Something Old, Something New: The Land

Lent leads us into both reflection and expectation. Even as we honor our histories and our ancestries, with all their gifts and their griefs, we anticipate the ways that resurrection can recreate them–and us. The God who inspired “something old” is still at work, bringing Easter ever nearer, promising and fulfilling “something new” for the world.

(Lent 4c, 3/6/16)

Joshua 5:9-12
Psalm 32
2 Cor. 5:16-21
Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

“On the day after the Passover, that very day, they ate the produce of the land…” Joshua 5:11

Forty years after Egypt. Forty years of walking, of raising up and folding down the tents, of old folks dying and new babies born and those babies growing up and joining in marriage and bringing along babies of their own. Forty years of manna, punctuated by forty Passovers.

Forty years of telling the story, over and over again, of how God brought us out of slavery, out from under the Pharoah’s thumb, and into the freedom of the wilderness.

Forty years of moving forward, of wandering. Forty years of clinging to the promise of home.

And now finally, forty years after slavery, we are stepping into our own land. Once more, the people of God eat the traveler’s flat bread, roast the shared lamb, tell our children’s children the story. It’s our grandparents’ story, our parents’ story. It’s our own story: God brought us out of Egypt! God brought you out of Egypt! Even you who were not yet born have been delivered!

That old, old story–forty years old!–older than most of us. Our children can’t remember the day, the delivery, but they remember the story; they’ve heard it their whole lives. It has structured their days, and the years, and this journey. And now–now, that “happily ever after” we’ve been waiting for, dreaming of, is here under our feet. The dust of that dream is swirling around our ankles. We’re leaving our footprints in its sand. Our kids are making mud pies in its puddles.

Look how the road dust lingering on our robes mingles with the soil of Promise when we kneel to pray!

Look how the fields of grain stretch toward the horizon (and look–no more manna!)!

Look at our toes gripping the earth, holding us to this new foundation, standing still at last. Sink in, feel the soil meeting your soles. Clasp hands to heart, fill your lungs. Raise hands to the skies, exhale a blessing. This is the dream. This is your freedom. This is new life.

Welcome home.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Christy McMillan-Goodwin

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Christy McMillin-Goodwin.

Christy, tell us about your ministry journey–the places and ways you have served.
I completed two internships at First Baptist Church, Greenville, South Carolina, while I was in college at Furman University at First Baptist Greenville. I had opportunity to work with Donna Forrester, Janice Johnson, and Michelle McClendon. After graduating from Furman, I was the summer youth intern at Kirkwood Baptist in Kirkwood, Missouri, and then I headed off to Richmond, Virginia for seminary. During my years at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, I served as youth minister at Chester Baptist Church in Chester, Virginia. Back in 1995, I was called as the minister of students by Oakland Baptist Church in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and in 2004, I transitioned to a new role as minister of education at Oakland. I have now been serving there for twenty-plus years. What a great church!

What challenges have you encountered along the way?
One of my biggest challenges is learning what battles to fight and which ones to let alone. In church ministry, so many things can get in the way of the big picture. In the moment, they can seem like a big deal, but in the long run, some of them mean very little. Our senior minister used to say, “It’s just a poot in the whirlwind.” I guess a nicer way to say it is, “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” He is right, especially when responding to people in the church. Often a church member’s issue is very important to them, but in the scheme of life and ministry, that issue may not be worthy of all the time and emotional energy that ministers put into it.

Who has inspired you along the way as you have lived out your calling?
I have been so very lucky to have served in churches that supported my call to ministry. The church in which I grew up recognized my call to ministry and encouraged me to follow that calling. That church, Greenlawn Baptist Church had two women on staff, Becky Stout and Sandra Gill, who were examples that women could be ministers. Marion Aldridge, my pastor while growing up, always encouraged my calling. First Baptist Church in Greenville, Kirkwood Baptist Church, and Chester Baptist Church all nurtured my calling. Having a support group of other women ministers (my peer learning group) has been an inspiration and encouragement when ministry has been difficult. My family, especially my husband, Shane, has continued to support me through thick and thin. The young girls in my church inspire me to be the best minister I can be so that they may hear God’s voice encouraging them to be whatever they want to be as they grow.

