THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Sandra Cisneros

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

Sandra, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served?
I have served alongside my husband for thirty-five years. We pastored Templo Baptist Church in Victoria, Texas for twenty-five years; Primera Iglesia Bautista in LaGrange, Texas for thirteen years; Primera Iglesia in Kyle, Texas for four years; and now, we are pastoring Sunny Slope Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. After moving from Victoria to San Antonio, I served five years as minister of education at Eisenhauer Baptist Church, in San Antonio, Texas.

I am currently serving as director for the Baptist Bible Institute at Baptist University of the Américas in San Antonio. In this role, I am responsible for organizing the educational program that takes place on campus for our Spanish-speaking students. I also meet pastors and church leaders globally and look for opportunities to establish BBI Extension Centers anywhere a door may open. We have a good number of BBI’s in Texas, across the nation, and in foreign countries.

I am also the president and founder of Anchored Love Ministries, which mentors, encourages, trains, and empowers women of all ages, cultures, languages, and cultural backgrounds. Five years ago, we established the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI). After dialogue with Baptist University of the Américas, our educational program was endorsed. Up to this moment, we have graduated a total of thirty women. From time to time, I receive messages from women enrolled in the Christian Leadership Institute (CLI) and my heart is encouraged when I read that their learning is transforming their lives and influencing the ministry that they do in their local churches. Nothing can really replace that joy! I don’t do this work alone. I have groups of women from various cities in Texas that meet with me to pray and to strategize what the Lord will have us do each year. My friend, Rachel Saldaña has been serving by my side since 2003 when Anchored Love was established.

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I have always been able to exercise my leadership role with freedom–that is until, I served in a church staff position. I’m not sure if the issue was because I was a woman or because I was Hispanic. Regardless of the reason, I believe that when someone is called to serve, full trust and affirmation to leadership is necessary in order to serve freely. Perhaps, this is an area or topic that needs to be addressed in our churches and in conferences. No one should be discriminated because of color, race or social status. We need to learn from Jesus as he addressed his disciples when he told them: “…I am giving you a new command. You must love each other, just as I have loved you. If you love each other, everyone will know that you are my disciples” (John 13:34-35). I believe that love needs to take place inside the church first in order to be ready to love and accept those on the outside of the four walls of our churches.

Who have been your best encouragers and sources of inspiration?
My husband has been a great encourager. He not only sees me as a team member with him, but he also has great respect and values my personal call to ministry and has stood by me at every level. Whether I was preaching, teaching, leading, or serving, he has affirmed me. My children and grandchildren are my greatest inspiration. Since day one, when they were placed in my arms, I made a commitment to be a godly example for them. Last but not least, my students at BUA, students in the Christian Leadership Institute, and women that I minister through Anchored Love and in any other ministry, serve as a great inspiration in my life. I am committed to those He has called me to serve. To this I will echo the Apostle Paul’s words, “I am a debtor.” (Romans 1:14).

What is the most helpful ministry advice you have ever received?
The best words I heard when I was a child and through my teen years were these: “Be You. Fulfill your purpose. Never look back, always look forward. If you fall, get up, learn from it and move on.” I will never forget these wise words of inspiration that carries so much value and affirmation from my grandmother Felísita Samuel. Her message not only challenged me, but they also holed me accountable to live a life worthy of my calling and worthy of the One that called me to ministry.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Anna Goetz

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

Anna, tell us about your ministry journey–the places and ways you have served.
I grew up at First Baptist Church, Arlington, Texas, where my mom has served on staff my entire life, and my dad serves as a deacon. Although I was never fully employed by First Baptist Church, Arlington, the church and staff provided opportunities for me to serve. It will always be the place where I first felt called to ministry and the first place to give me a chance to live out that calling.

I attended Belmont University in Nashville, Tennessee and received my bachelor of music degree with an emphasis in classical voice and a minor in youth ministry. I was fortunate to be at a school where I could combine my passion for music and for youth ministry and take classes for both! While I was at Belmont, I had the opportunity to lead mission trips and serve with the church I attended, Brentwood Baptist Church. I was a student ministry intern there for two summers and worked in their student ministry for a year after I graduated from college. I received a ton of first-hand ministry experience at Brentwood.

