THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Lekesha Barnett

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Lekesha Barnett.

Lekesha, tell us about your ministry at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church?
I serve the Young Adults (ages twenty-four to thirty-nine) of our congregation as well as the ONEderful Life Singles (ages forty and up). These two groups comprise the largest population of our church which is modestly estimated at 5,000 people out of the overall church membership. The two groups worked as a single unit for the first year that I became a full-time employee of the church. God gave me an organizational plan and growth strategy, allowing us to tailor ministry for each group. Now, the Young Adults have an executive council, four sub-teams, a well-attended summer Bible study series, and they are often called upon to support church-wide efforts. Most of my time is now invested in leadership development, teaching, and vision casting for future initiatives. The ONEderful Life Singles Ministry gathers on the fifth Fridays of the year to provide inspiration, mixing, mingling, and a meaningful message. Most of our members, age forty and up, find service through other ministries fulfilling and connect with ONEderful Life Ministry for fellowship.

I also participate in all of the four Sunday worship services, funerals, The Lord’s Supper and collaboration with other senior leaders to create the church calendar. I was appointed by the senior pastor, Rev. Dr. Marcus D. Cosby, to lead the “Showing Moore Love” campaign in 2013, which benefitted families in Moore, Oklahoma with clothes and supplies after tornados devastated their area. I often partner with the college ministry leader, Rev. Joshua Mitchell, for special projects impacting the millennials of our congregation.

My service is wherever I am called upon whenever the opportunity is available to share with our congregation. This may include teaching for one of our Family Groups in the greater Houston area, participating in Intercessory Prayer Ministry, catechisms and more.

Tell us a bit about your ministry journey–your calling and ways and places you have previously served.
After a short season of doubt and intense prayer, God’s call for me to prepare for preaching ministry in 1998 was certain. While living in Virginia where I attended graduate school at Regent University, I also learned that God was changing the culture of my home church in Houston. Until that time, women were not affirmed as ministers, but three women were acknowledged and given opportunities to serve. I was the fourth female to announce a call to ministry. After graduating with a Master of Arts in Community Counseling and a Master of Arts in Practical Theology, I was hired at New Faith Church in Houston, Texas to serve as minister of Christian education. In that role, with a small team of leaders, a teachers’ training program was organized as well as a comprehensive Christian education program for the congregation. Collaborating with the senior pastor, Rev. Dr. T. R. Williams, Sr. and other staff members was a regular component of my work to ensure the Bible studies and Sunday School classes served the membership’s growing needs. After three years, I was appointed as the first female assistant pastor.

From personal experience as a young woman in ministry and the first full-time female minister at New Faith Church, a unique perspective for the needs of women in ministry inspired me to partner with a group of women to create a 501c3 non-profit organization in 2006. HER Call Ministries launched in 2007 creating a platform for women in ministry to connect, collaborate and cultivate their gifts. After nearly ten years, HER Call Ministries has inspired women to pursue and complete seminary degrees, hosted preaching intensives, published a nationally released book and supported missions work in India. Through conferences, workshops, social media and networking sessions the ministry has served to empower women in ministry across the nation. This ministry became my focus for four years after working at New Faith Church until 2012 when I began ministering at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.

It has been my honor to share with several ministries in Texas as a conference keynote preacher, workshop presenter, and consultant. Christian Education, Spiritual formation, leadership, missions, prayer, and preaching are the major topics of my passion for ministry. As a means of sharing my passion with church leaders, Essentials Intensified Consulting was created to offer specialized support for ministries in transition. This is consistent with a recurring pattern in my life of God allowing me to serve in ministries at critical times of transition or restructuring.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
My challenges have most likely been the same as those of most women in ministry, especially those who are young, single and “the first” to lead in a church culture as it transitions to affirming women in ministry. God gave me a strong resolve that I should never try to argue the validity of my calling or prove that I am obedient to the call. Rather, my focus has been to faithfully serve and allow the fruit of my labor to speak for me. Having such a conviction very early in ministry buffered me from some attacks and pressures. I choose not to focus on the misogynistic activity that still prevails in many places because there is so much work to be done in areas where women are welcome. However, this in no way limits me from taking an assignment in less than favorable conditions. Therefore, I have stood side-by-side with our brothers who have yet to affirm female clergy and I have been outspoken when necessary to identify the subtle ways women in ministry have needs that are often overlooked.

By the grace of God, I have always been a very content and fulfilled single (unmarried and no children) minister. However, work in the church consumed most of my time leaving few opportunities to develop a social life and develop hobbies. After several years in ministry, it became necessary to reexamine my routine. I had to discover non-church events and engage recreational activities that provide physical and social refreshment all ministers need on a regular basis. This is the experience of many single-sister preachers and the reason I strongly advise those entering vocational ministry to devote time to physically and mentally invigorating activities.

What brings you greatest joy as you serve in ministry?
I am most fulfilled when God allows me to participate in the work of edifying believers and creating new ways to demonstrate the Kingdom of God. For example, Bible studies are meant to be interactive, creative and so relevant that the application can be perceived immediately. When believers are transformed, discover their purpose, and are mobilized in meaningful service, I am overjoyed. I love building relationships across denominational and cultural lines to form alliances that serve the community. After more than fifteen years in ministry, it is most exciting for me to explore new ways for individuals to mature in faith and be intentionally missional.

