July 29th, 2014
When I am bewildered and the world is all noise and confusion around me, and I don’t know which way to go and am frightened, then be thou with me. Put thy hand on my shoulder, and let they strength invade my weakness and thy light burn the mist from my mind. Help me to step forward with faith in the way I should go.
July 22nd, 2014
A Benediction from Merianna Neely Harrelson
As you go from this place, go clothed in the assurance that you have been forgiven for all the things you have left undone. Go with the peace that you know the One who can make all things now. Go with the understanding that you are bound in the love of this community, and go with the passion to share that peace, understanding, and love with those around you. Amen.
July 16th, 2014
On Sunday mornings I often begin the Sunday School hour by walking the hallways to say good morning to our classes and to catch any visitors who may be lost in our maze. I end my hallway tour in our two-year-old Sunday School class where they always play with Playdough while waiting for everyone to arrive.
Upon entering the room, sometimes I’m offered Playdough “pizza,” sometimes I help get the Playdough unstuck from its container, sometimes I help mash down the cookie cutter shapes when little hands can’t quite get it flat enough. I’m always guaranteed smiles, laughs, and a couple of hugs or high fives.
In addition to the usual fun, this past week, I also got a lesson in the theology of hospitality from these two-year-olds.
There was a girl visiting the class with her grandmother, and she wasn’t sure about letting Grandma leave. One of the other two-year-old girls around the table had just made a pink dinosaur. She took the dinosaur over to the new girl , held it out and said, “pink dino?”, as if to offer it as a welcoming gift. Then, she wasn’t sure about sharing her only pink dinosaur, so she went back to the table and made another one to give to the little girl sitting on Grandma’s lap. The new girl’s eyes lit up when she confirmed that pink was her favorite color, and she began to play with the pink dinosaur.
This was a very sweet moment of innocence, invitation and hospitality. The adults in the room couldn’t fully comfort and reassure the young girl with their words, but who wouldn’t want a pink dinosaur when they are feeling afraid?
I spent the rest of the morning reflecting on how we adults could learn from our pre-school friends. These children weren’t worried about whether or not they would look silly if the new girl didn’t want to play with them. They weren’t worried about what the others in the room would think. They weren’t worried they might say or do the wrong thing and make a bad first impression. They saw her sitting to the side and used the simple resources they had to welcome her in their own two-year-old way.
I’m always intrigued (and saddened) by our tendency in the church to not know what to do when we see someone we don’t know in our sanctuaries or Sunday School classes. We are afraid we will offend them if they are actually long-time church members whose faces are unfamiliar to us. We are afraid they might take time away from catching up with our already-made friends who are a part of our weekly church gatherings. We are afraid we will say the wrong thing when we introduce ourselves. We sometimes believe that if they didn’t grow up in our community or church that they probably won’t fit in or do church the way we have always known. We often make these decisions about people before we even ask their names. And so often, we say nothing.
These two-year-olds challenged me to more fully understand what it means to come to Jesus like a little child—hospitality without hesitation. To extend a warm welcome of invitation to the person who is on the outside of the inner circle. To offer a friendly gesture—or a pink dinosaur—to someone who is feeling lonely or left out. To say “hello” to a visitor who isn’t sure what to expect.
What is your pink dinosaur?
How do you welcome those who may be new to your church or circle of friends?
Brittany Riddle is the Minister to Adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia.
July 15th, 2014
Help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go.
Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love.
Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine.
Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul.
Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus.
Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others.
–Mother Teresa’s daily prayer
July 13th, 2014
In this sanctuary fourteen years ago, when Anne was eighty years old, we affirmed the call that propelled her all of her days. We confirmed her life and ministry with a service of ordination. She never sought ordination. She never thought she needed it. She was right. She didn’t need it, but we did. We needed to rise up as one body and call her “Blessed.” We needed to be the church, to go public with our experience of knowing Anne, to bear witness to her life shimmering with the courage to speak, the power to love, and the imagination to dream. In a glorious moment we were united as the church of Jesus Christ, doing what we can do best…bless, bless one who blessed us.
It was a community of deep appreciation who gathered that day. We recognized that the Holy Stirrer-Upper of Hearts had ordained her call when she was a child. Certainly there was the life-long unfolding of what that call meant, as with anyone who keeps their ear close to the Divine Whisperer of Unfurling Revelation. Whether the call took her across the ocean to far-off Africa, or whether it took her to close-in places like this one, Anne never wavered or retired from her holy work of being pastor, teacher, mentor, and friend.