What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is sensing a call to ministry?
During your high school years:

1. Attend church as much as possible (a church that will support your call!), pray, and read scripture
2. Find a mentor, preferably a woman who is in ministry. If not, find a male minister mentor who will encourage you and support you.
3. Hang out with friends who will encourage you.
4. Study and work hard in school. Ministry is demanding. You will be grateful for time spent studying when you are working in a church.

Once you are a little older and in college:
1. Find a religious group on campus that supports your call.
2. Find a church to attend that will encourage you and may even let you “try-out ministry.”
3. Find a mentor, another woman in ministry, who can be your encourager.

After you attend seminary and are at your first church
1. Connect with a peer group of fellow ministers that will be the group to say that you are okay, that you are not crazy, and that you are doing worthwhile ministry.
2. Find good friends who will be good with your not wearing your ministry hat around them.
3. Find a spiritual director who can help you nurture your own spiritual life.
4. Continue learning. Go to workshops, get your Doctor of Ministry degree, subscribe to thoughtful publications. Do the things that help you refine your craft.

Single to Married: Lessons I Have Learned by Bianca Howard

I did not start in ministry as a married woman. I accepted my call to ministry while in I was in college, and after participating in several overseas mission trips, I went on to seminary, finishing in four years. I was then ordained, did Clinical Pastoral Education, and worked as a part-time hospital chaplain for several years. For the last ten years, I have been a full-time children and youth minister. Now in my late thirties, I have been in ministry for well over a decade. A year and a half ago, I got married so I have been in ministry much longer as a single minister than as a married one.

As someone already established in ministry, I am now learning what it means to be a married minister, figuring out how to navigate through those waters good and bad. A few things that I have learned in my eighteen months of marriage have actually been lessons about life as a single woman in ministry.

When I was single, I could be at church as long as I needed or as long as I wanted to stay. Setting boundaries didn’t exist for me. I ran myself tired and neglected self-care because it was only me. That “only me” mentality was unhealthy. Just because I was single didn’t mean that I should neglect myself. Looking back, I can see why and how I got burned out. I didn’t consider myself important enough to take time for me, and I became just a ministry rag doll rather than a person who needed care. Because I was single and because in ministry I lived out in front of others, I allowed people to take advantage of my time. I said “yes” to almost everything.

Marriage has helped me gain perspective. It has given me confidence and helped me set boundaries. Marriage has helped me see that I can’t do everything. The gift of marriage has helped me take care of me more. In a sense, it made me grow up. As a woman in her thirties, you would think that I would have learned how to care for myself, but I hadn’t learned that lesson.

As a single or married minister, you MUST advocate for yourself and recognize that your personhood is valuable and important. No one else will do it for you. Even as caring and thoughtful as my husband is, I must still recognize my personhood in ministry, create self-time, and never apologize for it.

Self-care in ministry is so important! I hope other single women ministers learn this lesson more quickly than I did and that they won’t wait or see themselves as “less than.” You are important NOW, whether you are married or not. Enjoy the single life as a minister. God has given you that gift so you can be a help and support the ministry in broader ways. But set boundaries and don’t let others take advantage of you just because you are single. You can’t do everything for everybody. God doesn’t want us to wear ourselves out. Say “Yes” to saying “No!” Enjoy your time with God, and remember that serving and working for God is NOT the same as being WITH God. Treat yourself well ALL the time. Nobody can take better care of yourself than you can.

Something Old, Something New: The Feast

Lent leads us into both reflection and expectation. Even as we honor our histories and our ancestries, with all their gifts and their griefs, we anticipate the ways that resurrection can recreate them–and us. The God who inspired “something old” is still at work, bringing Easter ever nearer, promising and fulfilling “something new” for the world.

“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” (Isaiah 55:2)

God’s invitation in Isaiah 55 doesn’t read like a Lenten text:

You are Cordially Invited to
Come to the waters!
Come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk!
Eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food!

It sounds more like a Mardi Gras party than an Ash Wednesday service; a far cry from the ascetic sacrifices of our Lenten traditions (give up chocolate! give up coffee! give up sugar and wine and butter and bread!).

