New Year’s Resolutions and Sabbatical Goals: A Confession of Failure (and a Success or Two) by Pam Durso

I have never been one to make New Year’s resolutions—at least not any time in recent history. As a teenage girl and when I was in my early twenties, I often did participate in the tradition. It never ended well. I have a nice stack of diaries and journals that I wrote in for six or seven days in early January before abandoning them. Over the years I have given away my New Year’s resolution collection of devotional books, exercise equipment, and dieting books. By the time I was thirty, I had given up on making resolutions. I resolved to make no more resolutions.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of taking a three-month sabbatical leave from Baptist Women in Ministry. I prepared and planned BWIM for my time away, made sure my areas of leadership would be covered. I submitted a grant proposal and received funds that allowed me to travel some and to be in places to rest and renew. And yes . . . I set some goals for my sabbatical. I made resolutions!

The overarching goal was to declutter my life. I wanted time to sort through and discard the unnecessary piles of books, papers, and stuff that had taken over my house. I wanted time to sort through and discard the unnecessary stuff that had taken over my calendar. But most of all I wanted time to sort through and discard the unnecessary stuff that had taken over my heart and my mind—the stuff that brought more darkness than light, the stuff that took my attention away from what is most important, the stuff that seemed to overwhelm me.

Decluttering, as it turns out, is hard work and requires patience. I scheduled days during my sabbatical to clean out closets, drawers, and cabinets. I bagged up loads of stuff—some went to the garbage. Some went to Goodwill. And that big pile of papers that had my kid’s school certificates, medical records, tax information, sweet cards and notes, and appliance warranties is no longer just one big stack hidden in my bonus room. Those papers are neatly filed, labeled, and boxed. My house is now . . . well not completely clutter-free, but it is significantly better, and my heart and my closets are now happier.

I must confess, however, that decluttering my calendar was an abysmal failure. Within minutes of returning to the office after my sabbatical, I was already caught up in the fury of an overcommitted, over-packed schedule. In those first two weeks back, I flew on three airplanes, preached three sermons, attended three ordinations, presented a university lecture, led a Task Force meeting, and hosted an evening on missions at my church. Needless to say, all the resting and relaxing on my sabbatical were a soon forgotten way of life. I am still a work in process when it comes to decluttering my calendar.

My greatest sabbatical decluttering goal, however, was to find a way to clear out the overwhelming darkness that had crept into my life. The last few years have been filled with so much pain in our world—mass shootings, racial violence, terrorism, earthquakes, and fires, and all of that sadness has weighed heavy and rightly on my heart. Ministers can’t shy away from the hurts of the world or distance themselves from the needs of others. Yet somehow I found myself living in a state of despair, totally overwhelmed to the point of being paralyzed and hopeless. As every new crisis occurred, I found myself tied to Facebook, reading the posts and blogs of friends, and I found myself taking on their anxieties and fears. When I added their despair to my own, I was surrounded by darkness. So much darkness. That darkness became so heavy that I knew I had to make some changes.

In August, a few weeks into my sabbatical, I took the Facebook app off my phone and off my IPad. I spent the next nine weeks mostly Facebook free. I no longer did a quick check to see the latest photos or read the newest articles and blogs. I cut myself off almost entirely from what had been a constant in my life. It was rather painful at first—to not know the latest scoop, to not keep up with every thought, every experience, and every world event as seen through the eyes of my friends. But it was also a glorious relief. I was free to process world happenings on my own—by reading news stories, doing my own research, talking to my closest friends. I was free to spend time reading books rather than Facebook articles. I was free from what had become a dark companion for me.

Once I returned to work after my sabbatical, I did return to Facebook—because I love seeing photos of my friend’s children, my student’s ordinations and weddings, and even those cute puppies! I also love being able to keep with the lives of those I love—even if the news is sad or painful. I want to know whose mother has died or who has been diagnosed with cancer. That kind of news turns me to prayer and to compassion, and I need those connections with friends. But I discovered that I can catch up on all the Facebook news of the day in about 15-20 minutes. Social media does not need to be my constant companion. The app has not returned to my phone, and honestly, reigning in my use of Facebook turned out to be the best decluttering gift from my sabbatical.

