Did You Hear It? by Brad Smith

Did you hear it?

Maybe not . . . after all there was already a generous crack in the mold that shaped The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina. But that sound was the mold breaking as we ordained the first woman into the gospel ministry in our church’s 188-year history.

For many years, The Memorial Baptist Church has supported women in leadership roles. We have had our share of women lay leaders and ministers. Over the years, we have ordained many women into the ministry of deacon, but the opportunity to ordain a woman as a minister had not presented itself, until recently.

As with any historical congregation, the decision to do something new is a journey. That journey for our church began in 2010 when our diaconate received a request from Rebecca Aikens, who was seeking a letter of affirmation and recommendation of endorsement for her pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree from Campbell Divinity School. The deacons read the request without hesitation and voted to endorse, each signing their name in affirmation.

Throughout Rebecca’s time at Campbell, she remained on the hearts and in the prayers of the people at The Memorial Baptist Church. Rebecca speaks of her church family often and describes how they helped to “pray her through” divinity school. During her seminary years, she answered her call into hospice chaplaincy.

Rebecca Aiken ordintaionIt came as no surprise when, last fall, Rebecca entered into my office and asked to be ordained. She was excited, yet nervous. She was ready to fulfill her calling, yet anxious at what she was being called to do. Rebecca was experiencing what every person as far back as Moses and Aaron experienced; which was, “Am I worthy?”

As pastor, I was excited and nervous as well for Rebecca, but also for our church. I wondered what it would mean for us. After all, we had not ordained a woman into the work of gospel ministry in our 188-year existence!

After prayer and conversations with our church moderator, the deacons were first presented with Rebecca’s request. They too initially pondered over what it would mean for the church. Then a lone person said in loud voice, almost a shout, “This is wonderful!” With that, the deacons shifted gears into discussing when they could bring the wonderful news before the church for a vote. Some deacons even jokingly argued as to who among them would get to serve on the ordination council.

Rebecca Aiken photoSoon after, the church voted with thunderous applause and a standing ovation that Rebecca be examined for ordination and if seen fit by the ordaining council, be ordained as soon as possible.

Rebecca was ecstatic. I was enthralled, and our church historian was elated that history was being, in his words, “corrected.”

On February 28, 2016, Rebecca was ordained in the beautiful sanctuary of The Memorial Baptist Church, her church home, with several friends and family in attendance.

So, when I asked if you heard it, perhaps I was not referring to the mold breaking, but rather that sound was the thunderous applause that was heard when for the first time in Rebecca’s life, she was rightly called, Reverend, and a historic church once again made history.

Brad Smith is the pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church, Greenville, North Carolina.

An Easter People: Acts 5:27-32

Acts 5:27-32
Psalm 118:14-29
Rev. 1:4-8
John 20:19-31

“… you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching…” (Acts 5:28b)

For those who have witnessed the resurrection, the story demands to be told.

It calls out on the street corners. It falls like a healing shadow.

It will not be contained behind locked doors. It will not be silenced by intimidation.

It stands in the center.

It pours into the city with abundance.

In Jerusalem, the disciples were shaping a community of the story; a new kind of community where everyone belonged to one another. They were not called to attain power or to amass prestige, but to tell, to teach. The disciples weren’t trying to sway public opinion, or to play politics and to stack the deck of control in their own favor. They weren’t even trying to force (or enforce) a Christian nation; Christ-followers were not the “powers that be,” but witnesses gathered into community on the Way.

It is difficult–if not nearly impossible–for us to relate to that early body of believers, who did not aspire to secular power, and probably could not even dream of having it! In the short history of our own nation, Christianity (or, at least, Christian affiliation) has been the rule, not the exception, among our most powerful leaders; no president in our history has openly declared himself an atheist or even a non-Christian. Our most admired (or, at least, most famous) churches have congregations numbering in the thousands, and budgets in the millions, and often feel led to use those resources to affect political considerations. Where I live, one of the largest churches in town was proud to host a presidential candidate on the Sunday before the state’s primary election. Just today on the radio I heard a denominational leader talking about his experience speaking at a campaign rally. No wonder it is difficult for us to imagine a time when Christ-followers were the “have nots.” They had not wealth. They had not power. They had not political influence.