God says: Lean in close, come over here, listen carefully, and I’ll feed you. I’ll give you life. I’ll make new the promise I made to David, and you’ll join in the Psalm as a witness to my unending goodness:

I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever;
with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations! (Ps. 89:1)

In covenant with God, you’ll realize that any bread you can afford won’t fill you, and any work you can achieve won’t fulfill you. In covenant, you’ll find nourishment in God’s mercy, and you’ll find your life’s labor in love. You’ll be welcomed to the banquet. And then you’ll be sent out to give invitations to everyone you meet: thumbtack them to bulletin boards, duct tape them to street signs, engrave them on parchment, post them on Facebook. Then be prepared; the nations will come, begging for pardon. They’ll come, hoping for mercy. They’ll come, expecting to pay.

But God’s feast is beyond price. No amount of cash can buy a ticket; in fact, only empty pockets will get you in. So give up counting your dollars. Give up working overtime, give up building up your accounts. Give up thinking that you can do enough, earn enough, be enough (be good enough, be rich enough, be worthy enough) to deserve a place at the table.

Your ways aren’t my ways, says the Lord. (Thanks be to God!)

Give them up, and come to the feast.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Kathy Pickett

Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and this week we are pleased to introduce Kathy Pickett.

Kathy, tell us where you are currently serving in ministry?
I am the senior pastor of Prairie Baptist Church, in Prairie Village, Kansas.

Tell us about your journey to the pastorate.
I served for sixteen years at Holmeswood Baptist church, in south Kansas City, as the pastor of congregational life. Shortly after completing my doctoral work in 2012, I began sensing God’s transitional movement and began praying about what might be next. I didn’t want to move vocationally or by location unless God’s call to do so was very clear. My children and grandchildren, parents, and extended family all live within fifteen minutes of my home, the place I have lived in the same five-mile radius all my life.

At the same time I was being trained as a CBF Dawnings church coach and had a growing interest in congregational consulting and life coaching. My resume had been circulating for a while in both Cooperative Baptist Life and American Baptist life. Even though I discerned the Spirit’s stirring, I was uncertain it was time to leave Holmeswood. Confused about it all, I decided to participate in the Leadership Coaching program of Pinnacle Leadership Associates. The program offered an opportunity to intentionally process and discern the transitional movement I was experiencing.

Following a weekend retreat I was assigned a coach who was assigned to walk with me through the next six months of my journey. A few weeks after the retreat I was sitting in my office and prayed, “God, whatever you are up to, please do something really crazy and make it so clear that I pay attention and know it is you.” Two weeks later I received an email from Richard Olson, pastor emeritus, and one of my professors during my years at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Olson wrote: “Kathy, I just wanted to let you know that I put your name in the pot for the senior pastor position at Prairie Baptist Church.” His email was the “something crazy and clear” that I needed to move forward.

Shortly after receiving the email, I heard from Prairie’s search committee and agreed to enter the search process. I had numerous conversations with my husband and other family members. I continued processing with my coach, praying, and conversing with peers, and I took vacation time to intentionally listen and discern God’s guidance and direction. Almost a year after entering the process, Prairie Baptist church called me to be their next senior pastor, and I said, yes.

Who have been sources of inspiration for you along the way?
My husband and adult children have been my greatest cheerleaders and support crew. My parents and grandmother provided great support and encouragement along the way. Their examples of serving in lay ministry and involving me in church life from the first day I attended church as an infant undergirded my love of church life and ministry foundation.
Pickett_going_to_churchAbove my desk is a picture that inspires me every day. I was approximately two years old when the photo was taken and was standing outside of First Baptist Church, Kansas City, getting ready to attend Easter morning worship. Standing there in my little white gloves, I am surrounded by two grandmas, a great-grandmother, a great aunt, and my mother who was pregnant with my sister. Each woman has inspired me to believe in myself and in our Triune God, who calls both women and men to serve in ministry.