Anne’s life was luminous with what the Psalmist called the intersection of God-good life, where “steadfast love and faithfulness embraced, and righteousness and peace kissed.” (Psalm 85: 10) On her ordination day I called it the day of the Great Heart Opening. And so it is again. Our hearts are open to the full measure of our sadness for the loss of our beloved Anne. Our hearts are also stretched to their maximum capacity to speak our love and gratitude for the gift of such a breathtaking life. It is good to gather to be the church once again, to be the church who bears witness to a faithful life that challenged us, changed us, deepened us, and emboldened us.
There is really no easy explaining how a young girl from a Southern Baptist church in South Carolina got a fire lit in her for justice, love, and mercy. That fire flamed within her all her days. Her global understanding of the world began in that church, encouraged by missionaries and a community who prayed for people in every part of the world. Her sense of justice and fairness and “gospel-good-news-ness” took root from the rich soil of her family and church. Her sensitivities were heightened by living in a segregated South. Anne knew Jesus and followed him, the one whose mission was to bring good news to the poor, to offer release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind. Jesus’ mission became Anne’s mission.
When Anne went to the mission field with her husband, life-long partner, and champion, Lloyd, she discovered within her “a terrible superiority complex” as a missionary. She was humbled by her experience. “I thank God that I was permitted to have my pride crushed. The African people became my teachers.”
Anne became one of the early proponents of the idea that people from under-developed countries should send us missionaries. She said, “There are religious conferences in our own country with the theme “Lift High the Cross” but then complain about lacking cushions for the church pews.”
Anne had a great love for the church and as with many great loves, it can be accompanied with disappointments. She was an unwavering voice for the transformation of the soul of the church. She took us to the ancient story, the story of Christ crucified—and called us to be in solidarity and hope with the crucified people of the world, the ones she called “the harassed and helpless”.
After twenty-seven years on the mission field, Anne returned to the United States. An ever-expanding call emerged. She became a relentless advocate for economic justice, social justice, ecological justice, and justice for women worldwide.
Our Divine Master of Disguise has a fun sense of humor to have chosen Anne for so many daring missions. She was disguised as the ultimate sacrificial missionary with grey hair, a high voice, and modest dress. In Southern Baptist life, who could be more revered?
She was camouflaged as tame and reasonable. But then she would stand regally in a pulpit and say something wild. When Anne called for equity in pay for women missionaries, the air was sucked out of the room, and her camouflage was revealed. She suffered ostracism and ridicule from the very same community that had embraced her.
Then she got mixed up with the rowdy bunch of Southern Baptist women in ministry. Oh, heck, she didn’t just get mixed up with us. She was our leader!
Anne was convinced that women could be God’s agents in bringing new life to the church. She steadfastly refused to be banished to the roped-off land of “women’s concerns.” Anne was heard to say, “If you are a woman, or if you love a woman, or if you are born of a woman—what concerns women is your concern.”
As the first president of the newly formed group called Southern Baptist Women in Ministry, Anne was a wise counselor to us as well as a fierce advocate. But I can tell you that she expected a lot of us. She called women in ministry to task for any sign of our acquiescing to religious institutions that would try to name us and define us. She warned us that our longing for affirmation from the church could entangle us in the snares of accommodation and appeasement—to our peril and the church’s loss.
She insisted that we never forget that our efforts for parity in the church was crucial, but not the end of the work. With a position in leadership, the deep transformative work commenced. Anne wanted us to use our gifts, voice, positions, and authority to call the church to its true mission of living the radical love and justice of Christ for the damned of the earth.
Some days quite a few of us got tired. We were ready to give up any hope of equality for women in the church. Anne and several of us women found ourselves in meeting after meeting with men who were baffled by our insistence…good men, supportive men, clueless men. Sometimes we were called “shrill” or “strident.” But most of the time we were simply ignored and dismissed. Some would ask, “Don’t you women have anything else to talk about?” Sure we did. “If you’ll step aside, we can take it from here.”
I can remember one frustrating meeting in particular. Susan Lockwood said, “Come on, women, let’s go talk.” Lynda Weaver-Williams and I flanked Anne and headed to the women’s room. Over the restroom sinks, we did sink in despair. “Anne, they are never going to get it. Let’s just forget about this mess. We’re tired of trying.”
