I am an Advocate by Kevin Pranoto

Today, Baptist Women in Ministry is pleased to introduce our intern, Kevin Pranoto! He will be with us until April 2016, and we are excited to have him in the office and contributing to the work of BWIM.

In elementary school, I remember being fascinated by the Civil Rights Movement. My favorite book growing up was a picture book about Ruby Bridges, the first black girl to attend an all-white elementary school. Then I learned about the Women’s Suffrage Movement, and I remember not understanding why men and women were treated differently. As a kid, I simply could not accept that women were second-class to men because the women I knew were strong, resilient, and courageous.

As I grew up, I pushed my historical interests to the side and began pursuing the dreams that I thought I had for myself. It turned out that being a physician was not my calling, and I only recognized this reality when my grades in all my pre-med classes proved to be  . . . less than satisfactory. Who would’ve thought that an Asian man would be terrible at science?

I changed my major, graduated from college with a degree in nutritional sciences, and did what I felt God calling me to do next: go to seminary.

As a student at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas, I heard my female classmates tell stories about how difficult it was for them to verbalize and live out the calling of God on their lives. Some of these women were smarter than me, more diligent than me, and better preachers than me, yet I quickly understood that most churches would hire me over them based on the simple fact that I am a man. The injustice faced by my friends infuriated me. I could not understand such discrimination.

Growing up, I often heard my mother preach from the pulpit, and I saw how much the congregation was blessed through her sermons. My mother’s preaching to both women and men wasn’t viewed as scandalous but as a blessing and a gift to be shared. As I continued to read and study the Bible in a deeper way for class and devotion in seminary, I found a God who elevated the status of women, even using women to lead God’s people.

A year into my Master of Divinity program, I chose to take on a second degree in social work. When it came time for me to choose an internship for my Master of Social Work requirements, I knew that I wanted to intern for an agency that was doing work to advocate for women’s full equality in the church. I explored many options and talked with several non-profits organization leaders.

After months of emails and conversations with Pam Durso about serving as an intern for Baptist Women in Ministry, I am now here, living in Atlanta and working in the BWIM office. I am the first BWIM intern to serve in the last decade of the organization’s history and am thankful to be doing what I love, what I am passionate about, and what I feel called to do. My hope is that through the skills that I possess and through the knowledge that I have received, I will be able to become an asset to BWIM. I know that I have much to learn from the amazing leadership of Pam Durso and the other BWIM leaders, and I look forward to advocating, connecting, and networking with BWIM.

Kevin Pranoto is a student at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas. He is currently serving as an intern for Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.

Welcoming a New Pastor by Molly T. Marshall

MTM and AmyI was witness to a historic event on October 5, 2014, as the Riverside Church in the City of New York installed Rev. Dr. Amy K. Butler as senior minister. She brings an extravagance of gifts to this august congregation, and together they have forged a covenant of accountability and mutual respect.

Every liturgical stop was pulled, and the organ and soaring music lifted the congregants to the heights of worship. One of the most moving parts of the service was the presence of the Transitions Pastor from Calvary Baptist Church, Washington, D.C., The Rev. Allyson Robinson, who entrusted her to the care of her new church, and the new congregation to her shepherding. Many others of her former church came to celebrate this new beginning with her. Their attendance speaks of how transparent her departure was.

Friends and family had traveled from far and wide to participate. On Saturday, I had to wait to check into my hotel because it “is a particularly busy time in the city,” according to the young clerk. “Of course it is,” I said. “Do you not know what is going on at the Riverside Church?”
The presence of so many speaks of Amy’s remarkable networking capacity. Teachers and colleagues and editors and friends gathered in support of this new call. Our school counts it a privilege to claim her among our supplemental faculty, teaching leadership in the Doctor of Ministry program.

On Saturday evening, the President of Union Theological Seminary, Dr. Serene Jones, hosted a gala dinner for Dr. Butler. The luminaries were out, chief among them, Bill Moyers. It was a privilege to have a few moments of personal conversation with him—we are both Baptists, after all—and then to hear his thoughtful reflection about the call to discipleship in our day. He warned that if we claim the title “Christian,” we are bound to some practices of remembering the poor and taking up our cross that most of us avoid. He asked his new pastor, “is there a word from the Lord?” in our day concerning these issues.

The Riverside Church in NYC_ExteriorOn Sunday morning, The Riverside Church celebrated World Communion Sunday. And the world’s people were surely there. African women in colorful dresses, complete with matching head-ties, brightened the lines processing toward the communion table. Dignified business people in the New York black formed the bas reliefof the community, and multitudes of children added their energy and giggles to the festal occasion.

Duly feted, blessed, and installed, the Rev. Dr. Butler commences her ministry there. Thankfully, God has granted her what is needed to tend this challenging flock with insight and good humor. I am committed to regular intercession in her behalf, for the sake of this church—and the world.

