An Undelivered Funeral Message by Stephanie Porter-Nichols

I’ve never wanted to officiate a funeral service so badly. I was devastated by the loss of my friend. I loved him, and he’d repeatedly asked me to officiate his funeral. Yet, I knew the call asking me to help mourners celebrate his life would not come. My friend was gay. I was a woman. Discrimination and legalistic thinking would win the day.

Steve and I met more than a decade ago. I’d ventured into his retail store that catered to women, helping them feel their best with clothing, makeup, and careful attention. On our first encounter, I was fairly certain that Steve was a failure at his business mission, because after a few words of greeting, he called the outfit I was wearing hideous and unflattering. But, before I could walk out the door never to return, he talked me into trying on a few selections of his choosing.

In the dressing room, I could feel my blood pressure rising. As I looked in the mirror, I felt my fury grow. It was utterly infuriating; he was right! I glowered. He laughed. Then, he made me laugh, and he made the sale.

For the next decade plus Steve brought laughter into my life on a regular basis—even on my grumpiest days. He also bolstered my self-confidence. From our first meeting, he encouraged me to believe I was worthy of time, care, and attention.
Quickly, our relationship blossomed to friendship. We’d talk about anything and everything, but Steve was slow to discuss his sexual identity. I suspected he was afraid of judgment from the Baptist pastor, but he also struggled with his faith and he wanted to talk. The trust came and so did long discussions. He’d grown up Catholic. He wanted to be part of a church family, but he’d heard—and experienced—more than one horror story. I could assure him of God’s love and that many church families would welcome him, but I couldn’t promise him that there wouldn’t be more horror.

During our conversations, Steve often asked me to officiate his funeral service when the time came. “You’re the only pastor who knows the real me,” he said on more than one occasion. I always responded that if I was still around, I’d be privileged to do so. We were about the same age; I didn’t imagine that day would come so soon.

In the last year of his life, Steve fell in love. He told me one day that his partner had grown up in a religious tradition that didn’t believe in women in ministry—not at all. I asked Steve if he saw the irony in a gay man believing that God couldn’t work through a woman. Steve laughed in agreement, but he was unable to sway his partner’s beliefs.

A few months later Steve was dead, and I was not invited to officiate his funeral. I have often thought about what I might have said. Of course, I’d talk about his gift for gab and laughter. His desire to bring out the best in his customers—really everyone—even when stark honesty was required. A healthy funeral message would also acknowledge his brokenness, including his very real tendency to encourage others to care for themselves while neglecting his health. The message couldn’t overlook his lifelong struggle with the tension between his profound desire to grow in his relationship with a loving God and the religion he’d been taught as a child and beyond that told him that he was living a sin.

I might share that one day Steve caught me off guard with a hug and the gift of the words: I love you. Afterward, we’d always end our encounters with such embraces.

Perhaps I would have told mourners that the God I know wouldn’t have been caught off guard and would delightedly embrace any of God’s children with a love far greater than we could imagine.

With that said, a question of Paul’s would have been worth re-asking: Who will or can separate us from the love of Christ? And then, Paul’s adamant response: No one or no thing. Not “death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Now, I am certain that Steve knows God’s love was and is always available to him. In the vein of Steve’s stark honesty, it’s the rest of us that I worry about. God’s love can overcome anything that stands in its way if we remember another of Paul’s lessons: That love is available to each and every one of us: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

If we can put our trust in that Love and bear witness to it with our deeds and voices, discrimination, horror stories and other byproducts of evil won’t win.

Stephanie Porter-Nichols is the associate pastor of Marion Baptist Church in Marion, Virginia.

Living the Advent: Prepare

Isaiah 11:1-10
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Romans 15:4-13
Matthew 3:1-12

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'” (Matt. 3:3)

When my grandparents retired, they moved to a mobile home on a big plot of wooded land in the Missouri Ozarks. We’d visit them twice a year, summertime and Christmastime, and for us suburban kids, going for walks in the woods was the nearest thing to “wilderness” we ever experienced. Behind their house, a trail led through the woods to a rural highway, and we followed that trail as if we were Lewis and Clark, exploring it every time as if it were the first time. In the summer we took walking sticks in case we disturbed any snakes (we never did); in the winter, we wondered what would happen if we got lost among the snowy trees (we never did).