Our lives are so filled with clutter these days—our minds are overloaded with “stuff.” My prayer for us all as we move into this new year is that we will invest in some serious decluttering. May we shed those things that paralyze us and keep us from living out our call to compassion. May we delete from our lives those things that steal our hope. May instead the joy and contentment that God gives become our constant companion.

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

Isaiah 63:7-8: What We Take With Us

January 1, 2017
First Sunday After Christmas

Isaiah 63:7-9
Psalm 148
Hebrews 2:10-18
Matthew 2:13-23

“I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,
because of all that the Lord has done for us…
that he has shown them according to his mercy,
according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” (Isaiah 63:7-8)

Earlier this fall, our neck of the woods–actually, our neck of the coast of South Carolina–took a hit from Hurricane Matthew. As meteorologists made predictions about the path and strength of the storm, our governor (and, perhaps more importantly, our Commanding Officer!) issued a mandatory evacuation order. With one evening’s notice, my husband and a neighbor helped each other put the heavy plywood storm shutters on the windows of our houses. As our home got progressively more cave-like, I roamed from room to room, packing first suitcases of clothes and toiletries, then trying to pick and choose the few family heirlooms, the precious memories, that we simply had to take along. On that night before our departure, I found myself feeling heartbroken, frozen in trying to decide what I could walk away from.

As we enter in to a New Year, I’m still asking myself this question. Instead of looking ahead to plan a resolution for 2017, I’m thinking back over the past year, looking around my “house” at all the stuff I’ve been holding on to, and considering what I need to carry forward. There’s plenty I can let go of without a second thought: the guilt of all the “shoulds” I didn’t do and all the “shouldn’ts” that I did. There are things I can say grace over, and then release from my grasp: the friendships for a season, the phases in my children’s lives.

Finally, there are the things I dare not leave behind: unexpected opportunities that confirmed and expanded my sense of calling. Undeserved mercies that inspired me to pay it forward. Unanswered questions that forced open my narrow opinions.

In all these ways and countless more, God “lifted [us] up and carried [us] all the days of old” (Is. 63:9b), through the year that is now behind us. We all have collections gathering dust, books unread, priceless souvenirs of places we’ve lived and people we’ve loved. We all have heirlooms of God’s faithfulness, scrapbooks full of testimony. The stories of God’s gracious deeds and praiseworthy acts, “all that the Lord has done for us,” are our most precious gifts; we’ll pack them into our suitcases and carry them close, keep them with us wherever the days, months, years ahead may find us. Because the “abundance of God’s steadfast love” isn’t just a season or a phase; it is our past and our future. It is our last year, and it is our new life.

Even if we wanted to, we could never leave it behind.
 

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: Adalia Gutiérrez Lee

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are pleased to introduce Adalia Gutiérrez Lee.

Adalia, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I was born in a Christian home. My father, Rolando Gutiérrez was born and served as a pastor in Nicaragua and later served in Mexico. He inspired me, as well as many others, to study seriously the disciplines of human knowledge, pastoral ministry, and theology in order to better serve humanity following the example of Jesus. My mother, Edna Lee, was born in Mexico but had Chinese roots. She served in the Baptist work in Mexico and in different ministries with the Baptist World Alliance. Her ministry left unforgettable memories of training believers, mutual respect, and genuine solidarity. Their example served as a determining foundation for my life.

I earned my medical degree from the National University of Mexico (UNAM) with the clear purpose in mind to use it for Christian service. From the very beginning, I focused on the responsibility of transforming my medical knowledge into forms of human sensitivity that spoke of my faith. Later, I accepted God’s call to study theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia where I had the opportunity to receive a theological education with excellent professors.

While studying at Eastern, I met the love of my life, Ray Schellinger, who is from the United States, and with whom I have shared a common ministry that has strengthened our lives. God has used International Ministries of the American Baptist Churches to incorporate us in missionary work, first in Nicaragua and then in Mexico. Ray and I worked in our respective ministries, economic development and health in Nicaragua. There I was able to combine my pastoral and medical skills to work with marginalized rural communities.

In 2001, we accepted the challenge to work in Tijuana, Mexico to carry out together with the Baptist women working there an urgent and much needed ministry against domestic violence. We formed a program, Deborah’s House, which serves and helps many women and their families to rebuild their lives in the midst of society. Deborah’s House, both the program and facilities, offers a creative and important faith-based model against domestic violence for today’s world.