But they had a story rich with life. They had the power of God to bring healing to bodies and hearts. And they had the influence that is granted only to those faithful guides who direct us to the true Source, and help us find the Way to God.

As water splashes into a cup, they filled Jerusalem with their teaching—from the bottom up.
 

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: Tamiko Jones

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister, and today we are pleased to introduce Tamiko Jones.

Tamiko, tell us about your ministry?
I currently serve on full-time staff at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Mansfield, Texas, as the minister of missions and young adults.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
My greatest challenge has been the battlefield in my own mind. God blessed me to join Bethlehem Baptist Church in 2005, before I answered my call to ministry. Upon joining the church, I knew that Bethlehem Baptist Church was a traditional church in terms of worship style and that the church had no female ministers in leadership. Even though the church was founded in 1870, the median age of the members was 35! I was excited to be in this environment of tradition, growth, collaboration and service for the Kingdom.

As God began to apply the pressure in all areas of my life, I was called to leave a fifteen-year position as an electrical engineer/project manager to enter full-time ministry in this very traditional church with no known female ministers! Of course, my mind was on overload. There were so many questions, fears, and doubts… BUT GOD! Due to the authentic and servant leadership of my pastor and the relationships I developed with the church leaders over years of service, the acceptance and transition into ministry has been seamless. All I had to do was listen to God’s voice, obey His command, and trust His timing.

What brings you great joy in life and ministry?

I truly enjoy equipping people for ministry and life. I serve as the leader of the African–American Advisory Council (Sisters Who Care) for the Texas Woman’s Missionary Union. In this role, I interact with women and congregations across Texas in order to encourage their work in the area of missions and discipleship. Considering my professional background, I also enjoy assisting teens and young adults in understanding their gifts and developing strategies to reach their goals. I have always been surrounded by God-fearing people who invested in my life. So, it definitely brings me joy to “pour it all out,” transferring everything God has given me to others.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?

There have been so many nuggets of encouragement shared with me on this journey; however, I would say that for females in ministry, we do not have to fight our way into any space to share the gospel. The when, where, and how is totally up to God. I was called to preach. If that has to be done in a pulpit, classroom, or on a street corner, I will continue to say yes.

Solid Feet or Shaky Knees by LeAnn Gunter Johns

My five-year-old son still asks to go back and visit occasionally. When we drive by a neighborhood church, his view from the back seat will catch a glimpse of an Episcopal church. No, we didn’t change denominations. He remembers when a dream and lots of prayers led a small group of people to starting a Baptist church in that building.

In 2012, after months and months of praying, seeking, denying, and finally accepting, a small group of folks began the process of starting a church. The folks who were drawn to our community were mostly folks who were not attending church anywhere and were looking for community. We were different in many ways than the plethora of other Baptist churches in our area. We were going to be community led, open our doors to anyone, and have a woman pastor.

Balancing being a work from home mom was challenging and exciting. I loved the weekly routine of sermon preparation and worship planning. In the first year, my family welcomed a new baby into our lives and suddenly, my time, energy, focus was split again. More demands at home stretched me thinner and thinner. The community was understanding, but I always felt like they deserved more time and attention than I was able to give to them. I struggled. I wasn’t giving my best to anyone in my life, and I felt like everyone was suffering.

After much prayer and many tears, I knew I needed to step down from being their pastor. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I felt like a failure and like I was giving up. The next few months, as I reclaimed time with my family, I struggled with doubts, feelings of failure, and wondering if I had misheard God’s call to begin the new church at all.

