in ministry. Cultivate friendships with people your age who are strong Christians and who are interested in being faithful to God. Listen, watch, learn, and just be open to God’s Spirit. Embrace every opportunity before you as a chance to learn something new about God, new about your relationship with God, and new about yourself as you prepare to serve God. When we remain faithful in prayer, talking out our lives with God, listening to the Spirit, God will lead and guide. My life does not look anything like what I imagined it would be when I was a teenager. I was called to ministry when I was in sixth grade, but I had no idea what that ministry setting would look like. So I just took every opportunity I had to grow stronger in my faith and my walk with God so that at any and every moment I would be ready to answer the call of God to serve wherever God might place me and the people of God might welcome me.

Hands Wide Open by Pam Durso

photo11I went “home” last week to Texas to lead a retreat. My friend, Meredith Stone, invited me to be the speaker at the annual fall retreat for Texas Women in Ministry. We gathered at Camp Buckner, and for two days, thirty-five women and I pondered the idea of living, praying, and serving with “Hands Wide Open.” We talked about sharing ourselves and our stories, opening our hearts more fully to God, and giving generously to others. In our last session together, I told them a story about my friend, Jane. It is a story I tell often, because it was a powerful moment of grace for me. The story goes like this . . .

I teach as an adjunct professor at McAfee School of Theology. Back in 2010, in my second year of teaching at McAfee, Jane Hull enrolled in my church history class. Jane and I had already been friends for several years, so it was rather odd being her professor and especially odd grading her papers and tests. But being Jane’s professor was a gift, for it gave me a front row seat from which to observe her in action. What I learned over the course of that semester is that Jane knows the power of blessing. She easily and readily speaks words of affirmation.

All semester, I watched Jane as she sat and laughed with her fellow students. I watched as they pulled her aside for quiet conversations. I watched as she counseled with them, offering words of encouragement and wisdom, and I watched as she placed her hands on their shoulders, looked them straight in the eye, and spoke words of blessing. I watched and okay, sometimes I eavesdropped when I had the chance. Those sacred moments that Jane shared with her fellow students convinced me that there is great power in saying words of blessing to one another.

Jane and PamThen my day came. It had been a hard few weeks, and I was struggling. I wondered if I was enough, if I was good enough, strong enough, smart enough. After class one day, Jane stayed, talking with me, asking me about an assignment, and when all the other students were finally gone, Jane placed her hands on my shoulders, looked me straight in the eye, and spoke words of affirmation to me. She reminded me that God had called me, that God had gifted me for the ministry of teaching, and that I was indeed enough. And on that day, I joined the ranks of those who have been blessed by Jane Hull.

Speaking words of blessing is a gift, but receiving words of blessing is also a gift. Jane’s gift of blessing started me on a personal journey in learning how to receive. Ever since that day after class, I have been intentional, working hard to open my heart to holy words of affirmation, to open my hands to receive grace and love. Receiving is not my natural posture. It doesn’t come easily to me, but I am working, practicing, and hopefully, learning the art of receiving blessing.

Last week at the retreat, I encouraged the women who sat circled around me to practice receiving blessing. I asked them to write down the words of affirmation that they needed to hear. Later, as we celebrated communion together, I quietly and privately read each woman’s words of blessing back to her.

Then it happened again for me.  I became the recipient–for what I thought would be a beautiful learning moment for the women ministers present became an experience of grace and blessing for me. As I read the words they had written down and saw the tears in their eyes, as I received hugs and kind smiles, I found myself standing in the light of God’s love and care, surrounded by a room full of women with hands wide open to me. And I opened my heart and received.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia. Her friend, Jane Hull, is the pastor of Union Christian Church in Watkinsville, Georgia. 

Who Am I? by Jessica Williams

Jessica Williams shirtAs I packed a box, I took my “This Is What A Preacher Looks Like” magnets from the refrigerator. I sighed. Although I was (and still am) excited about this new calling, these last several days have brought on a number of feelings. My husband, Darren, and I believe that God is calling us to start a church in Asheville, North Carolina. Yes! We are excited. Yet a new calling to a new place means saying “bye” to people and letting go of some roles.

For the past three years, Darren and I have served as pastors with a loving congregation in the Northern Neck of Virginia. Yes, WE have served as pastors. For the past three years, I have preached at least every other Sunday. And sometimes, it has been every Sunday as Darren and I often preach together.