We never did, because someone long before us had nailed bright-colored plastic bottle caps to the trunks of trees every fifteen or twenty yards along the trail. When we went out into that wilderness, we knew what to look for among the rustling greens of summer or in the icy white of winter: bright spots of red, orange, and yellow, reassuring us that we were on the right path, and leading us forward.

Someone we didn’t know had prepared that way for us; someone who didn’t know three kids would come from the city a couple of times a year and explore, imagine, wander, and wonder their way down that wilderness trail and back home again.

John came into the wilderness, recruiting people to prepare the Lord’s way, that path that reaches from God to us. This is still the fundamental calling of the people of God: straighten up the tangled trail, place guiding markers on the path. God comes to us through the wild, and the road connecting us to the Holy One is dotted with the bright bottlecaps of God’s faithfulness. We navigate the way together, helping each other see the way forward, pointing out the markers our companions may overlook. The way of the Lord has been prepared. It is marked with generations of baptisms and communions, with hymns and psalms, with empty tombs and with starlit mangers. Reassuring us, leading us forward.

The voice in the wilderness is still calling us to venture into uncharted territory, tasking us with clearing the trail and marking the way. The signs we leave behind will guide the explorers, imaginers, wanderers, and wonderers who come after us seeking God’s faithfulness along this same rugged way. In the bright bits of plastic, these seemingly insignificant glimpses of grace, they’ll find reassurance: in shared tears, quiet presence, welcoming arms, generous blessing, joy-filled celebration. In the company of this family, siblings traipsing through the woods, they’ll join us on the way of the Lord. The way 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: Alicia Zorzoli

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

Alicia, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I have been a professor at the Baptist Seminary in Argentina for twelve years in the areas of preaching and Christian journalism. God has given me a very specific passion for women´s ministries. I have been doing that mainly in Latin America as a Bible teacher, conference speaker, writer, translator, and editor of women´s books and magazines.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
During my service as the secretary-treasurer of the Baptist World Alliance Women´s Department, I had the opportunity to travel throughout the world and meet amazing women who taught me that if you use your creativity and the little resources you have, God can do great things through you. Another source of joy is that for the past eight years I have been a faculty member at the Latina Leadership Institute, which empowers Latina Christian Leaders to reach their full potential. It is a great experience to see our students lead Christian ministries and secular organizations and to also work to obtain higher degrees in education in order to be able to influence others.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
One challenge is helping young Latina women take advantage of the resources and opportunities they have available. Many times they just don´t know what is out there for them. Another challenge is to help Latina women of all ages realize their value in God´s eyes.

What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
Once you are sure where God is leading you, don´t let anybody deviate from it.
Keep your eyes open, be alert and intentional in looking for opportunities to reach your full potential.
Do your best in performing the small tasks. Many times they are the door to greater ones.

When Thankfulness Doesn’t Come Easy by Pam Durso

I don’t know about you, but Thanksgiving snuck up on me. A few weeks ago the checkout person at Kroger said to me, “Are you ready for Thanksgiving?” Her question shocked me, and I didn’t even know what to say. Was it already time for Thanksgiving? How did this happen? It seems like it should still be summer. The time has passed too fast this year.

Yet I have to confess that my hesitancy about Thanksgiving is most likely more than a calendar issue. 2016 has not been particularly kind to me. I started the year with months and months of unexplained pain. I finally had surgery in June. The medical bills began arriving in early July. Then in mid-July, in the space of two days, my good friend, Genie and my grandmother died. Add to all this the daily news in the past few weeks about the chaos in our nation. 2016 has not been a kind year.

Honestly, thankfulness is not coming easy to me this year.

I preached yesterday at my church. Yes, I know . . . a preacher who isn’t very thankful got the preaching assignment for Thanksgiving Sunday. Seems like that happens to me a lot–I keep getting the preaching assignments on those weeks when I am struggling most. I am not sure if it is my pastor . . . or if it is God who is conspiring against me.