The week I recognized my call to ministry in 1998, I was attending Passport Camp as a youth parent counselor. Colleen Burroughs was the camp pastor and preached an amazing sermon. It was the first time I had ever heard a woman preach. As I sat there watching and listening to her, I thought “I want to do that, I could do that.” Later that week another youth leader said, “Kathy, do you think God is calling you to ministry?” In January of 1999, I enrolled at Central Baptist Theological Seminary where women and men professors, staff, and students inspired me every class and campus experience. Our president, Molly T. Marshall, encouraged us all to go back to the roots of our call when discerning our way. All of this, with every step of my journey, has inspired me to keep moving forward, even when I was unclear of God’s transitional movement.

What are some practices that you embrace to keep yourself healthy–physically, emotionally, spiritually?
I pay close attention to my physical and mental health. For me, this is extremely important for staying healthy in all areas. I struggle to keep autoimmune thyroiditis under control. The disease attacks all functions of the body often resulting in greater anxiety and provoking depression. As a result, and with the added stress and demands of my current position, I take an anti-depressant along with thyroid medication to maintain a healthy mental balance. When I begin to tip over the edge I consult with my husband and children, and ask what they are seeing in my behavior. Most of the time I am fully aware of myself because I do pay close attention will head straight to the counselor as necessary.

After a very challenging start at Prairie including three deaths in the first two months followed by the death of my ninety-four-year-old grandmother, I hired a coach to help me find my way through the first year. I also agreed to participate in a monthly phone gathering conversation with three other women in ministry prompted by Pam Durso’s desire to support women in pastoral positions.

I am horrible about exercising like I should, but always feel so much better when I do. Shortly into the new position I realized I was sitting way more than I had in the past and purchased a desk stand for my laptop. As often as I can I stand to work. I do make it to the gym when my husband is going as well, but only three times a week. Sleep is precious and important to function, and, can be a really good excuse!

My spiritual practices include making sure I take my day off, prayer, sermon prep is a spiritual adventure, doing something creative including sewing, photography, writing Haiku’s, singing, and spending time with my family and grandchildren. When my husband and I can, we take weekend trips and vacations away from the Kansas City area. I discovered how renewing and important these trips are when we celebrated an anniversary in La Jolla, California a few years ago. When my feet hit the sand and I stood before the ocean, unexpected tears came strolling down. I proceeded to cry for at least thirty minutes as I let go of the stress and demands of ministry and life. Once I pulled myself back together I said, “Wow, I didn’t know how badly I needed this.” Paying attention to spiritual, physical, and emotional health is a must for this work we are called to do.

Finding Rest in Food and Friendship by Sarah Greenfield

The beginning of 2016 has brought a busy season for me and my ministry. A number of special events, trips, normal gatherings, meetings, and demands of life have flooded all the hours of my days. I don’t say this as a complaint but as a reality. In the midst of these demanding moments of ministry I take a moment and realize just how tired I feel. Other moments, however, reveal just how full I feel. Full of life, passion, and love for these people with whom I get to share life.

I had one of those moments last Thursday night around the kitchen table in the home of someone in my group called The Gap. The Gap consists of college and post-grad aged young adults who found each other at First Baptist Abilene. Some of us are in school or just out of school, others working, others looking for our life’s work and passion. All of us are young adults seeking to acknowledge God’s presence among us and take part in God’s work around us at FBC and in Abilene.

Sherry and her mother, Ping, regularly attend our gatherings and events and bring much to the life of FBC in service and ministry. They moved to Abilene from China for Sherry to attend the music school at our local university, Hardin-Simmons, as she is an incredibly gifted pianist. Sherry is not only immersed in a different culture but is also blind. Her mother speaks little English but faithfully attends our group with Sherry. I have learned so much from Sherry and Ping since they began attending The Gap in the fall and have found my life to be enriched by their friendship and example of perseverance and thankfulness.

They both joined myself and a group of young adults from The Gap on a Winter Retreat to Glorieta, New Mexico. Our retreat consisted of skiing, sledding, movie watching, puzzle constructing, and lots of eating! Any member of The Gap will tell you I believe good food is essential to any gathering and Winter Retreat was no exception. We feasted! Ping especially enjoyed our fireside ritual of roasting marshmallows. She excitedly offered to roast everyone’s marshmallows for them and she was quite skilled at the art.