I look at the rectangle that reads “Preacher” for a little longer than the rest. I realize that in a couple of weeks I will not have the regular responsibility of preparing and delivering sermons. I will no longer stand before beloved faces in a pulpit that was placed in a sanctuary built in 1856. I will no longer weekly declare God’s Word for God’s people, a people who have been meeting to worship God in the Baptist tradition since 1786. I think about my black robe and my stoles and I wonder when I will wear them again on a Sunday morning. I already miss coming down from the pulpit, after giving the benediction, and walking to the front doors to shake hands and give and receive hugs. I clip all of these magnets together and place them in the box.TIWAPLL magnet

I told a sister pastor, “We’re either foolish or faithful. Or maybe both.” For the past nine years, Darren and I have served on church staffs. For seven years, being a vocational minister has been my role. For six of those years, we have served on staff together. For all those years, I believed that I could say, “I am a Baptist woman in ministry.” I am minister of children, campus ministry intern, minister of children and outreach, pastor. For all those years, I had the official title, the office, the established church, all evidence that I was and am a Baptist woman in ministry.

Now, just a few days later, those same rectangles that spell out “This Is What A Preacher Looks Like” are on my refrigerator in Asheville, where I don’t anticipate anyone in our new community calling out, “Good morning, pastor,” as I walk our dog, Duke. Now my job title, the job for which I will receive a paycheck, will not include a church name nor the word, “minister.” I have found myself wondering, “Why even unclip those small rectangles? I should just stick them in a drawer.” Thankfully, all my kitchen drawers are needed for other things.

I know that I’m grieving letting go of a role.

The rectangles complete with the picture frame are on my refrigerator, and right now, the frame is empty. Yet I know that a picture will complete that magnetic frame in no time. A picture of a church starter being and doing church with the children of God.

By birth, I was born into a Baptist family. By choice, I remain a Baptist. By God’s calling, I am a minister. I am a Baptist woman in ministry. Today, this is what a preacher’s thoughts and feelings look like.

Jessica Williams served as co-pastor of Nomini Baptist Church in Montross, Virginia, from August 2011 until October 2014. She and her husband, Darren, have moved to Asheville, North Carolina, and are exploring God’s calling to plant a church there. This post first appeared on her blog aswewalkthisjourney.

Tuesday Prayer by Baptist Women in Ministry

TuesdayPrayerDear Lord,

Fill me with your spirit, and help me to discern how I can participate in Your mission to bring about justice in the world. Amen.

–Taryn Deaton

This is What a Minister Looks Like: Meredith Stone

Stone 2012 WIM ConfEach Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features its blog series, THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE and introduces you to an amazing woman minister. This week we are proud to introduce Meredith Stone, a current member of Baptist Women in Ministry’s Leadership Team.

Meredith, tell us about your current ministry role and about your previous ministry experiences.

This past August I joined the faculty of Logsdon School of Theology at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. I teach ministry and scripture and also serve as director of ministry guidance. Ministry guidance involves supervising internship experiences for students, providing counseling for students in call discernment, coordinating placement services, and managing ministerial financial aid. I have previously served as Women in Ministry Specialist for Texas Baptists (BGCT), Teaching Pastor for Crosspoint Fellowship, and Admissions Coordinator at Logsdon Seminary.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?

I began to sense a call to ministry when I was seventeen during the summer before my senior year of high school. That summer I struggled to let go of some of the previously imagined dreams and expectations that I and others had imagined for my life. Don’t get me wrong, they were good dreams. But it seemed a call to ministry would require flushing everything I had been working so hard to achieve (especially when I thought I may never be able to have a ministry job as a Baptist woman).

When I was at youth camp that summer, I finally found the courage to admit that ministry was something that had been stirring in my heart and mind. The camp pastor, Voddie Baucham, held a small group session for anyone trying to discern a call. I will never forget his words. He said, “If God has called you to ministry, then God is not calling you for tomorrow. God is calling you for today.” Now others may have taken that to mean they needed to leave everything else behind and run toward a formal ministry position. But to me, it meant that the God who was calling me could use me wherever I was. Whether or not I abandoned those career dreams, I could live as a minister that very day and every day after that in any circumstance, job, role, or occupation

As my ministry path has not taken traditional routes and I have not always been able to find ministry positions in the exact roles I felt equipped for or called to, I have held on to these words of a camp pastor. God has not called me for some ministry position I might have in twenty years, God has called me to be a minister today in whatever job, town, situation, or conversation I might find myself.