But early last week, I started preparing for my sermon. I sat and read the lectionary passages for Thanksgiving Sunday. And there it was: Psalm 46.”God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

God, in the beautiful “you should already know this by now” way that God works in my life, reminded me that I indeed have MUCH for which to give thanks. I have been blessed. I am a recipient of God’s good grace AND even in hard times, even in seasons of struggle, there is much for which I should be thankful.

This week the devotion book I use also had a reflection on Psalm 46 . . . but it offered a slightly different translation of verse one: “God is for us a refuge and strength, a helper close at hand, in time of distress.” When I read this different translation–it changed everything, it calmed my anxiety, it gave me courage, it adjusted my perspective.

God is FOR us.

God is FOR us a refuge.

God is FOR us strength.

In times of trouble, in times of distress, in seasons of worry and anxiety, in days of hardship and struggle, God is FOR us. God is FOR all of us a refuge. God provides us with shelter during life’s storms. God gives us a safe place to take cover, a warm place to find embrace and love. God is FOR us a refuge.

God is FOR us strength. God gives us the ability to keep on walking, keep on moving, keep on breathing, even when life beats us down, when the world turns against us. It is God who give us the strength we need.

God is present, very present—when we are in trouble. God is a helper close at hand. God is always with us, always nearby. God never leaves us nor forsakes us. God is with us.

These past few weeks, in my state of unthankfulness and non-gratitude, in my days of anxiety and fear, I have needed help remembering that God is FOR me, that God is for ME a refuge and strength. I have needed reminders of that truth.

Early last week, I got a text from Robert, who serves as a deacon at my church. He knew I was struggling. We had talked at length about my anxieties, and a few days after our conversation, he texted me with encouraging words. We exchanged a couple more texts that morning—and I was reminded that I am not alone. I have my church, my lovely church members. And on those days when life seems too hard, too overwhelming, I have my church members to turn to. They are for me reminders that God is with me, that God never abandons me. God shows up for me through their kind words, their warm hugs, and their encouraging texts. We have EACH other—we are not alone. We serve as reminders to one another that we are loved and embraced by a powerful, compassionate, caring God.

Yesterday, in my sermon, I reminded my congregation that our calling as people of faith, our mission at Cornerstone Church is to lift each other up, to encourage one another, to pray for our brothers and sisters, and to point each other to God, and to remind each other that God is FOR us! God is FOR each of us.

And that, my friends, I have discovered is what this season of THANKSGIVING is all about for me. It is not about the things I have or the possessions I have collected. It is not about the stuff I own. Thanksgiving for me . . . for all of us who are believers in the Lord Jesus Christ is a time to give thanks for what we know to be true: God is FOR us! 

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

Living the Advent: Watch

Sunday, Nov. 27: ADVENT 1

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

“Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming.” (Matt. 24:42)

By the time you’re mumble-mumble-years-old, like I am, “keeping awake” is not a good thing. Generally, it means you’ve had caffeine too close to bedtime (like, anytime after 2 p.m.), or you are catatonic at your computer screen, clicking through endless Pinterest images and grumbling over trollish Facebook comments. Maybe you’ve stayed up too late watching just one more DVR’ed episode of your current binge show, or maybe you’re just laying there in the dark with your eyes unblinking and your mind spinning.

At this time of year, though, I remember perfectly what it felt like to “keep awake” with excitement. When I was a kid we spent many Christmases visiting my grandparents, and my memories are so clear it’s like watching it in a movie: well after my parents had put us firmly to bed on Christmas Eve, I’d pad across the room ever-so-quietly in my footie pajamas. I’d lift aside the yellowed plastic roll-up window shade (very carefully–those things were unpredictable!), and I’d stare out at the sky, sure that if I were patient enough, and if I watched carefully enough, I would see the red glow of Rudolph’s nose coasting among the stars.