It’s funny though. My son doesn’t consider the church a failure. He remembers playing on the playground at the church and watching the musicians practice. He remembers meals around the dinner table with our church family, the games they would play with him, or the time he stood beside me on my last Sunday offering communion. His longing to go back reminds me of the good times, too. Instead, of listening to the voices of doubt and fear, I choose to believe that our church’s year and a half journey was a courageous one. It was one that created beauty, love, and friendship together as we worshipped God each week. Thanks be to God for the community of St. Clare Baptist Church, the life we shared together and the places we went from there.

In an interview with Krista Tippett, Carrie Newcomer said,

“… I think courage has nothing to do with being fearless. I think courage has everything to do with loving something or someone so much that you will brave it with solid feet or shaky knees because you love it that much.”

The journey to start a new church was one filled with that kind of courage. It’s the kind of courage to follow God with shaky knees into unknown ministry opportunities. It’s also the kind of courage that knows when to bless something as good and walk another direction, on solid feet.

Ministry is not a solid path only for those with a clear calling from God. It takes on many different twists, turns, and terrains. It requires courage to trust in the nudges, the dreams, and the prayers with solid feet or shaky knees. Be courageous!
 

LeAnn Gunter Johns is a 2004 graduate of McAfee School of Theology. She has served churches in Georgia and California and now lives in Macon, Georgia with her husband, Barry and their sons, Parker and Patrick. In her free time, she enjoys cheering on the Stanford Cardinal and Mercer Bears, running, and drinking coffee!

An Easter People

Acts 10:34-43
Psalm 118:1-2 14-24
1 Cor. 15:19-26
John 20:1-18

“We are witnesses to all that he did…” (Acts 10:39)

As pastors and preachers prepare for the coming Easter Sunday, most of them will (rightfully!) spend their time in the garden, at the tomb, wondering at how an impossible stone has been set aside, gazing with the disciples into an empty cavern, listening for the voice of their Teacher. This is the Gospel, after all; this is the very Good News! Christ is risen indeed! This is the story we all need to hear, over and over. This is the story we tell our children, the story we sing at the tops of our voices, the story that brings us to tears. This is the story that compels us, that calls us, and it’s this story that we hope will compel, and call, everyone who shows up in their Easter best on this Sunday every spring.

But this story doesn’t end when another Easter day, with its baskets and bunnies and brunches, comes and goes. At resurrection, the people of God begin a new story, a new season: a season of life! We have heard Jesus’ message of peace, seen his healing work, wept at his unjust death, rejoiced at his return! We are an Easter people, witnesses to all he did.

We use the word “witness” in different ways: a witness is one who observes, and a witness is one who reports what she has seen.

In the secular world, we may witness a crime or a traffic accident, and we may get called in to court to be a witness for or against one who has been accused. Eyewitness accounts give perspective to the tragedies and dramas that fill the headlines. Witnesses pay attention, remember details, honestly report what the have seen so people can be held responsible.

I had a friend who was a dancer in her younger life–when I knew her, she was still a dancer, though her multiple sclerosis made such movement increasingly impossible. On a church women’s retreat, she talked to us about liturgical movement, dancing, joy; she encouraged us all to participate in prayer as physical expression, uninhibited and graceful. And when she observed our (my) reticence, our (my) aversion to “being watched,” she talked instead about being a witness. What if “being watched” is really “being witnessed”? What if we are truly his witnesses: observing what Christ has done, and then reporting back–in sermon, in song, in poem, in paint, in dance–what we have seen? What if we allow our response to Christ, our testimony, to be witnessed by others?

When we walk with the risen Christ, in this new season of Easter life, we are not merely watching him—we are not paparazzi lurking in the bushes, or objective observers whose testimony may sway a jury, or critical watchers who will judge a performance. We follow him as witnesses: paying attention, remembering details, and openly responding to what we see, so that the right people—that is, all people—can experience his peace, forgiveness, joy.
 