Stone-MarshallWho has inspired you in your ministry journey?

I am a person who loves both the academy and the church. I love to learn, reflect, and analyze, but I also love to care, serve, and live faith-life in community. While no one teaches that these sets of actions are mutually exclusive, sometimes the realities of the academy and the church create a functional dichotomy in which we feel forced to choose one or the other.

In a particular moment when I was feeling compelled that a choice between academy and church was imminent in my life, Dr. Molly T. Marshall visited Logsdon Seminary as a guest lecturer. As I listened her words over those two days and imagined the impact she has had on the community of God from both the arenas of church and academic institutions, she gave me hope and assured me that no choice was necessary. Dr. Marshall models what it means to be a bridge, or a translator, between academy and church, and she inspires me to try and do the same.

Dear Addie: Confused

Addie ProvidenceDear Addie,

I have been in the “search mode,” looking for a ministry placement. A week ago a really amazing church contacted me about an open position and invited me for an interview. I was so excited that I called lots of family members and friends, but instead of hearing words of encouragement, many of them questioned my readiness for this position. Several of them told me I was not qualified and that the church really not a good fit for me. All their negative comments have left me uncertain about my gifts and abilities, and now I am confused about whether or not to even pursue this position. I don’t even know if I want to go to the interview.

With Friends Like These

 

Dear F.L.T.,

Family and friends surprise us sometimes, don’t they? By failing to give support. By forgetting to support and encourage. By missing the moment for affirmation.

I know you are hurt and confused by their reactions, and they certainly have made it harder for you to remember your sense of calling, to keep believing in yourself, and to be faithful in seeking to discern God’s place. Friends and family who know you best usually provide one of the best gages of “rightness” of a decision. So perhaps you should pause and “hear” what they are saying as best you can. Do they truly sense that this position would be an unhealthy and hurtful place for you? Is God seeking to speak through them to you? Are they praying for you and with you and feel lead to discourage your interest? Ask them. Go to those who are your closest family members and friends and ask them about their concerns.  You will never know their reasoning unless you ask.

A second consideration is that your friends and family might be jealous of your opportunity. They might be concerned that you will move further away or be too busy for them in the future. So go ask them. Ask them if their hesitation is about losing a closeness with you. Ask them if they are speaking out of their own desire to be near you. You will never know their reasoning unless you ask them.

A final consideration is that you need to be doing your own discernment work. Find a trusted mentor who has your best ministerial interest at heart—and ask for his insight. Seek out a pastor who knows and loves you and ask her about your readiness for ministry. Asking for advice outside your closest circles of family and friends may provide a more thoughtful and helpful response. But more important than anything else, set some time apart to be alone, to pray, to sit in silence and listen. Listen for God. Listen to God. Ask God for guidance.

Blessings on you as you ask!

Addie

 

If you have a question for Dear Addie, 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.

Gifted with the Daring Spirit: An Ordination Journey by Mary Beth Foust

Mary Beth Foust ordinationA little over a year ago I was ordained by Central Baptist Church in Chesterfield, Virginia. I completed my seminary internship in that sweet community, and they supported my growth and my gifts as I walked semi-gracefully through my last year of theological education.

One Sunday following a worship service  at Central, I made my way to my internship supvisor, Nelson Taylor. I didn’t even really know what I was going to say, but I casually asked, “So what’s Central’s process for ordination?” His eyes lit up, and he immediately ushered me over to the senior pastor, David Turner, and asked me to repeat my question. After a few moments, David replied readily, “So, are you asking to be ordained?” I paused for a breath and answered, “Uh, I guess so?” And that my friends, is how the formal process of ordination began for me.

I never expected to be ordained. In fact, early on in my discernment process, I was sure it wasn’t for me, but soon it became evident that I would join the ranks of ordained ministers in my family—my mother, sister, brother-in-law, husband, and father-in-law.