God has given me two beautiful daughters, Michelle and Melissa. Michelle graduated last year with a degree in Social Work and Psychology from Eastern University. Melissa is in her third year of college at the University of California, Riverside. She is studying Environmental Engineering. Both girls have been enthusiastic and faithful supporting our mission work.

My whole family has felt called to support me in a new ministry I started in April 2015 as Area Director for Iberoamerica and the Caribbean for International Ministries where God has placed me to serve.

Ray has also accepted the challenge to become a Global servant for issues of domestic violence, immigration and refugees around the world.

We now live in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, where we work and continue to travel. My ministry has expanded and my journey continues as I try to be a friend and a pastor to my colleagues and partners in mission.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry? Working with people

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry? Working with people

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting out in ministry? Always keep a humble and youthful attitude. Be willing to learn, and be willing to change.

Reminders of Sisterhood by Pam Durso

mary-and-elizabethFive miles from my house is the Sisters of Visitation monastery, a cloistered community with only a handful of nuns living and working together. On the front lawn of the monastery is an inspiring statue of Mary and Elizabeth. The two women are portrayed as reaching out to one another, sharing a warm embrace, and telling the good news of their pregnancies. I love this visual–two women coming together to celebrate, encourage, nurture, and care for one another. In this season of Advent, the statue is for me a beautiful reminder of the sisterhood shared by women in ministry.

Earlier this year I spent a week with the sisters at the Sacred Heart Monastery in Cullman, Alabama. I watched and listened as they shared life every day, working and praying, laughing and talking. The sisters in Cullman were for me a beautiful reminder of the sisterhood shared by women in ministry.

In the past few months, since returning from my sabbatical, I have pondered on this idea of sisterhood, and I decided it would become my theme for 2017. I hope to explore more fully what it means for us as women called and gifted by God to be sisters, and I hope to help us build a closer sisterhood–one that will provide community and conversation, encouragement and support for Baptist sisters who are serving God through ministry.

In these last few days before Christmas, my prayer is that we will find ways to share the light and love of Christ with one another, that we will seek to lift up those who have stumbled, comfort those who are hurting, cry with those who are grieving, embrace those who are lonely, and rejoice with those who are happy–after all, isn’t that what it means to be sisters and brothers to one another.

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

 

 

Living the Nativity: Peace

Sunday, December 25
NATIVITY SUNDAY

Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14 (15-20)

“For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace…” (Isaiah 9:6-7a)

I have always loved writing about Advent. The anticipation embedded in the season is delicious; the yearning toward Messiah is deep, and the spiral of time is a fascinating journey through the “then,” the “now,” and the “not yet” all at once. But Christmas–Nativity–is a different story. Literally. Christmas is nostalgic, as we ugly-cry over our “happy golden days of yore” one too many times. (Or maybe that’s just me!) Christmas is also stress-laden, haunted by ghosts of Christmas Past demanding we redeem their failures and meet their unreachable expectations. Christmas is grungy, especially if we think too hard about the reality of giving birth in a stable, but Christmas is also romantically shined up, with perfect poinsettias around the pulpit, and spotless children singing hymns by candlelight, “no crying they make.”

Christmas is hard to write about! What more can we possibly say about the Messiah’s birth than has been said by all the prophets and gospel-writers and apostles, not to mention the theologians and hymn-lyricists and poets? But at the same time, how can we ever stop talking about the utter wonder of God-With-Us, the Word made flesh, the Prince of Peace? Christmas itself is both an abundance and an impossibility. The truth is too big, and our language too small; yet surely we must speak, sing, write, preach it as often as possible.

Perhaps we speakers, singers, writers, preachers, pray-ers, storytellers can revel in the very gift of Christmas. Christmas, by its nature, is the immeasurable gathered up into the minute: universal authority swaddled in a tiny child. The gift of eternal truth wrapped up in fleeting words. Tiny, temporal words like light, like joy, like peace. Small, simple words that contain the full weight of our hopes every time we stare into the darkness, in every moment we mourn, with every agony of war. Small, simple words that cannot be overstated, and will never be worn out no matter how often we speak and sing and pray them.

We add our voices to the prophets, apostles, and poets celebrating the nostalgia of Christmas, relieving its anxieties, cringing at its realities, and even enjoying its romance. However small our words, God is With Us–at Christmas as always–bringing the Holy One to birth, and in him shining light, provoking joy, and delivering endless peace.
 