I then attended George W. Truett Seminary in Waco, Texas, and in December 2014, I graduated with my Master of Divinity degree with a concentration in missions and world Christianity. While attending Truett, I served on the student recruitment team, participated in a youth ministry mission trip to Germany, and attended Calvary Baptist Church, where I had the opportunity to be part of the student ministry and missions ministry. Calvary provided many experiences to lead and to follow my calling in church ministry.

During seminary, I spent my summers working as a staffer for a student ministry camp. I had multiple leadership opportunities and learned so much about leadership, ministry, and the importance of intentionality in ministry during those summers.

When I graduated from seminary, I moved home and worked at Restore Hope, a non-profit in Arlington, Texas, where I worked with many projects, including ones that focused on the Ebola epidemic in Sierra Leone and the steps to recovery for that nation. This job grew my understanding of the world and of the ways we can serve others in the name of Jesus. Cindy Wiles, the executive director of Restore Hope, was a mentor for me, and I am thankful for her encouragement and support.

Currently, I am the associate minister to students at First Baptist Church, Amarillo, Texas. To be honest, this is the perfect job for me—one that I did not know would be perfect! God has been so faithful to bring me to a place that loves me deeply. This position allows me to combine so many of my passions. First Baptist is truly a fantastic church.

What are some of the greatest challenges of church ministry?
Although I am at a church filled with people who love me and support me, I have not always been surrounded with such support. During my last semester in seminary, I preached at a chapel service and later received a phone call from someone in an organization that did not support my calling to preach. The phone call was devastating, heartbreaking, and confusing, because the organization was made up of people that I felt knew me well and supported me. I was truly hurt and ended up walking away, because I felt that I could no longer be a part of an organization that didn’t support my calling.

This experience shook my confidence in my calling, and it has taken me a few years to get back to the place where I know and trust that God has called me to ministry. It has been challenging to not let one person’s opinion/ one organization’s opinion influence my calling. Although there are times when I still struggle with confidence in my calling and in ministry, I know I am at a church now that encourages me and affirms me.

Another challenge I have found in ministry is balance. As a single minister, there are times when, because I don’t have a family to come home to or to take care of, I fill my schedule with all kinds of events and ministry opportunities. While all of these things are good, I am learning that I must find time to care for myself and to step back and refuel at times. Learning to say no and not feeling guilty about saying no in order to build in time for myself has been and continues to be a challenge. I’m learning that the expectations I set for myself are not the same as the expectations set by my church, and I am welcomed and encouraged by my church family to find time alone, so I can refuel for the week and be the best minister I can be.

What have been the greatest joys?
Mondays are one of my favorite days in student ministry right now. Each Monday morning I meet with our senior girls for an early breakfast and Bible study. It’s been such a joy to spend time with these girls as they finish their senior year and look towards what is next.

Each Monday night ends with Bible study with middle school girls. These girls bring me so much joy and laughter. I’ve loved spending time with them, hearing about what God is doing in their lives, and discussing what it means to live this Christian life in middle school. Mondays begin and end with Bible study and students, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. We also have staff meetings on Monday, and I love being with our church staff. We really do get things done, but most Monday afternoons are filled with laughter. It’s great to be on a staff that genuinely enjoys each other.

Another true joy of ministry is sharing life with students and their families. I love going to sporting events, concerts, plays, and anything else that our students participate in throughout the week. It’s such a joy to watch them compete and perform, and I love seeing our students and their families outside of the church. It gives me a way to connect with them and build deeper relationships with them throughout the week.

Another true joy of ministry for me are the events and opportunities we have for our students to serve and to live out their calling as Christians. Right now we are preparing for our high school mission trip, and it’s such a joy to prepare with our students and to encourage them to use their gifts and talents to share the love of Jesus with others. I love watching our students take the passions God has given them and use them to bring glory to God. And let’s be honest, we have so much fun on our trips with our students. I’m looking forward to the late night talks, the late night dance parties, and all the fun that comes with a trip like this. I love laughing and living life with our students.