After returning to Abilene and into our normal routines, Sherry and Ping invited myself and several others from the trip to their home to share in their own version of a feast. While we devoured fajitas, spaghetti and burgers in Glorieta, Sherry and Ping worked all day to present a spread of authentic Chinese cuisine. There was a dish to please any palate and more than enough for each of us to stuff ourselves and take a plate home upon the insistence of Ping. The table was bursting with bowls and plates. Ping would get up and bring yet another course to the table just when we thought we couldn’t eat another bite. Obviously, we all continued eating as no one wanted to miss out on what was next.

In addition my enjoyment of the culinary beauty of this moment, I took in the moment of relational beauty. Just as we had laughed and rubbed our bellies in Glorieta over Tex-Mex, here we were in the kitchen of Ping and Sherry laughing and attempting to make room for dessert as we enjoyed the food of the place they call home. These moments happen time and time again as I have opportunity to share life with my friends from Bryan, Arlington, or Midland. Places as close as across town or as far as China bring me friends and fellow adventurers in life.

As ministers, we often have to embrace these moments when we forget how tired we are, sit with the thankfulness for the people in our lives and our ministries, and take another bite.
 

Sarah Greenfield is pastor for university students at First Baptist Church, Abilene, Texas.

Something Old, Something New: The Stars

Lent leads us into both reflection and expectation. Even as we honor our histories and our ancestries, with all their gifts and their griefs, we anticipate the ways that resurrection can recreate them–and us. The God who inspired “something old” is still at work, bringing Easter ever nearer, promising and fulfilling “something new” for the world.

Gen. 15:1-12, 17-18
Psalm 27
Phil. 3:17-4:1
Luke 13:31-35

“Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them.” (Gen. 15:5)

No, really, go on! Try! You can do it—start with that one right there. One, two, three…

Abram follows God outside the tent, stares up at the pinpricks of light in the dark sky. The desert at night is like blindness. The skyfull of stars is a chandelier. A welcome relief.

Are you doing it? Do it. Count, go ahead! Count: four, five, six…

Abram tilts his head, looks at God sideways. Are You serious? I can’t tell if You’re serious. His eyes track the glittering specks as God numbers them. Sigh. Okay, fine, if you say so. Seven, eight…

(Pause. Quiet, let the man count. The numbers slowly adding up into tens, twenties. Fifty. He’ll reach a hundred soon, and even that won’t be in the ballpark. Give him time.)

Abram yawns between digits. Keeps counting.

Psst. It’s your children you’re numbering, you know. It’s generations. It’s nations.

Abram’s voice cracks, fades, silences.

He feels his eyes stinging, burning with dryness, with sand, with tears. Blinks several times, tried to clear them, clear his head. Tries to understand the stars.

He cannot understand, but he can believe.

Are you okay?

I believe You.

Good. But you didn’t answer the question.

I believe You struck the lights in the skies. I believe You shine through the dark, shattering barrenness into multitudes. I believe You have led me here… and I believe You’ll navigate my way ahead.

That’s what stars are for, you know. Navigation.

Abram takes in the whole heavens, as far as he can see in every direction. He forces his eyes open and holds them wide, no longer looking for single numerable sparks, but instead seeing clusters, seeing galaxies, seeing families. He can’t bear to look away from them; they are his heirs, his blood, his future, spinning in infinity. Summoning him forward.

He watches them until his eyes water with the effort. Then he scrubs his fists into his eye sockets, hard, until the dark insides of his lids, the inner walls of his brain burst in starry flashes, sparkling, swirling in a private cosmos.

So…

Will you follow them?

 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Raquel Contreras

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Raquel Contreras.

Raquel, tell us how you are currently serving in ministry?
I am the general director (publisher) for the Baptist Spanish Publishing House/Editorial Mundo Hispano in El Paso, Texas. This organization was the first Spanish evangelical publishing house and has now been in existence for 110 years. We distribute our resources wherever Spanish is spoken.