Molly T. Marshall is president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Shawnee, Kansas. This post first appear in her blog, Trinitarian Soundings.

 

The Job is Not Done by Ircel Harrison

Ircel HarrisonThe annual meeting of Baptist Women in Ministry at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly is always a bit bittersweet for me.  We celebrate those who have made sacrifices to further the cause of women in ministry, we applaud those who are making significant contributions now, and we recognize young women who show promise as ministers.  But I always come away thinking, “We are so far from where we should be.”

Someone once told me that “women in ministry” was a settled issue for Fellowship Baptists.  I agree that most of us in the Fellowship movement believe that every person—female or male—should be encouraged and equipped to her or his personal gifts in ministry, but the reality is something else.  We talk a better game than we practice.

Until women have an equal opportunity to serve in any ministry setting—pulpit, staff, agency leader—without question or hesitation, the issue is not “settled.”

When Pam Durso issued the challenge of BWIM 360—a donation of $30 each month to support BWIM– at the annual meeting in 2013, there was no hesitation on my part to make this commitment.

BWIM is the only organization in Fellowship life (and in most of Baptist life) advocating for the full involvement of women in ministry.  Through networking, information, continuing education, and advocacy, BWIM takes the initiative to further this vital mission.

The job is not done! Get on board and support BWIM financially every month.

Baptist Women in Ministry welcomes you to be one of our monthly givers! Monthly gifts provide dependable income for our work and allow BWIM to continue being an advocate, a network, and a connection for Baptist women ministers! Small monthly gifts of $10 or $20 or a larger monthly gifts of $50 or $75 make a significant difference!

Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator at Pinnacle Leadership Associates and supplemental faculty, ministry praxis for Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  

To join Ircel Harrison in supporting BWIM by becoming a monthly giver, fill out the form below

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Just Ride the Carousel by Tammy Abee Blom

CaroselRiverbanks Zoo and Garden is a favorite get away for our summer days. Since our family has a season pass, we can visit for the day or for the morning. No matter the amount of time we decide to spend, my girls always request to ride the carousel. Audrey likes all of the mounts and will pick and choose according to her mood. Eve rides the giraffe who she has named, “Violet.” Riding the carousel creates a cooling breeze on a hot, humid day and waving at mom on every rotation makes them giggle. The carousel is a must do at every zoo visit, and we always ride more than once.

On a recent ride on the carousel, Audrey called out a different lament to me on every rotation.  As she came around the first time, she called, “Mom. I’m thirsty.” I nodded and waved. Second time around, she called, “I want a bottle of water.” I waved. Third time, “How about we get ice cream when we’re done?” Again, more waving. Then, “Can I have soda and an ice cream?” I waved, but this time my enthusiasm was shot. I wondered, “Why can’t she ride the carousel and enjoy the moment? Why is she focused on what she doesn’t have rather than what she does? Why is she so worried about what comes next?

I found myself wondering why I was so annoyed with Audrey’s angst, and I realized that sometimes I create angst of my own. There are days when volunteering at school, arranging playdates, running errands, cooking meals, and teaching Sunday school are not the ride I had expected. I find myself calling out for something different, more affirming, or a change from the daily business of being a mom and a volunteer. Audrey’s inability to just ride the carousel and let the breeze move frustrated me because I too forget to live in the moment and let the Spirit move as it will.

In Snow Falling on Snow, Robert Wicks writes, “It is very easy to fall into the rhythm of everyday life. It is important we pay attention; we are alert to what is happening around us and we slow down the frames of life.” Wicks expresses what I was feeling about Audrey. I wanted her to enjoy the goodness and not miss it. I want to enjoy the goodness and not miss it. I struggle to slow down the frames of the sameness of my life. I want to pay attention and to embrace God’s work and presence, even when all I am doing is riding the same carousel again.

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.

A Tribute to Anne Thomas Neil by Nancy Sehested

Anne Thomas NeilIn 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.)

 

For the Children by Tammy Abee Blom

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 photo (1)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.

BWIM Celebrates Addie Davis by Tony Cartledge

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.

Woodruff

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.

Dorisanne Cooper

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.

Sue Fitzgerald, recipient of the Frankie Huff Granger Distinguished Mentor Award, led the benediction.

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.

. . . . . . . . .

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.

Celebrating Pam Durso by Eileen Campbell-Reed

The world of Baptist Women in Ministry was waiting for you. IMG_1316

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.

Learning to Pray by Brittany Riddle

I have a 4-year-old friend whose family I often eat with at our church’s Wednesday night dinners.  She is full of energy, has a vivid imagination, and she is one of the few people who can convince me to have a jumping or twirling contest in the middle of dinner.