As Advent begins, we turn our attention to the coming–once again–of God’s greatest gift to us, God’s own Self, Jesus, born as one of us to show us how to live in this world. Jesus, born thousands of years ago and a world away. Jesus, born again in the heart of every believer. If our anticipation of Santa Claus once kept us awake with the promise of a new bike, a new doll, a new toy, how much more should our anticipation of the Messiah keep us awake? How much more should our eyes open wide, gazing out into the dark, sure that we will glimpse Jesus, returning to bring to birth a new season, a new earth, a new life?

Now we tell our own kids the same thing that my parents told us: “Santa can’t come until you’re asleep!” But secretly I’m glad that they keep awake, too excited to drop off easily in the days before Christmas. Hopefully some day they’ll remember what it felt like, and they’ll realize that there’s another Visitor worth waiting and watching for, who has already brought gifts beyond imagining, and whose arrival will inspire us–over and over again–to wonder, to love, and to praise.
 

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: Pamela Kellar

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

Pamela, tell us about your church and your  call to pastor at Antioch.
In September 2016, I was designated as pastor-elect of Antioch Missionary Baptist Church of Nashville, Tennessee. It is an honor to serve this congregation. My father, the Reverend Marcel Kellar (pastor, preacher, teacher, and author) is the organizing pastor. I serve as the second pastor of this church.

My service as pastor begins on December 1, 2016. Although the appointment itself was not a unanimous selection by the congregation, by God’s grace I received the full support of the congregation to serve as their pastor. My first love letter to the congregation was posted on Facebook. It is as follows:

My Beloved Antioch Family,

Today begins our journey as shepherd and flock. I am grateful to Pastor Emeritus Marcel Kellar for the most touching text (yes, the eighty-five-year-old can text) that he sent me, acknowledging that today was the day that he officially passed the staff to me to continue the vision God gave him to organize the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church. An extremely touching and moving moment for me was when he said that I was his pastor.

Even more so I am grateful to God and I thank him for the foundation laid through the efforts work and service of our pastor of twenty-five years which anchors us in successfully accomplishing the new opportunities that God has positioned Antioch for Kingdom building. My beloved sheep we are equipped with the tools to successfully move our Kingdom building efforts to heights that we cannot even dream. We thank God for his dedication to his call and love for God and the church.

My first day as your shepherd will always be remembered for we began as one body in Christ in corporate prayer this morning on our prayer line. I thank God for your prayers and ask that you will continue to pray for me and our church as we move forward to make Disciples of Christ. I am excited about this new journey and look forward to serving you as your new pastor.

So, I leave you with this: “Let’s get busy building the Kingdom of God at Antioch!

Tell us about your ministry journey and other ministry roles you have had in the past?
I am a second-generation minister of the gospel. I previously served under the leadership of my father at the Antioch Missionary Baptist Church as part of the ministerial staff, minister of music, and co-chair of the ministry of Christian education.

I began my career in ministry as Christian education specialist for the R. B. Boyd Publishing Corporation, where I designed programs of study for the National Baptist Sunday School Congress and curriculum for the distance learning program portion of the Congress. While at the publishing board, I designed Christian education workshops in the areas of music, Vacation Bible School, women’s ministry, and creative arts ministry.

I created the National Association for Creative Arts Ministries (NAFCAM®) based in Nashville, Tennessee. I am the owner of Clef and Notes Music and a member of “Preachers 3” a Christian vocal group whose specialty is non-traditional genres of sacred music.

In addition, I am a freelance songwriter of children’s Christian music and have recorded and published more than fifty tunes through Clef and Notes Music and R. H. Boyd Publishing. I was a member of the inaugural faculty at W. O. Smith School of Music in the capacity of instructor of piano and flute; and worked as producer/technical director of Black Entertainment Television Networks #1 rated program – Bobby Jones Gospel.

For more than thirty-five years, I was a performer, television producer, and music director. I earned a bachelor’s degree in music as a triple-disciplined major (classical piano, flute, and voice) from Tennessee State University and am currently pursuing a Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in Worship and Christian Education at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. I am also an assistant director for the National Consortium for Black Women in Ministry, Nashville, Tennessee chapter.