Who have been the sources of encouragement for you as you have lived out your calling?
There are many that have walked with me as I have figured out what it means for me to live out my calling. First and foremost, my parents have been there every step of the way. They were incredibly supportive when I changed my major in college, when I stayed in Nashville to work for a year, when I applied and attended seminary, when I spent ten months living at home, and when I moved to Amarillo. They have prayed for me and encouraged me in so many ways. I am so thankful for the ways they continue to love and support me.

Pastors and staff members at each church I’ve attended have walked through this process with me and have given me opportunities over the years to explore this calling, including Charles Wade, former pastor at FBC Arlington, Texas; Dennis Wiles, current pastor at FBC Arlington; Jim Coston, former pastor at Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas; and Howie Batson, current pastor at FBC Amarillo, Texas. Each of these pastors in their own ways have encouraged, challenged, affirmed, and supported me as I have navigated my ministry calling. I am thankful for their support and love.

My time at Truett Seminary provided many professors who challenged me and supported me in and out of the classroom. Mike Stroope encouraged me to think missionally and to live out my calling for missions and the church. Andrew Arterbury attended the same church as I did in seminary, and he always checked in with me and encouraged me when I saw him not just in the classroom, but outside it. Hulitt Gloer was the first person who pointed out a gift of preaching in me and encouraged me to pursue this. David Garland supported me, not only as a professor, but also as a “boss,” when I had the opportunity to work in his office as a student worker. Dennis Tucker met with me right after the hurtful phone call when I preached in chapel and challenged me to see beyond what one person thought and remember that God had called me to ministry, no matter what others say. Each of these professors and others during my time at Truett continually encouraged me and pointed out things they saw in me that made me a better minister. I am so thankful for them.

Lastly, at FBC Amarillo, the staff and members, have embraced me and loved me well over the past year and a few months. They have served as sources of encouragement by providing opportunities to lead, not only in our student ministry, but also throughout different experiences with the church as a whole. I am encouraged as I continue to seek what it means for me to be at this church and to pursue the calling God has placed on my life. I know that the Lord has called me here, and I am so thankful for the people in my congregation.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Deborah Loftis

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

Deborah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
Currently I am executive director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, a position that I have held since 2009. Prior to that I served on the faculty as church music professor (1999-2008) at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Before that, I was . . . well, let me say that my ministry journey has been anything but a straight line! I started seminary in an education degree and switched (in what I can only describe as a Damascus Road experience) to music. Ordained to the ministry in 1983, I’ve worked as a minister of music, associate pastor, and music librarian in a public library alongside a volunteer music ministry. There were four years that I was a “full-time volunteer.” It was during that period that I served as Moderator of Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in its fledgling days. I was piecing together ministry and my call as best I could. Every time I thought I had figured out my vocational path, there was a left turn in the road that made me refigure things.

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I think my greatest challenge has been to keep exploring new ways of ministry despite the seeming roadblocks along the way. Sometimes I’ve had to work bi-vocationally, paying the bills with one job and pursuing my call in volunteer ways. In my present position, one might consider the work simply administrative – most of my days are spent at the computer and on the phone. I see my work, however, as an opportunity to encourage individuals and congregations to enliven their worship practices through active participation in singing. I am working to encourage the poets and composers who create new songs for our worship and I’m still engaged in teaching, both in the classroom (live and online) and one-to-one as people call, and email their questions about hymnody.

What have been some of the unexpected surprises of ministry?
When I finally had the opportunity to teach church music at the seminary level, moreover, to design a course of study in church music, I thought I had found my dream calling, the one thing I had been working toward. I was able to meld my experiences as a local congregational minister with the years of academic study. I thought that all my prior work and preparation were now coming to fruition. I thought I’d retire as a professor. When the teaching position ended because of financial strictures at the seminary, there was another surprise “left turn” for me.

In my work with The Hymn Society, I am still pulling together all the experiences and preparation of earlier jobs and academic study – minister of music, reference librarian, seminary professor. My dream job is now this one – this must be really what God intended as my calling. Sometimes I think everything must have been leading to this work with a not-for-profit organization. Looking back honestly, though, I think each of my ministry positions was the right one for that time. I think I did important work and I’m grateful for those opportunities. But I’m a little worried: I’m retiring in a few months and think I have all my plans in place. Uh-oh – there’s probably a left turn ahead.