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: Jayne Davis

Every week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. Today we are excited to introduce Jayne Davis!

Jayne, tell us about your ministry journey. 
I never really thought about going in to the ministry. Even when God’s calling began, I responded that it was a crazy idea. Politely, of course. I was a Russian major with plans to work abroad in foreign service. But during my senior year of college, I became increasingly concerned about the growing numbers of homeless men and women living on the streets around me. After a particularly powerful incident on the street one day, my life took a different turn. I joined the staff of the Coalition for the Homeless in New York City. After I married my husband, for several years we lived and worked with forty homeless men and women on the Lower East Side of Manhattan until we moved to my husband’s home state of North Carolina.

I continued in homeless ministry here in Wilmington, North Carolina, having negotiated with God that I would stay close to ministry, as long as it wasn’t becoming a pastor. I thought that was fair. Eventually, I became the executive director of a local non-profit, but God’s call to vocational ministry became more persistent. With three small children, and one soon to be on the way, I relented and made plans to go to divinity school, but I gave God three conditions for my enrollment–I would never be a Baptist. I would never work in a local church. And I would never work in Christian education.

For over fifteen years now I have been the minister of spiritual formation and, more recently, associate pastor–discipleship at First Baptist Church in Wilmington, North Carolina. The moral of this story is never tell God what you will never do. God has a vivid imagination and a strange sense of humor in guiding the path of our journey. Who else would think to call a girl from the Bronx to be a Baptist preacher in the Bible belt?

What are some of the greatest challenges of church ministry?
So much of ministry is scattering seeds. We create the environment for God’s Spirit to move and to work but we don’t get to control when and how that happens. There can be many days when we don’t get to see the fruits of our labor. But we persist believing that ministry is about showing up, being present and making God known—one act or encounter or conversation at a time. We rarely get to say, “It is finished.” But we know that we are part of a bigger story; that what we do contributes to God’s kingdom work in ways that we may never realize or understand.

What have been the greatest joys in ministry?
I love the ‘Ah ha’ moments of faith when we get to be a part of putting some pieces of the puzzle together or of helping someone to recognize God’s presence in their story. I love the privilege of walking alongside of people during some of life’s most challenging moments. I love sitting on the platform in worship and seeing all of the faces in front of me, knowing the joys and the sorrows of many and being humbled by their faith and inspired by their courage.

Who (or what) have been sources of encouragement for you as you have lived out your calling?
I don’t know how to begin to name all of the people who have encouraged me in living out my calling. Some have inspired me over a lifetime with their affirmation and some have had a profound impact in a single encounter, a timely word, an open door. I think what they all have in common is that they saw things in me that I didn’t or wouldn’t notice in myself and they gave voice to them in an affirmation of giftedness, an encouragement to persevere, a challenge of an opportunity or critique where I didn’t give my best.

Because of them, I try to speak life to others, noticing their gifts, stretching their imagination, challenging them to see more of who God may be calling them to be. Brief encounters with people I don’t know very well or in long-term relationships, Jesus did both. I think it is one of the things I love most about the coaching that I do, particularly in discipleship coaching and in coaching clergy. So much of life can drown out the persistent, ongoing call of God in our lives. But we get to help other to listen and to hear. What a privilege.

Hearing Love in the Silence by Pam Durso

It is that time of year again . . . time to pull out the old tattered costumes, gather all the children, and organize the Christmas pageant. The girl with the sweetest smile is again chosen to be Mary. The tallest boy is assigned the role of Joseph. The little ones are made angels. The rowdy ones are asked to be shepherds, and this year, since there is a shortage of boys, a couple of girls will be the wise men. At the first practice, every child receives a script with their speaking parts highlighted. Every child, that is, except the one playing Joseph.

Joseph has no script to study for he speaks no words in the nativity story. None. He is the silent partner in the adventure, the one who remained quiet in the face of life-changing news.

In fact, if you keep reading Joseph’s story, you will discover that he never, ever says a word. Not when the angel comes to him to announce the news of Jesus coming, not when he accompanies Mary to Bethlehem, not when Jesus is born or when shepherds and wise men show up. Throughout the entire birth narrative Joseph remains silent. And he keeps on remaining silent when he and Mary take their new baby to the Temple, and they encounter Simeon and Anna. Joseph is quiet during his family’s forced transition from Bethlehem to Egypt, and even twelve years later, when the couples loses their son during their pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Joseph speaks no words when they finally find the boy Jesus.