I believe God is at work in everyday realities with a plan to guide us to greater realizations of the love, truth, grace, and power we have access to through Jesus Christ. As I continue to enjoy adventures with God, my life is enriched when I can share lessons I’ve learned with others and invite them to join the journey. Sometimes that invitation is in the form of a sermon, a Bible study or through one of the books I’ve written. I really love my life and consider it a tremendous honor to serve the Church of Jesus Christ and I can’t imagine any other vocation. It is all I have known and I’m eternally grateful for the privilege.

You can read more about Lekesha and her work on her blog, www.lekeshabarnett.com

Reflecting with Gratitude: Ten Years after the Death of Ruth Ann Foster by Courtney Pace

It has been ten years since Ruth Ann Foster died. In some ways, it feels like just yesterday that we were donning our tiaras and feather boas together. In other ways, so much has happened since 2006 that it feels like a lifetime ago.

ruth-annDr. Foster was a founding faculty member and associate professor of Christian Scriptures at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. When I first met her, I knew that there was something special about her. I was a doe-eyed nineteen-year-old who had grown up so deeply entrenched in patriarchy that I didn’t yet realize the dilemma of being a female student in a Baptist seminary. I remember meeting with her, learning from her to read the Bible with fresh eyes, overwhelmed by the sense of hope I felt that maybe God had called me without limitation. I felt drawn to her beyond what I could understand, and I have never been the same since I met her.

Dr. Foster was one of the first female professors that I had ever had and my only female professor in all of seminary. And now, ten years later, I have picked up her mantle. I am now a seminary professor myself, and as far as I know, I am the only female graduate of Truett serving on a seminary faculty. In many ways, Dr. Foster continues to be my most seminal example of being a woman in academia. I admired her prowess in the classroom. She was sharp, funny, engaging, and feminine. She was adored for her personability and respected for her high expectations of students. She didn’t sacrifice one for the other. She was her truest self, and she allowed me to envision how I could be my truest self as a woman in ministry and as a woman in theological higher education.

When she died ten years ago, I wrote: “Dr. Foster was a determined woman. She wasn’t scared to be a pioneer, to blaze a new trail for what is right. She was meticulous about her academic studies. She loved to laugh. She could articulate exactly what she was thinking. She knew what it meant to be a friend. I always felt an affinity with her in that our personalities are similar, and she was a particularly kindred spirit to me. I hope to emulate her commitment, excellence, and faithfulness.”
I will always look up to her and never expect to catch up to her. Now that I am a seminary professor, I realize that she offered students so much more than I knew. When you are a student, there is appropriate separation between you and the faculty, and you may not realize all that goes on behind the scenes. You have no idea how much work faculty members are doing for you and with you in mind in between classes. You have no idea what obstacles they are facing, and overcoming, in order to better advocate for you and equip you. You have no idea the life experiences and emotional investment that go into the wise things they say in class. For Dr. Foster, and many other women faculty, you have no idea the latent sexism they face every day, just for the chance to present an alternative community through their teaching.

Dr. Foster had been brutalized in the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention. She experienced great personal and professional cost. Despite the hardships, she continued to be very clear in her views of women in ministry and reliably spoke her truth, and yet she was never bitter. Even when “that student” (there’s always at least one, usually male) made an off-color remark just to challenge her authority in the classroom, she could keep us on task, maintain her composure, and prophetically correct the offender. She offered respect, love, and care to every student, even those who did not give her the same. Such beautiful character! Such hope in the power of theological higher education and transformational, redemptive community. Dr. Foster also seized every opportunity to nurture female students, including serving as faculty advisor for Women in Ministry at Truett.
Dr. Foster also dealt with significant personal difficulties outside of the classroom, and doing it alone. She cared for her mother, mentored dozens of students, and fulfilled her professional and church responsibilities, all while struggling with her own health issues. And yet, she was fully present wherever she was, every day, offering her knowledge and wisdom, sharing her sense of humor and cutting wit, and often taking students to lunch after class. And she always paid.

Students could stop in Dr. Foster’s office any time, where she talked about academics, ministry, relationships, television shows, and everyday life. She laughed and cried with students, going to great lengths to offer hospitality and pastoral care. She was reliably honest in her feedback, always pushing them to improve and grow. She gave grace, but never let students give up on themselves or lower their standards. I remember one month when I was having a particularly difficult time in the church where I was serving. Right before a class session, a wave of emotion hit me, and I felt like I needed to sit in the hall for a little bit before I could come in the class. Dr. Foster gave me that time to grieve, but then she held me accountable to get back up and continue the work. I will love her forever for that.
I have faced my share of issues as a professor and often find myself looking back to my time in Dr. Foster’s classes. She was such a brilliant professor. Not only did she teach us to be scholars of the New Testament, but she also taught us how to use the library, to ensure bibliographic diversity, to read sources critically, to write at the graduate level, and to organize our work for success. Her assignments forced us to learn good habits. At that exhausted moment when we submitted our finished papers to her, she would say, “All this work that you have done for this exegesis paper, you need to do at least this much for every sermon that you preach.” She was right. The Bible deserves our most devoted scholarship, and Dr. Foster made sure that we were prepared with the skills to faithfully serve our churches.