From 1999-2000, I served as a member of the faculty at American Baptist College in Nashville, Tennessee and taught as an adjunct professor of Church Music, the director of chapel, and director of the church music performance program. I previously served as a freelance writer for the music devotional quarterly published at Urban Ministries, Inc. (Chicago, Illinois) and as research assistant and transcriber to my father, Marcel Kellar who was an affiliate of the National Council of Churches (New York, New York) Committee of the Uniform Series International Bible Lessons for Christian Teaching.

What have been the greatest challenges and greatest joys you have faced in your ministry journey? The greatest challenge was to accept the call. Growing up as a preacher’s kid I quickly learned that ministry isn’t always pretty or fun. It is hard, and leadership is harder. Knowing what that looked like having a front row seat, I struggled and wrestled with accepting ministry as a life calling. The greatest joy was being licensed and ordained by my father and brother. The second greatest joy was being called to pastor the church that my father organized and installed by my brother, friends, and sisters in ministry the National Consortium of Black Women in Ministry.

What advice would you give to a young woman who is discerning a call to ministry?

“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-13)

Know your calling to be true. Know that it is what God has called you to do. God is with you at all times. God has called you to stand up, to build up, and to grow up.

Oceans of Grief by Jaime Fitzgerald

Grief is like an ocean.

It has been a few months since I first heard this ocean analogy spoken during an internship orientation on pastoral care where a hospice chaplain painted a picture of the unknown of ocean currents. On the surface, the ocean may look calm and relaxing but underneath, the current may be churning with great power. The consistent rhythm of the ocean has the power to ease anxiety one moment and then leave one lying on the sandy beach from the force of a crashing wave in the very next moment.

As this ocean of grief analogy was dissected, my mind wandered to the Outer Banks of North Carolina where summer after summer my family vacationed. Hours and hours were spent on the beach and in the ocean laughing from sun up until sun down, only breaking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Wave jumping was a favorite pastime as my Dad would hold my hands and say “it’s OK, I’ve got you,” when my nervousness increased in the powerful waters. The waves would crash on the shore and we would wait for the next one to roll in. This rhythm continued for hours: rolling waves, holding hands, and affirmation that “all was okay.”

Grief is like an ocean.

Grief is unpredictable and there are times when the current is so strong that one cannot stand while the waves crash over and over and over until the feeling of being unable to breathe overwhelms. Sometimes the ocean of grief seems so dark and deep and scary that it feels as though the pain will never cease. Grief often feels lonely and unbearable. But, what if we took the time to get into the messiness of the ocean, holding tightly to the hands of loved ones while we said, “It’s okay, I’ve got you.” What if we held each other up throughout the chaos and the unknown? What if we became comfortable enough to sit on the shore and bask in the pain of loss as the waves tossed and turned in front of us?

My father died several months ago following a short illness, and, at times, my ocean of grief has brought a flood of emotions that were paralyzing. There have been moments where I felt I was being tossed and turned in a current of chaos with no way out. But along this journey, people have held my hands tightly and whispered, “It’s okay, I’ve got you,” while the flood of chaos slowly transitioned into the calming rhythm of waves rolling onto the shore.

Let us be wave jumpers. Let us be people who are not afraid to get waist deep in the ocean of grief to be fully present. Let us be people who can grieve hand in hand with our brothers and sisters and create safe space as we say with our words and our lives, “It’s okay, I’ve got you.”

Jaime Fitzgerald is a student at Gardner Webb University School of Divinity. She is the minister to youth at First Baptist Church, Tryon, North Carolina.

Giving Thanks: To the One Who Holds Us Together

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 46
Col. 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-42

“In him (Christ) all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers–all things have been created through him and for him. He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” (Col. 1:16-17)

For the time between Election Day and Thanksgiving Day, there may be no more appropriate holy day than Reign of Christ Sunday. And there may be no more reassuring scripture–no better song to keep on our lips–than this hymn from the letter to the Colossians.

In case we’ve forgotten–either in our excitement or in our disappointment–Colossians reminds us that our true Leader shares his own strength with us, and by Christ’s own power we are “prepared to endure everything with patience.” (1:11) The old joke, of course, is that one should never pray for patience, but maybe it’s one of those things that goes without saying. In Christ, we need not suffer through the lesson of patience; we can receive it, and we can give thanks!