Joseph has a pretty major role in the early years of Jesus’ life story, and yet, he does not have a speaking part. The gospel writers do not record any of his words. Yet somehow in the midst of his quietness, I think if we listen closely we can hear love. See if you don’t hear love too.

When Mary’s fiancé learns that she is pregnant, surely he felt humiliated, embarrassed, angry. What man wouldn’t feel betrayed, and yet, Joseph responds in the most compassionate way he can. He can’t bring himself to forgive what she has done and go on with the marriage, but he chooses to handle the situation as quietly as possible.

When the angel of the Lord comes to him in a dream, Joseph listens to the explanation and to the instructions, and he wakes up ready to act. He chooses obedience. Joseph quickly hurries over to Mary’s house and assures her that he won’t abandon her. He honors his commitment.

On the journey to Bethlehem, Joseph cares for his greatly pregnant wife as best he can. He helps her as they walk. He encourages her to keep on going when she is tired. And when they finally arrive, he secures a place for them to stay, one that was not ideal but was safe and warm.

Eight days after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary take their sweet baby to Jerusalem. They present Jesus as required by law and by love, and they offer the required sacrifices, dedicating this newborn son to God. They encounter two elderly saints who recognize Jesus as the one sent by God to save the world. And Joseph stands next to Mary, amazed by these declarations.

st-joseph-iconWhen the angel of the Lord comes back to Joseph again, he wakes his small family in the night, packs up their possessions, and begin the journey to safe territory. The family lives in Egypt until once again an angel shows up for Joseph, telling him that it is time to go home to Nazareth.

Finally, when Jesus comes of age, Joseph and Mary take their son to the temple for the Passover Festival. We know the story. Jesus wanders off. He gets swept into a theological conversation with several teachers and loses track of time. When Jesus is finally found by his parents, they are shocked by the kind of conversation he is having. They are amazed by the depth of his understanding. But even so, Mary scolds him for worrying them. Throughout this encounter, Joseph stays quiet.

In their gospels, Matthew and Luke record no words spoken by Joseph. We have no idea about what he might have been thinking or saying. All we have is a record of his actions, actions which speak clearly and loudly of love–love for his God, love for Mary, and love for Jesus. There is love in Joseph’s silence.

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

Update on New Overtime Regulations by Jennifer Hawks

In August, I wrote an article summarizing the Fair Labor Standards Act and how new regulations expanding overtime protections for the American workforce might affect churches. These new regulations were set to go into effect on December 1, 2016.

Since writing my article, two lawsuits were filed to block the implementation of these regulations. A lawsuit filed by 21 states successfully obtained an emergency nationwide injunction on November 22, 2016, thus preventing the new regulations from taking effect on December 1, 2016.

The U.S. Department of Labor is continuing its efforts to implement the new overtime regulations by appealing the judge’s injunction. Although they requested an expedited appeal schedule, it is unlikely that the case will be resolved prior to President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017. If the appeal is not concluded by then, a Trump administration could choose to continue the appeal or to withdraw it. If the Trump administration withdraws the appeal, the injunction remains intact and the federal overtime regulations unchanged.

Many churches reviewed their employee job descriptions, pay rates, and workloads in anticipation of the new regulations. If your church did not, consider doing so in preparation for the next budget cycle. Even though these specific regulations may never be implemented, it remains a good stewardship practice for all churches to periodically review employee job descriptions, pay rates, and workloads.
 

Jennifer Hawks is the Associate General Counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. She is a graduate of Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas, and Mississippi bars.

Living the Advent: Receive

Sunday, Dec. 18, Advent 4

Isaiah 7:10-16
Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
Romans 1:1-7
Matthew 1:18-25

“… an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid…” (Matthew 1:20)

This is the season of wishes… and wish lists. With our inboxes overflowing with advertising and our mailboxes jam-packed with catalogues, we practice the Christmas tradition of gift-giving that started with the Magi. From Black Friday onward, the Christmas season is a parade of possibilities for everyone on your shopping list; great gift ideas and great bargains are everywhere. Those trendsetting Wise Men might not recognize the mania they started, but in our best moments of gift giving, we still seek to bring joy to the hearts of those we cherish.