She had many famous sayings. The one I hear in my head the most is, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” Right as always. Ministry is not easy. Proclamation, pastoral care, and leadership are emotionally expensive, even when you serve a supportive congregation. Only those who are called and willing to be faithful to their calling will survive, and she wanted to be sure we were prepared. Her most famous lecture was “Adam is a wimp.” It was a rite of passage at Truett to sit through that lecture in her Intro to Scriptures class. I still use my packet from her class to prepare for my own teaching.

Dr. Foster forever changed my life, and even now, she is continually teaching me and shaping me as I carry on her mantle. I am pleased to say that I have developed a similar reputation among my students. I, too, have scared some students in the first week or two of class, but I have also been part of that miraculous, beautiful moment when a student trusts you enough to try something they didn’t think they could do, and then invites you into celebration when they succeed, that moment when they see the hero in themselves.

Ten years ago, I wrote: “The thing about Dr. Foster is that she never tried to be anyone’s hero. I don’t think she wanted anyone to see her as a hero. I think she wanted her students to see the hero in themselves. Everything she did was done in order to equip us for our ministries. She sought to challenge us, to push us, and to love us in the best way, not necessarily in the most comfortable way. She was a mobilizer: she mobilized her students to follow God as disciples and as ministers. She empowered her students to be the hands and feet of God in every aspect of our lives. She was a hero and a hero-maker.”

Thank you, Dr. Foster, for helping me see the hero in myself and for teaching me how to be a hero-maker for my students. I hope you are proud of me, and that you can feel even now how much you have meant to so many students who are forever better for having learned from you.

Thousands gathered to mourn Dr. Foster’s passing, and we reflected on her life with the words of Frederick Buechner:

“When you remember me,
It means that you have carried something of who I am with you,
That I have left some mark of who I am on who you are.
It means that you can summon me back to your mind
Even though countless years and miles may stand between us.
It means that if we meet again,
You will know me.
It means that even after I die,
You can still see my face and hear my voice and speak to me in your heart.
For as long as you remember me,
I am never entirely lost.”

Dear one, we still see you, we still hear your voice (and your laugh), and we love you. Thank you for all you have taught us, and for the ways you are teaching us still.

Courtney Pace is assistant professor of church history at Memphis Theological Seminary, Memphis, Tennessee.

A World at Communion by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

Sunday, October 2, 2016, World Communion Sunday

Lamentations 1:1-6 or 3:19-26
Psalm 137 or Psalm 37:1-92
Tim. 1:1-14
Luke 17:5-10

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.'” (Lam. 3:21-24)

Every Sunday when the people of God gather–everywhere people of God gather–we hear the word of God, we speak words of peace to one another, we lift hymns (and we even lift praise choruses!), we respond to the grace of God–every Sunday, we are participating in a world-wide communion.

At least symbolically.

And at worst, merely theoretically.

Symbolically, the people of God are one, no matter our song styles, our first languages, our attire, or our surrounding architecture. Symbolically, our separate worship gatherings stretch across the miles, connecting us all in a web of worship. Praises are raised up and joined together from all corners of the earth. Invitations are answered, thanks are given, plates are filled, bread and cup are received: the world is gathered in communion.

But in practice, how can we possibly be one people, one body, one worshipping voice, one eucharistic, thanks-giving world, when we are separated by lines in the sand? How can our oneness be anything more than a theory when our Sundays are clearly designated by color, by gender, by income, by age, by choice, by party? When our congregations are best known by our witty church-sign slogans and our preaching-to-the-choir sermon topics?

And how can we seek unity for the world, when we can’t even imagine it in our own neighborhoods?

How can we find holy communion, when we can’t find anything in common?

The poetry of Lamentations grieves over the destruction Jerusalem: the lonely city, weeping in the night, comfortless and friendless (1:1-2). She is in exile, with no place to rest, overtaken by her enemies. (1:3-4) She suffers, while they prosper. (1:5) She is broken by the constant reminder of her pains. (3:19-20)

And yet she has hope.

No demographic, no platform, no clever signage or snappy sermon title can embody the communion of Christ: the sharing of the bread of sorrows, and the cup of promise. Sorrow and promise; lament and hope. Around the table, we listen to the laments rising up around us, around the world, and in each other’s hearts. We share in the brokenness of Christ’s own body, and taste the tears of those who still cannot find comfort. We drink the cup of promise, and feel it burning the backs of our throats, a constant reminder of blood still poured out in Jesus’ name. We voice the words of great thanksgiving, so even those who cannot yet speak hope can sense its presence.

We share lament and hope–not only in theory–but in the symbol of the feast, where lament and hope make the Body out of us. Only shared lament and hope can bring connection out of isolation. Only shared lament and hope can stretch across divides. Only shared lament and hope can give birth to community.

Around this table–in spite of all that would divide us, the drawn-in lines and made-up slogans that keep us exiled from each other, in spite of enemies who rejoice in suffering and grow rich on pain–around this table, sharing lament and hope, we can be one.
 

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: Ruth Clowater

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing woman in ministry. This week we are thrilled to introduce Ruth Clowater.