Anne acknowledged that we had every good reason to move on. But then she said something close to this, “But wait. Don’t leave yet. Yes, it is hard, but this is how history changes. We have to go through this trouble. It is not going to be a smooth process. We are adding our voices to the new growth of a fig tree that looks barren right now. But God will do something with it. So, we must keep on….not because it will be perfect, but because this tree has our name on it. And it needs our voices to help it bear fruit for future generations. The church is already forever changed by our voices. There is no going back now. When are we going to understand what this is all about? This is about the gospel. The story has been forgotten. Faith is not a comfort station. It is a radical re-envisioning of our lives together. It is claiming our God-given power to use our gifts for gospel. It will take us through the cross before we ever know resurrection.”
Some of Anne’s best sermons were begun in passionate proclamations in women’s rooms. And those of us who heard her were saved again…saved from despair…saved for hope.
When I had another sinking spell, I wrote to Anne. I told her that I was ready to leave the church. Anne responded in a letter with these words: “I could never have been about the concerns to which I’ve given my life these past years had I not had the time, space, and opportunity to come home to my true self—to find the hope, the courage, and strength to live out of my own center. So we don’t need to fret about words and recognition. We just need to celebrate that in spite of many choking restrictions we have found enough space to lift our voices. That’s much more than I had ever had before. It is not enough, but the Spirit is moving, and life situations in and outside the church will never be the same again. I live by that hope with faith believing.” (Letter dated March 27, 1992)
Anne’s great heart opens to us still—with a love without end—and an encouragement to live fully by that moving Spirit, in and outside the church, to live by that hope with faith believing. Thanks be to God for our beloved Anne.
Nancy Hastings Sehested, one of the founding mothers of Baptist Women in Ministry along with Anne Thomas Neil, spoke these words of tribute during Anne’s memorial service on June 21, 2014, at Millbrook Baptist Church, Raleigh, North Carolina.
(Note from Nancy: For these memories, I relied on my notes, letters, and published material that I kept in my “Anne” file over these years of our friendship. I also gleaned from the wonderful book co-authored with Anne and Karen L. Caldwell and Karen S. Moore. In 2007 Journey Without a Map: Words of Hope for Changing Times was published by Trafford Publishing. Karen and Karen have given us a sustaining gift of many of Anne’s articles, sermons, addresses and reflections. Included in the book is Anne’s story in her own words. This book is an enduring treasure for us all.)
July 9th, 2014
I was shopping for groceries recently when a lady shoved a can of biscuits at me and asked, “Have you had these before?” Not really knowing what she was asking, I disclaimed, “I haven’t had that brand of biscuit before.” She said, “Me neither, but I need the cheapest ones for VBS.” I was intrigued and asked, “Does your church have a small budget for VBS?” She said, “Oh no. We have money in the fund, but these biscuits are for the kids, and the cheapest ones will be fine.” I had a different opinion, but she was filling her cart with cans and cans of the cheapest biscuits available.
A couple of days later, I was helping with the ice cream social for my daughter’s homeroom class and was tasked with setting out the ice cream toppings. The teacher handed me a bushel-sized bag filled with name brand gummy bears, syrups, whipped cream, cookies, and candies. I organized the toppings that the teacher had purchased on a six-foot table, and before I started scooping ice cream, I commented to the teacher, “Ms. L, you have provided a generous spread for the kids.” She replied, “These are my kids, and I want them to have the good stuff and plenty of it.”
In one week I had encountered someone who believed the barest minimum would do and another who showed largess and graciousness. Both were doing this “for the children.”
Envision Jesus sitting on a hillside and sharing the attributes of the kingdom of God when here come parents with unruly, loud, impatient children. Can you imagine Jesus calling out, “Andrew! Go get Peter. He’s seen me bless people. Have him start blessing these children. Peter will do for the kids.” But that’s not how the story goes. Jesus blessed the children. Jesus’ attitude was one of welcome, inclusion, and value.
In one episode of the popular television series, Downton Abbey, the owners of the estate host the church bizarre. During the episode, the butler, Charles Carson, chides a footman, “Anything shabby reflects poorly on the estate.” For many townspeople, the bizarre was the only time they came to the estate, and Carson thought it important to treat the townspeople as valued, wanted, and included. Mrs. Patmore, the head cook on the estate, could have put out store bought butter cookies and Kool-Aid, but instead she served fresh lemonade and home-baked pastries. A little would have been enough, but graciousness was more appropriate.
Our offerings and preparations reflect our attitude. As summer children’s activities and Vacation Bible Schools kick off, I hope children are blessed with the gift of being wanted, included, and valued and that all of our events and gatherings will be wrapped in an attitude of blessing the children.
Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.
July 8th, 2014
Your love, Jesus, is an ocean with no shore to bound it.