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: Danielle Ayers

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are thrilled to introduce Danielle Ayers! 

Danielle, tell us about where and how are you currently serving in ministry.
I serve on the staff of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas as minister of justice.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
There have been several challenges on the journey. Two come to mind. One,navigating spaces that are traditionally male dominated in the church and community has created a challenge. When I enter into some spaces, the question, either overtly or subtle, becomes, why are you here? What manner of women are you to occupy this space dominated by males? So, a daily challenge is to push up against and over a tradition that relegates women to typified roles in the church and community.

Two, this work has put me in touch with so many local and global communities. I continue to witness the injury to souls due to broken social  structures. Increasingly, globalization is having an impact on all communities. There is a unique and welcomed challenge to ensure that we not only speak truth to power and engage in public policy discourse, we must meet the challenge of engaging in the soul repair of people who been dehumanized by broken social structures.

What do you love best about your ministry position?
My ministry has provided many opportunities to meet new people, grow mentally and spiritually, and expand my global view. I have certainly come to understand the intersections of theologies, politics, spirituality, ethics and human relatedness more deeply. I enjoy partnering with wonderful people, faith communities and organizations on the journey. I love the life long friendships that are born out of a love for justice and people. I think the main thing I love about my ministry position is being a part of movements that will fix broken social structures bringing permanent relief for people who are impacted by empire.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
Take time-outs. Take vacations. And schedule your stress.

Church Starting and Re-learning Pilgrimage by Susan Rogers

Last January, I was given an enormous gift. As a part of a three-year ministry peer cohort, I was gifted a spiritual pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I had no idea how much I needed this experience. In nurturing the spiritual life of a new community of faith, I had neglected my own.

Starting a church was never even on my list of possible pursuits when I graduated from the McAfee School of Theology in 2008. Of course, as an occupational therapist and married mom of two children, seminary had not exactly been on my radar either. The idea of church starting began as a casual conversation and was re-visited on numerous occasions. I did not see myself as much of an entrepreneur, nor did I see myself fitting into what has traditionally been a male-dominated arena. It was not until I started listening to the voices around me and looking at the larger story of my calling that I began to see all of the potential beauty and excitement involved in cultivating a new church.

Looking back over the past five years of planting and pastoring The Well at Springfield in Jacksonville, Florida, there has been plenty of beauty and excitement. I have watched as people of various faith traditions, life stages and identities have grown to love one another and learn from each other. I have listened to stories of how spiritual refugees have finally found a place of love and belonging, a safe place to grow in their faith. I have marveled at how a small group of Jesus followers can make such an impact in our fragmented neighborhood through collaboration and resourcefulness. I have made friends, shared milestones, baptized new believers, and shared in rich moments of worship and formation with this new family of mine.

It’s been a beautiful thing to be a part of, and while I am even more aware that God is the one holding it all together, can I be honest with you? I’ve worked really hard. I’ve initiated more meetings, introductions, meals, partnerships, messages, structures, slogans, community projects, and social media posts than I can count. I’ve dealt with critiques, cold shoulders, and complaints. Such is the life of a pastor, I know. I did not say yes to church starting thinking it would be all roses. Still. It’s been tough at times, and that can take a toll.

The pilgrimage to Israel nourished me in a way that I still can’t put into words. As if it’s not enough to walk where Jesus walked, for a change, I was allowed to be a follower and not the one in charge. Feeling run down gave way to renewal. Worry turned to wonder. Trying too hard transformed into letting go a little more and learning to follow a little better.

The pilgrimage is a gift that I am still experiencing a year later. It has opened my eyes to how crucial it is that in the ebb and flow of this adventure–in the beauty, excitement and disappointment–I find ways to stay nourished. It’s not an option, and it’s not just for my own sake. It’s for my family’s sake, for the sake of this community of faith, and dare I say, for the sake of the kingdom of God.

Susan Rogers is pastor of The Well at Springfield in Jacksonville, Florida.