Ruth, tell us about your calling and your ministry journey?
I grew up in a Christian home in rural New Jersey. My parents set the bar really high in demonstrating service above self and had the best marriage that I have ever seen. Nonetheless, I went off and did my own thing, only coming back to the church in my late twenties. Within days of doing so, however, I sensed that God would call me into ministry, somewhere in Latin America, and at the time I assumed it would be Mexico.

In 1990 I participated in a short-term mission trip to Mexico City. Worship services, Bible studies, street evangelism, visiting the sick, we did it all. It was a fantastic experience, but at the same time, it felt a bit orchestrated. After several days of getting to know our hosts, the pastor, and other leaders began to speak openly (one needs to be able to speak the language to really communicate with the locals), revealing their frustrations with “orders from above” not corresponding to the “reality of below.” This even included congregational singing. They were prohibited, they said, from anything but traditional hymns. I love the theological depth of the hymns, but we have no business dictating such a thing, and they were mockingly referred to as the “bautristes,” a play on the words bautista (Baptist) and triste (sad) because of it. Yet they were afraid not to follow orders because they felt they needed the support of the mission board.

The Mexico City trip was transformational, as it affirmed my sense of calling, but in other ways, it was an eye-opener as to how we Americans and our ways of doing things might not always be the best. Our testimony rings hollow when we spend the day with desperate people living in precarios (slums) where crime, unemployment, and drugs run rampant, but then we head off to a prestigious high-rise hotel each night. The experience caused me to re-think the idea of joining a missionary-sending organization. I did not want to be in a position of having to execute a plan concocted by committee in an office back home; rather, I wanted to be truly free to “follow the Lamb.” This way I would know that if I achieve a measure of success it is because of God, and if I fail, I will have no one to blame but myself. There have been negative consequences to that decision, but I do not regret it.

Meanwhile, for the twenty years following, I pursued a career in business for two decades. Then, when the company I worked for in Charlottesville, VA closed its doors, I had some time on my hands and decided to take a course or two at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. One thing led to another, and I eventually emerged with the Master of Divinity degree, but during my time there, I was inspired by my professors to “think outside the box” (Pam Durso once commented in an email to me that I live outside the box).

I had made a couple of mission trips to Costa Rica, never once thinking about doing ministry there. I still had Mexico on my mind. Then, during my third visit, I had a little down time. I was sitting along the Caribbean shore. The sea was calm, and I was hypnotized by the rhythmic sound of the waves gently caressing the coral reef. I was not really thinking about anything in particular. Suddenly, it was as if one of those waves had lifted itself up, and came crashing over my head. “I want you here,” a voice in my head seemed to say. And that little sensation put the wheels in motion for me to resign my job, temporarily take a hiatus from seminary, sell my house, and move to Costa Rica. I knew nothing other than that God wanted me there; I had no idea of what I would be doing, or with whom, but I knew I was supposed to go. I have always been a tither, and in this instance I took the tithe from the sale of my home, figuring that it was enough money for me to live on for a year, if I am frugal enough, while hoping that God would clarify things before I ran out of money.

Tell us about SIGA Ministry and your work in Costa Rica.
SIGA Ministry Partners is a non-profit which I founded in 2004. We call ourselves “ministers of encouragement,” because that is what we try to do, in whatever we become involved in, which ranges from children’s education, micro-business, eco-farming, and theological education. I live in a tropical rainforest in Costa Rica, very near the border with Nicaragua, and do ministry in both countries. In fact, even in Costa Rica most of my neighbors are Nicaraguan, either undocumented immigrants or first-generation descendants.

As an ordained minister, I guess I just assumed I would be involved in starting a church, but over time I realized that the best way to grow what I call our “megachurch project” is to encourage and equip local people to serve in their communities. The little villages in the jungle sometimes number fifty inhabitants, sometimes more, and there are often are tiny churches struggling to survive in their midst. Pastors, both men and women, struggle to serve but with very little support, either academically, spiritually or financially. So I try to encourage them. I have helped some of them start home-based micro businesses so they can feed their families, and I also offer seminars in theological studies such as hermeneutics and homiletics. We have recently partnered with some of them by initiating community-based library projects, which will help children and youth, but also increase the stature of the church within the community. By my calculations, if we can help 20 small churches thrive and grow (I currently work with about 15 pastors), we will have the potential to directly reach 2,000 people or more—a “megachurch!”

We also built, about eight years ago, a learning center in the village where I live. This is a result of having volunteered in the local school in my village, where I realized that the children had no books—no textbooks, no reading books, nothing. How can a child learn to read without books? So we built a library, a computer lab, and a classroom where courses in sewing, arts and crafts, small engine repair, cheese making, masonry construction, and other topics have been offered to the community. I also, on an as-needed basis, tutor children who are struggling in school, as well as high-school students preparing for the national exams which they must pass in order to receive a diploma. When I came here ten years ago, we never had one child successfully graduate from high school. Now there have been several, and some are even in college.