What are some of the other ministry roles you have had in the past?
I was born in Chile. My mother, a US citizen, went to Chile as a single missionary and married my father who was Chilean. Until about five years ago, my entire ministry was carried out in Chile. After my husband passed away, I became the pastor of a large church in the southern region of my country, and during that period I was elected as president of the Chilean Baptist Union. In my country the president’s role is similar to that of the general secretary in USA organizations. I was also elected as vice president of the Baptist World Alliance and later named as president of the Baptist Union of Latin America. In 2010, I was elected president of the Women’s Department of the Baptist World Alliance.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I have faced many challenges, both from outside sources and from within myself. There were times that it was very hard for me to believe that I could do the things that I had been called to do. My worst enemy at times have been my own insecurities. But those were the moments that Christ became more real to me. I have learned in my own struggles that “His power is made perfect in my weakness.” Because of the very demanding positions I have had, I always struggle with setting aside time for myself, and especially finding time to be with the Lord. Without realizing, I have used much of my time in doing rather than being.

In many of the positions of leadership that I have held, I have been the first woman in those roles. In many ways, I have had to make the way for other women, who did not have any other models to follow. Another big challenge has to do with the many different types of ministry that I have had. I don’t understand why the Lord does this with me, but just when I’m feeling comfortable, He sends me to another servant position, and most of the time it’s much different than the last one.

Who has inspired you, supported you, and encouraged you along the way as you have lived out your calling?
Because I feel so insecure in my own abilities, I have learned to trust in the Lord, depending on His Word, which constantly inspires me. Sometimes a simple Bible story gives me the courage I need to face a certain situation.

My mother passed away as I was beginning to develop as a leader, but her example as a woman who accepted the big changes in her life with grace and complete trust in the Lord, always gives me the strength I need. I saw her praying every day of her life for me and many others. I like to think that her prayers are still being answered in my daily life.

My daughter has been a great encourager for me and provides for me an example of trusting the Lord. I also learned early in my life from my mother-in-law, a pastor’s wife, to respond to the calls I received.I have some “girlfriends” to whom I turn in times of despair, and they always have words of encouragement, without being judgmental. Within the BWA circles, I have been blessed with the friendship of several male leaders, who have been models for me as servant leaders.

God has been good to me by placing the right people around me, at the right moment, and during different moments of my life.

Fighting Myself for Maternity Leave by Carol McEntyre

In just a few days, my husband and I will be traveling to China to adopt our little girl; finally turning the page on a chapter in our life that has been nine years in the making. She is fourteen months old, and as her caretaker describes, “she is tiny, but fierce.” The last few months we have been getting ready to bring her home, painting her room, hanging the curtains, and putting up the baby bed.

Getting ready also means planning leave time from work once we return home. When our son, now six years old, came home from the hospital, I was able to take seven weeks off of work. At that time, I was serving as a community minister in another church. Honestly, I would have taken more time off, but it would have been unpaid, and we learned quickly that babies are very expensive. Now, as the senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Columbia, Missouri, I am blessed to have the opportunity to take a longer adoption leave, but in the early days of planning my leave, I struggled to give myself permission to take the time away.

I am a Type A person. I am competitive, and I am an achiever. I like to work, and I love being a pastor. It is hard for me to let go. On top of that, as a vocational minister, I’ll admit that there are times that I fall prey to thinking that what I do is more essential than it really is. I know that God is not scrambling to figure out how the church will survive if I’m not in the office, but I worry about what might happen (and what my congregation might think) if I take too much leave. Regretfully, those fears are compounded by the fact that I am a woman. I will admit that I have never wanted my congregation to see my gender as negative. My gender was a barrier in my finding a pastorate, as several search committees made very clear to me along the way.

First Baptist of Columbia is an amazing congregation, and honestly I have never felt any push back about my gender from within my church. I’m happy to say that most of the time, I don’t think about it. But for some reason, thinking about taking parent leave was different. I wondered: What will people think about me being on leave? Will they wonder about my commitment? Will they question my ability to parent two young children and pastor at the same time? Will they think about the fact that if I were a man, I might not take as much leave? After all, a research study conducted by Boston College found that the majority of fathers take roughly one day of leave time to bond with their new children for every month the typical mother takes. Knowing that most of my peers are men, perhaps, sometimes I do feel the pressure to “prove” myself.