Colossians reminds us that our true Leader shaped creation out of chaos, and that Christ is still at work bringing reconciliation and peace. (1:20) In Christ, we need not suffer through the dramas and discord swirling around us; we can be reconcilers, we can be peacemakers, and we can give thanks!

Colossians reminds us that our true Leader was established before the darkness and light were ever distinguished, and Christ is still at work rescuing us from darkness, bringing us into the family so we can share in the inheritance of light. (1:13-14) In Christ, we need not suffer through the anxieties of the dark; we can walk in the light, and we can give thanks!

Colossians reminds us that our true Leader was established before the oceans and lands were pushed apart, and Christ is still at work pulling us toward each other, bringing us into unity, holding us together. (1:17) In Christ, we need not suffer through the splintering of our communities; we are gathered together, and we can give thanks!

In Christ, our true Leader, all things are gathered together. Power is gathered into patience. Creation is gathered into order. Time is gathered into eternity. And we are gathered into a people, a family; we are held together as beneficiaries of Christ. And we can give thanks!
 

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

Weary in Well Doing by Pam Durso

Alex voted for the first time this year. She came home from college one weekend, and on a bright, sunny Saturday afternoon, we drove to a early voting place near our house. She filled out her ballot. We took the obligatory selfie. I had a proud mama moment.

voting-dayMy nineteen-year-old, Korean-born, American-citizen daughter voted for the very first time for the president of the United States, AND she had the opportunity to vote for a woman candidate. And I too finally had the opportunity to cast my ballot for a woman. I have been waiting for thirty-six years for the chance! (I voted for the first time in 1980).

This past Tuesday, I drove an hour to the Georgia Tech campus, where Alex is a student. I picked her up early in the evening and brought her home so we could watch the election returns together. I wanted to be sitting next to her as we celebrated this historic election. It was a long, long night. Alex is good at math. She crunched numbers and figured out what was possible. She told me that it did not look good. But I refused to give up. Even when Alex said it was over. I refused to give up. I held on to hope. Then around 1:00 a.m., I finally conceded, and the weeping began. I cried and sobbed. Alex did not cry. She rarely does. She just got quieter and quieter. And my heart broke because now she knows. She now knows that the glass ceiling is really difficult to break. She now knows that the majority of her fellow citizens chose an unqualified, inexperienced male candidate rather than voting for a woman. Alex now knows that what I have told her all her life . . . that she can do anything, have any job, succeed in any venture . . . may not be true. She now knows that there are limits on what is possible for her. She now knows the hard and ugly reality of the gender bias that exists in our world.

Oh I am fully aware of the complexities that led to the election result on Tuesday night. I know about voter anger, Washington backlash, class and economic influences, and all the other stated reasons for the surprising outcome. I am fully aware of Hillary Clinton’s flaws and weaknesses. But I know gender bias. I am, after all, the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. I encounter gender bias every day. Every single day.

I encounter gender bias when I talk with pastor search committee members, who say to me, “She is our very best candidate. She is more than qualified than any of our male candidates. She is so gifted . . . BUT I am just not sure our church is ready for a woman pastor yet.” Or “Her sermon content is excellent, but her voice is a bit shrill, don’t you think? I am not sure our congregation could get used to her higher pitched voice.” Or “She just doesn’t really seem to want to be our pastor. She doesn’t have the confidence we are looking for in a pastor.” Or “She talks a lot about her collaborative leadership style, but we really want a pastor who will be a strong leader.” Or “She came across as overly confident and aggressive. We are worried that she will offend people with her strong leadership style.”

I encounter gender bias when I hear male pastors say, “Why does my children’s minister cry? She is so sensitive. Can you tell her to stop with the crying?” Or “What do you women want from me? I have a woman on my staff. Obviously, I support women in ministry. What more do you want?” (Yes. He said those exact words). Or “My youth minister wants to talk about maternity leave. If I had a male youth minister, I wouldn’t be having this problem.” Or “We had a woman associate pastor once. She was a disaster. We just can’t take the chance on calling another woman. It is too risky.”