About six years ago, our work expanded into Nicaragua. I think possibly this will be the most important work that God calls us to. Our focus is a community of Native Americans known as the Rama Nation, an ethnic group of fewer than 4,000 people. In the community where we serve, there are about 300 of them. I do not publish many details, because Nicaragua is not a politically stable country, and the “powers that be” could deny us access if word about what goes on up there gets out. The Rama are truly the poorest of the poor, and they have been dislocated from their ancestral lands. They struggle to survive as a distinct, cultural and ethnic indigenous people, and if things don’t turn around for them, I fear they will become extinct in a generation or so. Anyway, after the Nicaraguan Civil War died down, several of them moved to the village where they are now. They consider themselves to be Moravian but have no church of their own. They are English-speaking (thanks to missionaries in the 1800s who persuaded them to abandon their native tongue) and do not feel included by the local churches, most of which are mestizo, Spanish-speaking congregations. So we are helping them build a church of their own, and I am providing one-on-one theological education to their future pastor. This project is extensive, and I anticipate it will take several more years to complete (if ever). But as far as I can see, it truly is the only sign of hope for these people. The problems are far greater than our ministry—or anyone else for that matter—can resolve. But we have hope and faith in a God that is bigger than the problem.

What have been the greatest joys you have encountered in ministry?
I feel that I am a lot closer to God here, out in the jungle, than I ever have felt back home. My spirituality has grown exponentially. The needs are great, but I find joy in seeing the small yet significant ways that God is working, not only through us and in us, but around us. It is humbling, but it is also a relief to realize that success does not depend on me.

Of course, it is a joy to see some of the youth succeed at school and move forward to go to college and realize their dreams for a better future. I hope that the example they have set for their peers will encourage more of them to dream. The culture here is “Christianized,” saturated with God talk and religious programming on radio and TV. However, what seems to be lacking is for people understand that they are important to God, that their lives have meaning and purpose. That is why I don’t see much need for evangelists as much as encouragers. People not to tell them how things ought to be done, or even what to believe, but to walk alongside and live among them. That is what we try to do, although honestly, I could go for a few more frills. Frills are nice!

There have been a few times when I have wondered if the sacrifice is worth it, but they have been very few, and God has pulled me back from the abyss of discouragement on more than one occasion in humorous ways. I remember one time, after a rather extended and stressful process of trying to put textbooks into about 10 local schools (just imagine trying to learn without textbooks!). There was an attempt by a local organization to divert funds that our ministry had raised for the schools in our region. After a long day fighting with powerful people who could not seem to understand how I would dare to question them, I was driving home. I remember mumbling, “It’s not worth it! All of this frustration is for what?” The road trip is a two-hour grueling journey over very primitive roads, through farmland and jungle, just to travel maybe twenty miles. More times than not, you never meet a soul on the way. But then, I see two little girls, sitting on a boulder alongside the road—where there was no house in sight—with a giant, colorful, “princess” book in their hands, reading, smiling, oblivious to the car passing in front of them. Where did they come from? Did I really just see that? It made no sense for them to be there. But I accepted that as my answer to that question I had just muttered, “all of this frustration is for what?”

Your eye needs to be trained, or you need to be hungry, I think so that you can be attuned to these many little “signs and wonders” that God gives us. If you are too preoccupied with getting too many things done, you might miss the little girls by the roadside.

What have been the greatest challenges?
Contrary to what some might think, it really was not a big shock to leave behind the material trappings of home, because they can do just that—trap you. Here we lack certain creature comforts that most people in the US take for granted, things like air conditioning or hot water or a dishwasher or automatic washing machine. There are no convenience stores nearby, and going to the supermarket is a major production that takes up an entire day. Coming from a culture where I can order things online and have them delivered to my home, and adapting to a culture where it can be an all-day affair just to make a bank deposit, I continue to be frustrated when my time is wasted doing simple things.

Long term, I think that extreme isolation has been one of my biggest challenges. While I have never felt a need to be surrounded by people, sometimes you just want to pick up a phone and talk to somebody. When I first got here, I had no phone, no car, and no means to communicate with family. That was lonely indeed. It has gotten a little better in recent years, but we still are without Internet, which is my main means for communicating with the outside world. As a ministry that depends upon financial donations from individuals and churches (remembering we are not part of a mission organization), getting the word out is important, as people tend to forget that you exist unless you keep reminding them and they see you are doing something. Of course, it affects our ability to raise funds, but God has been faithful in keeping us afloat.

Learning to Be Still by Ashley Robinson

Sharyn Dowd (left) and Darci Rodenhi (right) led sessions at the Fall 2016 BWIM of Georgia retreat.

Sharyn Dowd (left) and Darci Jaret (right) led sessions at the Fall 2016 BWIM of Georgia retreat.

I recently spent a lovely Saturday at the Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia retreat, Be Still. During the retreat, led by Darci Jaret and Sharyn Dowd, we created a collaborative art project, listened to each other’s stories, spent time in stillness, and shared communion. There was also time for actual quiet and stillness where we were given the option to engage in any activity that fostered stillness within us. While many people chose to walk a labyrinth or take short hikes, I took the assignment to “be still” quite literally. I napped. And it wasn’t a gentle cat nap. It was the kind of nap where I woke up thinking I had been kidnapped and time warped back to 1990, because the cabin that I was napping in looked an awful lot like the cabins from my many trips to GA camp.