But if Christmas is about giving, perhaps Advent is about receiving.

In Advent, we receive dreams. Joseph dreamed of a messenger from God proclaiming the fulfillment of the community’s hopes for a Messiah. The dreams of a father-to-be and dreams of the people of God were intertwined and would be inseparably met. Advent has us looking ahead, yearning, dreaming of the reign of hope, peace, joy, and love we know is coming. Advent has us imagining, discovering our own role in that future.

In Advent, we receive instructions. Joseph didn’t write off his dream as mere fantasy, the tricks of the subconscious mind. Instead, he trusted the messenger and trusted the message. He saw the way forward for his troubled family; he understood how his own actions would impact not only Mary, and not only the Child, but the ongoing life of his people. Advent has us listening to the callings that move us forward, the call to righteous–if unexpected and even unpopular–redemptive action in a reactive and retributive world.

In Advent, we receive promises. Christmas is coming! Messiah is coming, the Kingdom is coming. New life is coming, God is coming to be with us always. The promise comes to us through prophet and through gospel and through star and through dream: Emmanuel is coming, to save his people from their sins. To save us from our sins. Advent has us reaching out to touch this intangible gift and believing in this invisible sign, for the substance of our hopes and the evidence of the things we cannot see are at the very heart of God’s promise of salvation.

This week we’re winding down our gift-giving preparations for this season, taping down the final corners of wrapping paper, tying the last few bows. May we find moments of silence in the nights ahead, when we can look, and listen, and receive the gifts of Advent. May we look, and listen, and receive the gift of our dreams.
 

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: Jillian Andrzejewski

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

Jillian, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
I have served two congregations in my career. My first congregation was Chamberlayne Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia. I served as their children and missions minister for four years while I was in seminary at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. I had a big broad title and I did all kinds of things. Besides doing things for the children’s ministry and mission projects, the pastor let me preach, serve communion, accompany him on pastoral visits, and write the pastor’s newsletter article. This position was almost like a four-year internship and I learned all about the church. It was an invaluable experience. I am currently serving my second congregation, Mooreland Baptist Church in North Garden, Virginia. We are located just south of Charlottesville, Virginia. I am currently serving as their pastor and I have been here five years. This is a rural, family-sized congregation in a small community. I am solo pastoring and it has been an incredible journey.

What has brought you the most joy in ministry?
There are few things that have brought me joy in ministry and I cannot pick just one. Pastoral Care is one of the joys that I have experienced since becoming a pastor. Since I serve a small congregation I usually get to know multiple generations of the same family. When a crisis comes, sometimes I know the family so much that taking care of them is like taking care of my own family. It is truly an honor to stand with people in the sacred spaces of life and I get to do that with families that I know very well. I also enjoy being creative with our worship services at Mooreland. This Advent season we are using some new readings and we are continuing with a new tradition of placing strips of cloth in a handmade manger. This symbolizes our own hearts as we prepare ourselves for the birth of Christ. Seeing my congregation finding new ways of engaging the Christmas story has been very rewarding.

What are the greatest challenges you have encountered along the way?
One of the greatest challenges I have faced is the steep learning curve I experienced when I first became a solo pastor. There is so much that you don’t know and you don’t know that until you become a pastor. You realize that your little bag of tricks is going to run out and continuing education is a must. You also realize that you don’t have all the answers to all the questions and at first that made me very anxious. Letting go of the idea that I was supposed to have all the answers was a process, but a healthy one. It allowed me to involved other people in decision-making processes and the creative things that I wanted to do. Doing ministry together with lay people is more fruitful and fun in the long run.

What do you wish you had known when you were brand new to ministry?
I wish I had known that I would feel more settled in three to four years. The first four years at a congregation are very hard. At first, you are in the honeymoon phase and then whatever conflict that hadn’t been settled comes around. You are faced with difficult issues and in those first years, I wondered if ministry was always like this. It’s not. It can settle out if you deal with the initial conflict in healthy ways. Conflict and crises will always come and go, but I believe that if you set a good tone with the initial issues then you will have a good base of trust to work from. When the next conflict or issue inevitably comes around, the lay people will trust you to handle it well, because you’ve handled the other issues well. Set the best tone you can at the beginning, don’t give up easily, and work with people to get through issues. And with God’s hand, you can work with the church to set up a healthier dynamic. It takes years, but with God’s help it can be done.