And if I plunge into it, I carry with me all the possessions I have.
You know, Lord, what these possessions are:
the souls you have seen fit to link with mine.
– Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)
July 2nd, 2014
Fifty years ago, Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC, ordained Addie Davis, the first woman in Southern Baptist life to be so recognized. About 400 participants celebrated that anniversary as Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) met June 25 at First Baptist Church of Decatur, GA.
BWIM executive director Pam Durso praised Davis as a pioneer who served faithfully when she had no role models, becoming a mentor for others when there was very little encouragement for Baptist women to be involved in ministry.
The program featured former winners of the “Addie Davis Award,” including Shelley Hasty Woodruff (photo right), who won the “Addie Davis Excellence in Preaching Award” in 2007 and is a member of Watts Street Baptist Church.
Dorisanne Cooper (photo below), recently called as pastor of Watts Street, led the congregation in a time of communion.
Northminster Baptist Church in Jackson, MS, was honored with the 2014 BWIM “Church of Excellence Award” for its persistent support of women in ministry.
Sue Fitzgerald (photo below) of North Carolina was recognized with the 2014 Frankie Huff Granger Distinguished Mentor Award. Fitzgerald served a number of churches over the course of 60 years in ministry. She was ordained by Mars Hill Baptist Church in Mars Hill, NC, in 1973, and instituted the Center for Christian Education Ministries at Mars Hill College, leading it for 20 years.
Erica Evans Whitaker, nearing graduation from Truett Theological Seminary, received the 2014 “Addie Davis Award for Outstanding Leadership in Pastoral Ministry.” Whitaker is minister of outreach at Agape Baptist Church in Forth Worth, TX.
Racquel Gill, a student at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC, was recognized with the 2014 “Addie Davis Award for Excellence in Preaching.” Gill was licensed to preach by St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church in Winnsboro, SC, when she was just 14 years old, and ordained by the same church at age 18. She has traveled widely in a ministry of preaching in churches and at youth events.
Following lunch, BWIM participants honored Durso for five years of service as executive director of the Atlanta-based organization.
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Tony Cartledge’s post about the BWIM annual gathering is used with permission of Baptists Today. His originial post is found on the Baptists Today blog.
July 1st, 2014
The world of Baptist Women in Ministry was waiting for you.
And you, my dear friend, you have been a gift. You continue to be a gift to Baptists, to historians, to women in ministry, and to me. Your genius for making friends and offering encouragement really can’t be over-estimated. Your knack for counting things, and keeping up with them (like ordinations and pastors), and writing about them with grace and clarity, means you are contributing to a legacy of change and renewal for Baptists in the twenty-first century.
Your capacity to network and bring resources, ideas and people into the right place and time for positive change made you the absolute best choice for leading BWIM at this juncture in its life. I cannot think of a better person, more qualified or more passionate about supporting and advocating for women in ministry, than you.
Your leadership brings BWIM into its most stable, most innovative, and most expansive stage in its history. Every founder of BWIM should be proud to see where you and the Leadership Team have taken the organization in five years. BWIM’s state of thriving is a sign that reflects the good news about the ongoing growth in leadership by women in Baptist life.
Personally, Pam, you have been such a good and gracious friend to me. I’m grateful for the years of work together, for being a co-author with you, and for taking part in schemes, projects and some mischief that has contributed to the betterment of Baptist life. I hope there are many long years of friendship ahead, adventures to be explored, and parties still to be hosted that celebrate the Spirit’s movement among us.
With my warmest congratulations on your five-year anniversary as Executive Director of BWIM, I bow deeply to you my friend. You are one who collaborates with God’s Spirit to mend the world. Thank you for saying yes.
* On June 25, 2014, the BWIM Leadership Team celebrated five years of Pam Durso’s leadership as Executive Director. They invited friends to send letters of appreciation. This one is mine. It seemed worth a public thanks.
Thanks for Eileen Campbell-Reed for sharing from her blog, Keeper of the Fire, where this post first appeared.
July 1st, 2014
Give us big hearts, dear God;
big enough to embrace all our sisters and brothers
especially those in trouble,
whether of their own making
or because of wrongs done to them.
Give us big hearts, dear God;
big enough to acknowledge our own weakness
before pointing the finger at others;
big enough to be humble when blessed with your good gifts,
denied to so many.
Give us big hearts, dear God;
to reach out again and again
to those who cannot help themselves
until hope is restored to them,
and we, thorn-beaten and bloodied
allow our loving to become more like yours.
— Kathy Keay