After I realized where I was, I quickly smoothed out my bedhead and ran out the cabin door toward the cafeteria. It took every second of my stumbly walk to lunch for me to fully wake up. I still had pillow marks on my face as people were recounting how they spent their quiet hour walking the labyrinth and hiking and reading and doing very non-nap things. As people began to share how they spent their time, one thing kept running through my tired mind, “Wow. I am really bad at being still.” I realize that I have a pretty bad habit of flip-flopping between being fully on and completely off. While that kind of rhythm might seem normal (aren’t we all either awake or asleep?), the truth is that this kind of polarized lifestyle leaves little opportunity to be in communion with God. This quote, that was included as one of our readings for the weekend, perfectly sums up my aversion to stillness:

“Sometimes we do all the talking because we are afraid that God won’t. Or, conversely, that God will. Either way, staying preoccupied with our own words seems a safer bet than opening ourselves up either to God’s silence or God’s speech, both of which have the power to undo us.” – Barbara Brown Taylor

Since that weekend, I have been trying to sort out why it is so colossally difficult for me to be still. As an introvert, I enjoy quiet time, and time by myself or with my close circle. But, being quiet is not necessarily the same as being still and making room for God’s voice. Even the quiet moments in my life are spent closely tethered to something that keeps my mind very busy.

Part of my disdain for stillness lies in the fact that I do not enjoy letting go.  It’s hard for me to believe that the world will, probably  maybe always keep turning when I loosen my grip on the axis of my life. The majority of my trepidation toward stillness, though, comes from the fear of the unknown whispers that lie in the stillness. Barbara Brown Taylor is right, stillness has the power to undo me. After hearing the stories of other women at the BWIM of Georgia retreat share that they, too, don’t come by stillness very easily, I realized that I’m not alone.  I was reminded by the women gathered for the BWIM of Georgia retreat, that there is a community that will help put me back together when I come undone.

Thanks be to God.
 

Ashley Robinson is the executive assistant at Baptist Women in Ministry. She is also a first-year student in the Women’s Leadership Initiative at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.

Self-Inflicted Wounds: 1 Timothy 6:10

Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15
Amos 6:1a, 4-71
Tim. 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

“… in their eagerness to be rich, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” (1 Tim. 6:10b)

From the prophets to the epistles, the Bible is studded with teachings–and warnings–about wealth.

There are teachings about poverty, too; exhortations that care for the poor is caring for Jesus himself, and reminders that in the coming Kingdom the poor will be blessed. Why and how we provide for the poor is a constant conviction and an ongoing conversation for people of faith. But our convictions and conversations about wealth seem to be fewer and further between.

Maybe it’s easier to pay attention to those who need help from us than to realize that we ourselves are in trouble. We cannot help living in a culture of commodity and capital; but can we help the ways that culture impacts our personal faith, our communities’ choices, and even our nation’s priorities?

Can we spend Monday through Friday pursuing dreams of financial independence and material luxury, then gather on Sundays to contemplate the dangers of wealth?

Can our churches build costly sanctuaries and build up healthy bank accounts, then claim to be invested only in lives of faithful discipleship?

Can we wish for our country be a “Christian nation” and at the same time be the wealthiest nation in the world at any cost?

1 Timothy contains one of the most often misquoted texts in the Bible: it’s not money but rather “the love of money” that is “the root of all kinds of evil.” (1 Tim. 6:10a) Love is the root that feeds us, runs through our veins and stimulates our growth. The object of our love, whatever it is, becomes part of us, the source that keeps us alive and flourishing, and the flavor that imbues our fruits.

When we love something–our family, our friends, our church, our Lord–we savor it. We spend time and energy enjoying and enriching it. We kneel to serve it, following where it leads. We yearn for more of it. We give ourselves to it. Our love for it runs through our veins.

The love of money is the root of evils that are so common we barely even notice them anymore.

The love of money is the root of evils that we’ve invited into our homes, welcomed into our churches, and nominated to run our country. When the love for money runs through our veins, then it will run us, because when we love money, we savor it. We give it our time and energy, our service, our commitment. We strive to increase it, to enrich ourselves, and finally we give ourselves over to it. In our eagerness to be rich, we will follow where it leads: “away from the faith,” and down a dangerous path where we have only ourselves to blame for the painful wounds we inflict, and for the scars that disfigure our communities, our country, and our souls.
 

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: Beth McConnell

Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Beth McConnell.

Beth, tell us about your ministry journey. What is your current ministry position?
I am currently serving as the pastor of Kathwood Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina. Prior to this position, I had the opportunity to serve wonderful congregations as children and youth minister, associate pastor, and minister for adult education and missions.

Tell us about your journey transitioning from Church Staff to Pastor.
A few years ago, I was asked how I was adjusting to being a pastor. Great question—because it allowed me to articulate a common ground among most women in ministry I know. My answer to that question was that I have been “pastoring” for thirty years. I have pastored children and youth, parents and grandparents, parishioners in the hospital, singles and college students, missions groups, retreatants, deacons, Sunday School teachers, brides and grooms, and families in grief. I guess you could say I pastored them in small, segmented groups and now I pastor them all together! I suppose the most significant difference is that now I am recognized as a pastor. There is a richness our congregations miss when the ministerial staff is divided as Pastor and Staff. There is a limitation placed upon church staff when they are not recognized as serving in pastoral roles. Hierarchy is a false empowerment that sets a standard more Western in nature than Christ-like. So the transition from church staff to pastor has several layers of definition, but by-in-large it has been a delightful time for me to celebrate the fullness of congregational ministry.