As my ordination day approached, I made all of the necessary preparations. I found the perfect dress—one that made me feel beautiful and confident. My family surrounded me for a weekend of celebration. We ate good food and laughed well around all kinds of tables. The worship bulletins were printed, and my worship leaders were present and prepared. Even though I was ready, I felt as though I would never be able to comprehend fully the mystery of that day.

I was awestruck that a community of people that I loved would honor me in such a way. I was overwhelmed by the kind words of affirmation, encouragement, challenge and blessing that poured over me as I knelt down before God’s people. I knew that mothers, aunts, spiritual leaders, saints of my faith journey who had already gone and nurturers of my faith surrounded me in spirit. I was excited and nervous to be at such a point in ministry. Am I really old enough for this? Am I a “good and faithful servant” of this magnitude? Can I continue to be a faithful servant as I journey forward? I remember being filled with pure joy, like the kind of joy that comes, for me, on the first crisp fall day when my hibernating boots make their way from the far reaches of my closet.  Most of all, I felt completely undeserving of what transpired in the sacred space of worship.

Many times in my journey since that day I have felt overwhelmed by feelings of self-doubt and undeserved-ness. I wish I could say that I am as confident every day as I was on that time, but that would not be the full truth. Some days, I can barely squeeze enough confidence out to remember that there are others around me cheering me on and dreaming me toward a more rich understanding of God’s call on my life. I still find myself yearning to embrace more fully that deservedness is not a determining element of ordination. God calls, and the church and the minister answer together. And when the grace of the sacrament works as it should—we are all reminded just how much we do not deserve, but rather are gifted the daring spirit to answer a call.

Mary Beth Foust works as ministry coordinator at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia. Mary Beth is an avid yogi, runner and will never turn away good dessert. She and her husband, Caleb, live in Short Pump, Virginia, with their two fur babies, Moses and Wrigley Anne. They are excited to welcome their first daughter this fall.

Tuesday Prayer from Baptist Women in Ministry

VBWIM - Judy hands

Deep peace, pure white of the moon to you.

Deep peace, pure green of the grass to you.

Deep peace, pure brown of the earth to you.

Deep peace, pure grey of the dew to you.

Deep peace, pure blue of the sky to you.

Deep peace, of the running wave to you.

Deep peace, of the flowing air to you.

Deep peace, of the quiet earth to you.

Deep peace, of the shining starts to you.

Deep peace, of the Son of Peace to you.

–Fiona Macleod (1855-1905)

This is What a Minister Looks Like: Courtney Allen

Courtney Allen weddingEach Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features its blog series, THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE and introduces you to an amazing woman minister. This week we are proud to introduce Courtney Allen, a current member of Baptist Women in Ministry’s Leadership Team.

Courtney, tell us about your  current serving in ministry?

I serve as the minister of community ministry and missions at First Baptist Church in Dalton, Georgia. I have the opportunity to build and bridge relationships across all sorts of boundaries and lead the congregation in engaging our neighbors down the street and around the world. Dalton has been an incredible community and congregation  to love and serve! I’m grateful to be in a church that really does have missions woven into its DNA.

What do you love best about your current ministry role?

I have the opportunity to do exactly that I feel called to do each and every day at First Baptist, and that is an incredible gift! After seminary, it took a while for me to find a position that truly fit my call to ministry. I am grateful that First Baptist Dalton has both the theology and the resources to have a minister focused on relationships beyond the walls of the church that ultimately enrich and and transform the community of faith.

In any given day I can find myself in the fellowship hall around the table with working poor families and church members, at a hospital bed, in a courtroom, or a gathering of community and faith leaders. I give thanks for the flexibility of what “missions and community ministry” looks like at First Baptist and for the almost innate willingness for the congregation to partner and participate in missional life together in Dalton!

What is the best book you have read lately?

So . . . my sister often reminds me that I need to read less “serious religious stuff” and just enjoy some celebrity magazines at the beach.  And she’s right. I certainly need to read more novels, memoirs, and imaginative stuff beyond the most recent ministry titles ordered from Amazon. That being said, the best book I have been reading has been The Art of Pastoring by William C. Martin. I have been reading a thought from this collection each morning when I get to my office. My colleague, Matthew Johnson, recommended the book to me and said, “This is the only thing I encounter that reminds me each day that I am not solely responsible for this venture we call the church.”