Something Old, Something New: The Lesson

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.

(Palm/Passion, 3/20/16)

Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29
Psalm 31:9-16
Phil. 2:5-11
Luke 19:28-40
Luke 22:14-23:56

“Morning by morning [the Lord] wakens–wakens my ear
to listen as those who are taught.” Isaiah 50:4b

While the Passover tells a story to be remembered, the prophet told a story that had not yet happened: God would send a Servant, saving God’s people and restoring them–restoring us–once again. And this time, for always.

God will send a Student, the prophet says. One who listens, who welcomes teaching, who is humble to receive instruction. A Disciple, who asks us to stand together with him as he lives out what he has learned: face forward. Don’t hide. There is no shame in obedience. You are not alone.

These are our lessons, for Lent, and for life.

If only we could visit the public-records collections, delve into the library stacks, and discover the family trees of our educations! If only we could examine the twining branches of our teachers’ teachers, tracing our ancestry in lessons that have been passed down to us like eye color; dominant traits that present themselves in our own patterns of speech, waves of thought.

How far back could we connect the dots of this heredity? Can we trace them to this beginning, through our teachers and grand-teachers and great-great-grand-teachers, through all the generations to this One who was the protege of the Most High, who studied God’s own instruction on how to bring freedom, how to serve humbly, how to give all? Can we claim to share a genealogy of scholarship with the Servant, the Student of God?

As Lent whispers to a close, Holy Week sets the syllabus for the rest of the way: pilgrim crowds and angry mobs, old blessings and new covenants, friends who serve and friends who sell out. Silver and spears. Water and blood. Darkness of sky, and darkness of stone.

It’s too late to turn back now. We still have so much to learn.
 

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: Ginny Dempsey

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

Ginny, tell us about your ministry journey.
I am associate pastor for students at Milledge Avenue Baptist Church in Athens, Georgia. In May, I will have been here two years. My responsibilities include the spiritual formation and activities of children and youth, worship planning and leadership, and pastoral care, among many others!

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I have faced two main challenges in my ministry journey—one at the beginning of it and another at (what I thought) was the end. In 2000, after graduating Candler School of Theology with a Master of Divinity degree, I was seeking full-time ministry employment. I worked with a church for three months through the interview process, only to not be voted in on the big day. I was five votes short, and I received hate mail from someone who had called in others to block the vote against me. That was a very dark time for me as I felt I had followed God’s call and yet ended up feeling hurt and betrayed. I learned through that experience who my true friends were, and I also learned that churches are made of humans who make mistakes, can be unthinking at times, and often operate out of their own hurt and brokenness.

After that experience, I met a pastor who showed me tremendous kindness and pastoral care. I interviewed with his church and was hired as minister of youth, children, and missions. I served there for just over eight years. Most of those years were very happy as I gratefully lived out the calling of God. Toward the end, the church experienced financial troubles, and all staff were reduced to half time and half pay. I struggled financially and spiritually as well. I had not done a good job of developing and deepening my own relationship with God as I sought to help others with theirs. Again I was hurt and upset, and this time I determined to leave the ministry, but God had other plans, and after a time of healing, God brought me back into the fold.

What brings you great joy in life and ministry?
I experience great joy in life in both the big things—like adopting my daughter from China and watching her grow—and the little things—such as the beauty of nature or the happiness of hearing my favorite song on the radio. When I reached thirty and was not married, I decided to adopt a daughter from China. The time schedule seemed to be odd in that I had just started a doctorate program, but I felt strongly that God was ordaining the process. Two-and-half years later, I graduated in May and traveled to China in July to adopt Anna Grace. The timing was perfect. China later changed its rules, and no longer allowed single adults to adopt, so had I waited, I would have missed out on the joy of being a mother and having a family that God had planned for me!