What have been your greatest joys in life and ministry? I find joy in relationships. Certainly, that is how God created us—to be relational with God and with others. There is joy when I recognize that I am in God’s presence as I stand by the ocean, scan the vastness, hear the rushing water, feel the salty breeze. There is joy when I am sharing a good holiday meal with my family, watch my daughter blossom into a young woman, explore a new town or city with my husband. There is joy when I talk with a church member about sacred moments in their lives, lead worship with a congregation who loves one another and God, offer educational opportunities for individuals to grow in their understanding of God, provide opportunities for people to slow down and recognize God in their midst. Joy is a daily occurrence—when I allow it to be.

How do you spend time in self-care? The older I grow, the more I understand the complexity of one’s health. Physical, spiritual, emotional, mental become more interconnected than not. Some of our health is within our control or at least manageable. Some not so much. So let me simply say what is renewing for me: spending time by the ocean, a babbling brook, a cool breeze; studying the Bible, hearing the faith journeys of the saints, being included in the holy moments of peoples’ lives; getting lost in a good book, floating along on the notes of a good song, being caught up in the drama of a movie or play; vacationing outside cell phone coverage, visiting family and friends, and having an exceptional meal with a friend.

A Sabbatical Update: The Art of Decluttering

Two months.

I am two months into my three-month sabbatical. On July 15, I walked away from my duties at Baptist Women in Ministry. (I also am taking a sabbatical from my adjunct teaching position at McAfee School of Theology and my associate minister position at Cornerstone Church). Two months seems like a long, long time, but it has passed quickly and has been filled with lots of reading, sleeping late, bird watching, and walking on the beach and in the park.

Sabbatical for me has been about rest and renewal. I have made time and space for rest. And I have made time and space for spiritual, emotional, physical, and intellectual renewal. For those who know me well, they will tell you that I have workaholic, perfectionist tendencies. Practicing Sabbath has never been among my strengths, so this time has been a learning experience! Actually, it has been learning experiences! Just yesterday I learned something–or really re-learned something that I already knew to be true.

In addition to rest and renewal, one of my sabbatical goals was to declutter my life . . . AND my house. My family has lived in Atlanta for nine years now–the longest Keith and I have lived anywhere in our twenty-nine years of married life. The downside of our not making a recent move is that my house is now filled with lots of stuff. My closets are full; my drawers are full; my under-the-bed storage space is full; my bonus room is full.

So yesterday was the day . . . the day I scheduled to clean up the bonus room. The bonus room is where all the papers in my life have found a home. Papers live in the roll-top desk that belonged to my grandfather. Papers live in the room’s closet. Papers live in pretty baskets. Papers are hidden carefully behind a beautiful wooden room divider. Before yesterday if you walked into my bonus room, you would not know that it contained a chaotic mess: nine years worth of tax returns, stacks of medical records, all my children’s school papers, copies of my favorite journal articles, and hundreds of photos. Over the years, I have worked hard to make the chaos of papers look good. I am a master at using a really big roll-top desk and nice baskets to disguise a haphazard collection of papers.

Yesterday, however, was the day of truth. I emptied every drawer and basket. I emptied the closet. I looked at every piece of paper. I sorted them and stacked them and re-sorted them. I threw away the ones I knew I would never need–many of which I had no memories of ever seeing before. I filled three entire garbage bags with the rejects. I now have empty drawers in my roll-top desk and two banker boxes filled with the papers that are important. I did discover some treasures along the way, but that is another blog for later.

Decluttering my bonus room took ALL DAY. Eight long hours. Last night I wrote an angry note to myself.clutter

Decluttering is hard work. I spent eight hours in one room. No walks in the sunshine. No taking a nap. No reading an interesting book. Just sitting and sorting and filing and filling garbage bags. It was an experience that I hope not to repeat anytime soon. And it made me mad–mad at myself for letting the situation get so out of hand, mad that I hadn’t taken better care of important papers, mad that I hadn’t taken time years ago to throw away that newsletter from the electric company, mad that I somehow thought I should keep ten copies of my church’s anniversary bulletin.

I learned, re-learned really, that simplifying, tidying up, decluttering–our homes AND our lives–is hard work. We can keep the clutter and delay the work. And we can even make the clutter look good if we own enough pretty baskets and have a big enough roll-top desk. Or we can do the daily work of sorting important from unimportant, keeping that which is needed and throwing away that which is incidental.

I probably don’t need to connect the dots. You get the idea.

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

Isn’t It Ironic? by Nikki Finkelstein-Blair

Sunday, September 18, 2016
Proper 20

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Amos 8:4-7
1 Tim. 2:1-7
Luke 16:1-13

“Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been restored?” Jer. 8:22

If God is loving, why do people suffer?

It is a difficult question, and perhaps even a good question. But it isn’t a new question. Even the prophet Jeremiah asked it, out of the depths of his own pain as he observed the suffering of the people he loved. Jeremiah believed in the Physician, believed in the Balm. But if the doctor is in, if the healing medicines are available, then we can surely expect treatment. We can surely expect caring hands and wise heads to provide what help they can.

This “Why?” is answerless. Still. Still, after all these centuries, when the hearts of prophets, preachers, and people are broken for the endless suffering of the world, there is no answer to the Why. Like Jeremiah, we cling to our belief in the Physician, and we cling to our belief in the Balm, but still we run dry of tears. We cannot weep enough for every shocking photograph, every intolerable video, every bloodied child, every ravaged land. We know there is a Healer; so why are the people still awaiting wholeness?