I hear words like these every day. Every single day.

And I am weary. Very weary.

Gender bias is so ingrained in our culture, especially our Christian culture, that many people don’t even recognize it. They are good people, wonderful, loving, kindhearted folks. But truth be told, they have never confronted their own gender biases. They have no idea of their own deep-seated prejudices against women in leadership, against women in ministry.

On Wednesday morning, I drove my daughter back to her campus. We didn’t talk much. There were just no comforting words that I felt I could say with any integrity. But that was Wednesday. This is Friday. I have had a bit of time to mourn and to cry, to vent my anger, and to ponder.

So for you, Alex, hear these words. “There is a time for anger and sadness–take that time. Grieve this loss. But soon, very soon, you need to start thinking about how you will respond, how you will work for change. There is too much at stake for you to sit back and wait for change to happen. The world needs you. America needs you. We need your passion for equality and justice. We need your fiery commitment to to stand with those who are all too often labeled “other” and “less than.” We need your strong sense of what is good and right. We need your impatience with discrimination and intolerance. We need your voice. We need your courage. We need you.”

And these words are for you, my friends, for those of you who love the church, who love being Baptist, and who dream of a day when gender equality is a reality and when we can say with no reservations to our daughters “you can do anything in the church, you can be a pastor, a leader, a minister.” Hear these words: “There is too much at stake for you to sit back and wait for change to happen. Your church needs you. The Baptist community needs you. We need your passion for equality and justice. We need your fiery commitment to to stand with women who have been called and gifted for ministry. We need your strong sense of what is good and right. We need your impatience with discrimination and intolerance. We need your voice. We need your courage. We need you. Today, you are weary so get some rest. There is much work to do!”

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

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Karen Zimmerman

Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Karen Zimmerman.
 
Karen, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you are serving.
My ministry journey certainly has been surprising! I didn’t expect to be in congregational ministry. I started my career as a missionary-intern in Nepal and an elementary school music teacher in North Carolina. When I came to Atlanta to start seminary at McAfee School of Theology in 2012, I was part of a Fellowship that placed me at Peachtree Baptist Church to see what could develop with a ministry among our community’s many international residents. That part-time position bloomed and became an (almost) full-time position after graduation, and I am now the associate pastor for missions and community ministry at Peachtree. I am also the house manager at the Claire Gibbs Friendship Home, a residential ministry of Wieuca Road Baptist Church. We host families that have come to Atlanta for hospital treatment. While the patient is in the hospital their family can stay with us. Most of our residents have family members with traumatic brain injury or spinal cord injury, so a lot of my ministry there includes pastoral care and washing mountains of laundry!

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
By far, the greatest source of joy in my ministry has been in the relationships that I’ve built within my congregation. I am blessed to be surrounded by people from many cultures, most of whom understand friendship in deep and beautiful ways. I’m learning from them what it means to give hospitality and to receive hospitality, and most of my favorite ministry moments seem to involve delicious food! I am humbled to carry their stories, their grief, their celebrations, their anxieties. I feel most fulfilled when I can share life with members of my congregation, and I find my deepest joy in the community of believers.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
It’s been difficult to learn how to find my voice in congregational leadership, especially as our historic congregation struggles to understand what it means to live with the tension of diversity and change. Transitioning from seminary to full-time congregational care brings its own set of challenges, and one of my biggest frustrations is feeling isolated in ministry. I am learning how to reach out for help and I’m intentionally building relationships with other clergy and seeing a counselor, which have all been helpful ways to cope with the demands of ministry.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
In my intro to Pastoral Care class at McAfee with Dr. Walker-Barnes, I learned the importance of listening (and how to listen well!). When I’m frustrated, or confused, or overwhelmed, I try to remember to take a step back and simply to listen. Listen to what people are saying, and listen to what they’re not saying. I try to listen to my church as an organization, and to cultures and systems within the church. I do my best ministry when I’m listening well, and I’m grateful to have people who listen to me, too!