But, I still need some less serious stuff on my reading roster . . .

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?

My friend, Carol McIntyre, shared this wisdom that she received from an older pastor as she began her first pastorate several years ago: “Never forget, you do not bear or carry the entire weight of the church on your back.” As ministers, we need to be reminded that church functions and depends on much more than our leadership, worry, or even energy invested, because God is it work among us, through us, and sometimes even in spite of us! No one person or pastor can carry the weight of a congregation’s burdens without the partnership of God, and I continue to be reminded that God is always doing far more than I can dream or imagine.

I am Not Ordained by Pam Durso

Pam VBWIM 2Hard to believe, right? The executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry is not an ordained minister.

But it is true. I have never been ordained. It is a long story (I am fifty-two-years old, trust me, it is a long story), but the short version is this: I have long had a strong sense of calling, one that I have spent forty years exploring. I have filled multiple ministry roles, including serving on church staffs, teaching in two seminaries, and working for non-profit organizations. I have preached in scores of churches (mostly Baptist), officiated at weddings and funerals, and planned and led worship and communion.

Through all those years and experiences ordination never happened for me. My own theology, polity, and strong commitment to equality in Baptist life were contributing factors to my not being ordained, but location, timing, and closed doors also prevented ordination from naturally unfolding for me.

Growing up a Southern Baptist girl in Texas in the 1970s meant that I had no awareness that ordination would be possible. Actually, I had no awareness that ministry was a possibility either, even though I sensed a call from God as a twelve-year-old girl. As a teenager, I had no imagination when it came to ministry or ordination. Both were just too far outside the reality of my experience.

In high school, I knew of no women who were serving in official ministry roles   . . . except for missionaries, and while I loved missions, being a missionary just never felt right for me.

But then my imagination was stretched. In college, I suddenly had a few female models for ministry, and I watched and prayed and wondered.

I served churches during the summers of my college years and then headed off to seminary, completed a Ph.D., and prepared myself to teach church history to college or seminary students.

The 1990s turned out to be painful years. By 1992, I was well educated and trained  . . .  and unemployed. Even with Dr. in front of my name, I bumped into closed doors, lived through some painful rejections, and experienced a good bit of anger, fear, and heartbreak. But in the midst of even my hardest days, grace kept showing up. Friends circled around me. Family encouraged me. Mentors gave me a nudge. Pastors prayed for and with me. God showed up and kept showing up for me, more often than not through acts of kindness by those whom I loved.

Finally in 1999 a teaching position showed up. My family (a husband and two young children) moved half-way across the country to North Carolina, and suddenly, I was a professor, teaching in a seminary, instructing ministers and soon-to-be ministers. Ordination could have happened for me then, but I was reluctant. I had no church that I loved enough to ask for ordination, and no church was asking me.

Fifteen years later I remain among the unordained Baptist women ministers. I have given thirty years of my life to service and ministry, but ordination still has not happened for me  . . .  yet.

But life brings surprises, unexpected graces.

One grace is my church. Three years ago I joined Cornerstone Church in Snellville, Georgia. Cornerstone has become my home, my heart.  The people of Cornerstone have offered me places of service, a pulpit from which to preach regularly, kind support for my ministry with BWIM, and friendships that have shaped who I am and who I am becoming.

Another grace for me are the women who serve on the Leadership Team of Baptist Women in Ministry. Last February they circled around me at the end of our spring meeting. They reached out their hands to me, offered words of affirmation and care, and said, “Now is the time, Pam, for ordination, for your ordination.” They invited me to pray, to dream, to explore, and they nudged me a bit. They then reached out to my pastor and church, requesting that I be ordained.

It only took me six months to say yes. I prayed hard, worked through my reservations, talked with trusted friends and my pastor. I sought counsel from a spiritual director. I prayed some more.

There are long stories involved in the process, but the short version is this: You, yes all of you, are invited to the ordination of Pam Durso!

My church, Cornerstone Church in Snellville, Georgia, and the Leadership Team of Baptist Women in Ministry are pleased to invite  you to a service of ordination at Smoke Rise Baptist Church in Stone Mountain, Georgia, at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday, February 28, 2015. We hope many of you will join us there for a time of affirmation and blessing.

After all these years, with open hands and an open heart I am saying yes to ordination.

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