Traditionally, it has been mothers who have taken time off to care for new family members, and I don’t think we should give this up. Interestingly, the same Boston College study also found that fathers want to take time off when their children are born, but because of workplace pressure, they don’t feel like they can. So, it seems important to me that woman continue to take time off, and when we find ourselves in positions of leadership, we should help pave the way for men to take more time off too.

Fortunately, here at First Baptist, my covenant with the church already had a very generous policy in place. I didn’t have to fight to get leave; I only had to fight my own anxious insecurities. Thankfully, the way our personnel committee handled my leave helped to alleviate my anxiety, instead of adding to the stress. They have been very gracious through the whole process. Our personnel chair put it this way in our church newsletter, “As a congregation, we are pleased to provide this bonding time to give the very best opportunity for the McEntyre family to be as one and find new patterns of living together.”

This is our plan. My husband (who also works at First Baptist Columbia) and I have decided to take advantage of the parental leave that the church has offered to us. We will both stay home initially, then we will trade off time with one of us at home and one of us at the office for several months. We know this is only possible because we work at a church that believes in giving both moms and dads the opportunity to take time off to care for family members. Now I just have to work on not being upset when I return to the office and realize that the congregation did amazingly well without me.

Carol McEntyre is pastor of First Baptist Church, Columbia, Missouri.

You can read the entire Boston Globe study here.

Something Old, Something New: The Story

Lent leads us into both reflection and expectation. Even as we honor our histories and our ancestries, with all their gifts and their griefs, we anticipate the ways that resurrection can recreate them–and us. The God who inspired “something old” is still at work, bringing Easter ever nearer, promising and fulfilling “something new” for the world.

Monday, Feb. 8, 2016
(Lent 1, 2/14/16)

Deut. 26:1-11
Psalm 91:1-2 (9-16)
2 Cor. 5:20b-6:10
Luke 4:1-13

“You shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor…'” (Deut. 26:5)

The story of Lent is like “The House that Jack Built”: without Joseph’s multicolored coat, there would have been no Egypt. Without Egypt, no slavery. Without slavery, no Passover (and without Passover, no freedom). Without freedom, no wandering, no wilderness. Without wandering, no arrival; and without arrival, no land of promise. Without the land, no Bethlehem and no Jerusalem. Jerusalem! Without Jerusalem–without its temple, without its traditions, without its trials–no Jesus. No palm-laden road, no upper room, no rugged cross, no stone to roll away.

On the road to Easter, we dare not forget to tell the story of Lent.

Story is the magnetic pull between old and new, drawing us forward through remembrance and into thanksgiving. Story is the first (and perhaps the only) liturgy; whenever we speak our story aloud it becomes our worship, our prayer, our songs of pain and praise. Story is the flesh and blood of tradition. Without story, traditions turn lifeless. Without story, traditions turn into idols.

Story is the commandment of Yahweh.

Even before the wandering people of God reached the land that God had promised to them, God was already giving them instructions for telling the story and giving offerings of thanks. When they finally reached the land, there would be no excuse for forgetfulness. God prompted them to remember their story–THIS story–all along the way. God has shown them a spoiler: their story doesn’t end with entry into the land! They will not only reach the land, but they will settle there, they will sow and reap, they will experience abundance!

Then they will take their story to the priest, bundle the first fruits of the promise into baskets to set before the altar, gather around God’s house and declare: We have come into the land! And they will tell God the story–God’s own story. They will not forget their wandering ancestor, the slavery, the freedom, the wilderness, the promise, the bounty.

Lent isn’t usually a season of bounty and celebration; typically Lent reminds us how important it is to lean into fasting and reflection, into emptiness and preparation. We begin this long, wild wander toward promise, remembering our own roaming ancestors, the slavery we still ache to escape, the freedom we have tasted, the wilderness we travel, the promise of new life, the bounty of Home.

We will tell this story every step of the way toward celebration. We will not forget.
 

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is an ordained Baptist minister, at-home mom, and military spouse living in South Carolina. She blogs at One Faithful Step.