I generally approach life with a positive attitude and an exuberance for what it has to offer. My greatest joys in ministry include watching a child grasp the love of God for the first time, baptizing a youth who has made a profession of faith after growing up in the church, or helping youth or children disconnect from technology and reconnect to God through nature and being outdoors at retreats. I also derive great joy from working with my colleagues to plan creative worship experiences that bring others closer to God.

Through all my experiences, both good and challenging, I have learned to rely on the faithfulness of God and to reiterate where I have seen and continue to see it flourish in my life. Thanking God for these moments of clarity and devotion help frame my life and ministry in light of God’s care and love. How can one not be joyful in the face of that understanding!

How do you keep yourself healthy–spiritually and physically?
Because of my earlier challenges, I have made keeping myself spiritually healthy a priority. I do so by starting each day at work with a time of reading, prayer, and devotional—before I ever turn on my computer! This habit (shared with me by a youth minister colleague) has helped me maintain and deepen my relationship with God and reminds me daily of why I do what I do. I also belong to a youth minister peer group that shares resources, and I participate in a monthly prayer time held at the church to remember those in need in our congregation and community. These groups keep me accountable and growing in my faith.

Staying healthy physically is a bit more challenging, but I make sure to take my day off and to use that day (when possible) as a personal Sabbath of rest and renewal. Sometimes that means taking a nap, and other times it means playing outside with my daughter. I also am trying to be more mindful of my health this year by making better choices of food and water, only eating when I’m hungry, and trying to be more physically active.

Just Talking by Kristen Pope

For the better part of eighteen years, I watched my father walk up to the pulpit every Sunday and talk. For more years than I would like to admit, I colored while he talked. I wrote notes to my friends in the pew next to me, worried about the boy in the pew behind me who I had a crush on, and even played on my phone when I could get away with it. I figured he was saying something important, but it wasn’t anything I wasn’t getting at home, right?

I say that he “talked” from the pulpit, because I had yet to distinguish between talking and preaching. Recently, I “talked” from the pulpit for the first time. At Pintlala Baptist Church in Pintlala, Alabama, I climbed the steps to a pulpit, not to read scripture, not to give an invocation, not to place the children for a choir performance (although those are all important things), but to “talk.” Turns out that my father does a lot more than just talk up there. Preaching has never been something I have been particularly interested in doing, but when given the opportunity, I found that I couldn’t say no. I felt an excitement and an anticipation in being able to communicate something that was truly meaningful from a text, something that we would do well to remember and that carries an endless number of narratives and interpretations. I got to do that. I shared my interpretation of scripture with a congregation and talked about the way that the gospel has uniquely spoken to me in my life, and I had the opportunity to challenge others to see things from a different point of view, the way that I think Christ saw things.

After much debate, I settled on preaching about children. To be honest I struggled with this, not wanting to fit into anyone’s stereotype of what a female preacher would or should do. However, I quickly realized that the only disservice I could do to women in ministry would be to cater to society’s expectations in any way, whether it be reactionary or to purposely fulfill gendered expectations. What I really wanted to say was about children, and so that was what I preached about. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those like children, don’t you know?

What I gained from this experience was a profound sense of gratefulness that I had been raised by a family who made sure that I never doubted my abilities, because I was a woman or for any other reason. As I sat down in the pew after preaching and the pastor began speaking about the importance of Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching, I was struck by the importance of this day for me. I have always believed that women belong in the pulpit just as much as our male counterparts, but that has taken on new meaning since I have had the privilege of being in the pulpit. Although I realized a while ago that my father was doing a lot more than talking, preaching is one of the most empowering experiences I have had thus far in my life. I have a new-found respect for the men and women who step into the pulpit almost every Sunday, and I will forever be an even stronger advocate for women who step into the pulpit, whether it be one time or ten times or every Sunday, where she might have a child who colors in the pew who thinks her mother is just talking.

Kristen Pope is a first year student at McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia. She serves as children and families ministries intern at Smoke Rise Baptist Church, Stone Mountain, Georgia.