Recently, during our prayer time after dinner, my 4-year-old friend came over and whispered, “Can I sit with you while we pray?”  She hopped up in my lap and clasped her hands around mine as we prayed.  As soon as we said, “Amen,” she jumped out of my lap and went right back into full-energy mode.

I am sure she did not understand all the words that were spoken in that prayer, but she knew those moments were different than the previous 45 minutes she had been eating dinner and running around the gym.  She knew it was time to slow down as we prayed, and she knew she wanted to be close to someone for those few moments.  I loved hearing her little voice say “Amen” with more confidence that God was listening than most adults can ever muster.

As she clasped her hands around mine, I was reminded of all of the people in my life who taught me to pray and who have held me in prayer throughout my life.

I remember my grandparents who took me to church week after week and sat in on my preschool Sunday School classes when I did not want them to leave my side.  They supported and encouraged me to always follow God’s calling in my life, and they continue to be my biggest cheerleaders to this day.

I remember my Children’s Minister who always reminded us to pray with the words, “let’s bow our heads, let’s close our eyes, let’s talk to God.”  She would later become the first person to offer me a chance to test the waters of leadership in the church.  Without being consciously aware of it, my Children’s Minister’s words have become my own when I pray with children today.

I remember my Sunday School teachers who shared the stories of faith with me.  These dedicated volunteers made sure church was not only a place to learn about God and faith, but also a place to sing songs, play games, and make lifelong friends.  They taught me the words and concepts that would become the foundation of my prayers.

I remember mentors who reminded me to pray even when I was not sure that God was listening.  Sometimes they prayed with me.  Sometimes they prayed for me when I could not find my own words.  Often, they gently challenged me to see God and myself in new ways that led to a greater understanding of my calling in life.

I am grateful to many congregation members who continue to teach and challenge me to pray more deeply and consistently.  They allow me to journey with them through the pain, grief, joy, and questions that each of us experience at one time or another on our journey of faith.  They bless me as they share their life stories with me.

There are so many others who shaped and formed my prayer life, and I am thankful for each one.  As a minister, my own memories of learning to pray make me even more aware of my calling to help create this sacred space for others—whether it is the 4-year old who is just learning to pray or the 94-year-old who has spent a lifetime praying and now needs a hand to hold or help finding words—each of these prayers are holy, each of them brings us a closer together as the body of Christ, and each one draws us a little bit closer to God.

 

Brittany Riddle is Minister to Adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia

Brittany Riddle is Minister to Adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia

 

The Journey by Brittany Riddle

Many years ago I was introduced to the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth.  I was in college, and I remember wondering how walking in circles could do anything to bring me closer to God.  I was searching for some new ways to practice living into my faith, so I decided it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try.

The first time I walked the labyrinth path, I felt self-conscious and had trouble staying focused on the present moment.  I decided to try again early one morning as the sun was rising and no one else was around.  I remember breathing in and out with each step while walking to the rhythm, “Be still—and know—that God—is God.”

The stress in my life did not magically disappear in that moment, but I felt a sense of peace and began that day feeling refreshed.  I continued to walk the labyrinth on a regular basis and eventually found my own rhythm for soaking up, and resting in, God’s presence. Each day, as I approached the center of the labyrinth,  I released my anxieties and prepared to face the world as I walked the same path back to the outside.

Since my first labyrinth journey, I have incorporated labyrinth walking into my spiritual practice routine as a way to clear my mind and re-center my thoughts and life on God.  I love the image of the singular path that guides me on a journey to explore my inner-most thoughts and deepest prayers and gives me the opportunity to unwind before stepping back into the demands and chaos of daily life.

I am currently leading a monthly, experiential gathering, through which I plan to introduce my congregation to the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth.  In order to create the experience, I need a large labyrinth, so I gathered a few church members and a lot of supplies, and we spent an entire day making a canvas labyrinth for our church.

The process of making a labyrinth (squatting on the floor all day) reminded me of the hard work that is often involved in the twists and turns on life’s journey.  As we created the path, we planned and made careful measurements, but we also had to have faith that our circles were going to meet in the right place.  We each worked on different parts of the labyrinth, so we had to trust that we were taping and painting the correct edges of the boundaries.  We had some frustrating moments along the way, but we also laughed and grew closer together that day.

The Labyrinth encourages me to get out of my head when I get over-focused on the end goal of a task or ministry project.  Labyrinth walking gives me the opportunity to pray with my whole body.  Most of all, the labyrinth journey reminds me that the relationships made along the way create space for our faith and ministry to be more fulfilling, life-giving, and centered on God.

Thanks be to God for these reminders when I need them most.

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Brittany Riddle is minister to adults at Vinton Baptist Church in Vinton, Virginia