The life of faith is a life of irony. The prophet experienced it: the terrible irony of knowing there is a Healer who, inexplicably, allows pain to persist. There is a Salve that is going to waste, leaving the wounded weeping.

But there is also an irony that is expressed in our deepest creeds and our dearest hymns. It’s the irony of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), praising God for the not-yets; in present-tense language, Mary sings what will be when God’s kingdom uprights the world. The lowly are raised! The hungry are filled! The powerful are brought down! The irony of faith allows us to celebrate what is true in time’s fullness, if not in this moment.

Instead of surviving the silence after “Why,” instead of surrendering to the heartbreak of the question itself, we can muster all our faith-filled irony, and sing out the assertion:

“There is a balm in Gilead
to make the wounded whole!
There is a balm in Gilead
to heal the sin-sick soul!”

We can sing out our confession of the One who brings healing, in time’s fullness, if not in this moment. We can sing out our gratitude for the comfort of relief, in time’s fullness, if not in this moment. We can weep for this moment, and yearn for time’s fullness, and rejoice as if that time were now.
 

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: Reba Cobb

Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce one of the founding mothers of Baptist Women in Ministry, Reba Cobb. 

Reba, tell us about your ministry journey.
Having grown up in the deep south I was steeped in layers of faith. My grandparents helped build Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Rosa, Alabama. It sits on a hill by the Little Warrior River, surrounded by pine trees. I was baptized in that river while the congregation stood on the banks and sang “Shall we gather at the river?”
From this environment, at age fourteen, I experienced the call of God on my life. It was a specific call: to prepare myself for foreign missions. From my vantage point in rural Alabama, I didn’t know women could be called to anything else. Thus began the journey of my ministry.
Pursuing this divine nudge involved college, summer missions, and seminary in Louisville. Arriving at the seminary, I met a woman who felt she had been called to be a pastor, a preaching minister. Seriously? The rest of us women just wanted to be missionaries, youth ministers, and maybe, children’s ministers. One lone woman was in the M.Div. track at Southern Seminary when I arrived in 1965: one. The idea of ordination never occurred to me, but as my horizons expanded, my view of ministry expanded along with my call. Everything was falling into place, including marriage and family, but all of these rich, diverse experiences had challenged my childhood theology, sometimes painfully so.
How did you become involved in Baptist Women in Ministry?
We could not have known in the sixties that the women’s movement of the twentieth century was about to alter gender roles for all of society and shake the foundations of the church, especially those of the Southern Baptist Convention. Therein grew my passion for Christian Justice–and it was personal.
My role as an activist in the Baptist women’s movement began in the early 1980’s when I was minister of younger youth at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. As one of the founding mothers of Baptist Women in Ministry, I was devoted to women ministers becoming all that God had called them to be. In 1983, I was on the original steering committee of BWIM as well as co-founder and coordinator of the Center for Women in Ministry, where we published our newsletter, Folio, for six years.
When and why did you move from local church work?
Upon leaving Crescent Hill Baptist in 1986, I could not find a church position in Louisville, even though I searched vigorously. If I were going to be employed, I reasoned, I would need to move to a secular setting. That’s when I entered the local political arena as campaign manager of a candidate for state attorney general. After his victory, I ran for State Representative to the General Assembly of Kentucky. Politics, I had read, was social work with power. That would be my ministry. While I lost the race, I could not have imagined the future before me.
During the next two decades, I was privileged to serve as executive director of the Louisville Library Foundation, where I ran the campaign for a taxing district for the library. I was president of the Center for Women and Families, providing social services to battered women and victims of rape; executive director of Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, where I led the interfaith efforts for Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims; and resource coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, overseeing program coordinators, finance, and communications.
Through the years my calling had expanded from foreign missions to managing four non-profits, running for public office, raising two sons and now enjoying two grandsons, becoming a civic activist, serving on numerous boards and commissions for the mayor and state attorney general. Not to mention Baptist work: serving two local churches, midwiving Baptist women in ministry, serving on the original steering committee for CBF, serving on the boards of Georgetown College, Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond, and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
What were your greatest joys?
One of my greatest joys is that thirty years after graduation from seminary I was ordained to the Gospel Ministry by Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The ordination was an outward demonstration of an inward call and it was a significant high point of my life. By this time I had transcended my eighth grade understanding of God and had become a woman my fourteen-year-old self would hardly recognize. Yet, she is still with me!
Perhaps the ministry I loved the most was in the local church. In 2005 I finally had the opportunity to work in a church in Louisville! Broadway Baptist Church called me as associate pastor for spiritual formation. This job used all my gifts and skills and allowed me to love the people through pastoral care, worship planning, and leadership, as well as organizing and leading small groups and Sunday school. It was a joy. I retired from Broadway in 2012 at the age of sixty-nine.
Tell us about your retirement.
After such an active life, what I wanted in retirement was “more being and less doing.” These days I lead a more contemplative life, where I continue to flourish and grow, reading authors like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, and Mary Oliver. Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward was a tutorial for me on moving into the second half of life. The first half of life is about building our container, he writes, and the second half is about the contents. I am working on the contents! And this, dear friends, is the richest part of the journey.