What are some of the resources or practices that are important for you as you seek to stay spiritually and emotionally healthy?
My most important practice is to stay connected to family and friends. It sounds simplistic, but these are the folks who help me negotiate those pesky left turns and remind me of God’s greater call on my life than just one particular job. When the pressures of work seem to be pushing me toward isolated, task-driven existence, that’s exactly when I need to work on family and friend relationships and remember how vital they are. That helps me maintain my balance.

Another vital practice for me is music. I worship best through musical expression, particularly song. It’s important for me to maintain space in my life to make music – both individually and in groups. Music invigorates me at the deepest levels and reminds me as I sing with others that we are The Body of Christ- alive and energetic.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Meg Thomas-Clapp

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Meg Thomas-Clapp.

Meg, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
I was raised in a church where women were limited to children’s and women’s ministries. When I first felt a call to ministry in a more comprehensive way, I was met with opposition from church leadership. I was often told that I’d make a great preacher’s wife someday. In High School, as I sought to make my faith my own, I left the church I was raised in looking for a home in a church that more fully realized the gospel ministry in all people’s lives regardless of gender or other differences. From then and into my college years I explored and learned from many faith traditions; I carried with me a love of scripture and hymns from my acapella upbringing, a deep desire to see the broader arts as worship and a tool for ministry from my time with non-denominational churches, a rootedness in prayer from my charismatic circles, a passion for justice and facilitating change from the mainline churches.

This journey led me to volunteer in many types of ministries while pursuing a biology degree with a pre-med concentration. When I was a senior in college applying for medical school, my mentor, Dr. Dan Brannon, invited me to consider if medical school was truly the next step for me. He highlighted what he saw as my passions and my calling: ministering to youth and children at my church, providing pastoral care to other college students as a resident assistant, serving as chair of a ministry program for at risk youth, and leading in worship musically, liturgically, and even preaching at my church and on campus. What he said resonated with me and the call I had felt so many years before, but I had seen and heard the male description of minister for so long I didn’t believe that my voice and passion could be that of a minister.

I chose to take some time off after graduation working at a hospital, serving as a volunteer assistant children’s minister, and attending a lay ministry school at night. This is when I began to find words to describe what I experienced ministry as: ministry is sharing good news through actions or words wherever you find yourself. My work in the hospital was ministry to our patients and to the other staff. My role in friendships was ministry. My service was ministry. We are all called to be ministers no matter where we find ourselves.

During this season I was introduced to the Baptist church, the traditions of priesthood of all believers, and the four fragile freedoms. I found a home among those who saw my call, passion, and voice as valid- even needed. I fell in love with a place where diversity is brought together and celebrated as we worship God and follow in Christ’s footsteps to love all people. My desire to serve in this place was realized by others and I was encouraged to pursue a seminary degree and ordination. During this season, I also met my husband, a Baptist preacher, and was soon to fulfill the words of my church home and become a preacher’s wife—but he would be a preacher’s husband as well!

Just before beginning seminary and a few months before our wedding, my fiancé and I were contacted about an opportunity to pastor a church in Bali, Indonesia for an interim. I put seminary on hold for us to take a “working honeymoon” as we served at Gateway Community Church, an English language church with members from many different denominational backgrounds from all over the world. We learned much about doing ministry together and in a context that embraced so many of the different styles and traditions my journey had exposed me to.

During seminary, my ministry grew under the mentorship of my local congregation, First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas, where I was ordained and learned alongside many amazing women and men who are seeking new ways to preach the gospel through actions and words. I served as the chaplain for the Austin Urban Pilgrimage and on the leadership and training team with the Episcopal Peace Fellowship, drawing on my ecumenical experiences to create worship, service, and discipleship opportunities for young adults as they discerned what a call to social justice meant within their context.

In November 2015, I accepted my first full-time call as minister to youth and young adults at McLean Baptist Church in northern Virginia, where I currently serve.

What have been the greatest joys you have experienced in your ministry journey?
For me, the heartbeat of ministry is found in the ordinary. Our God became one of us and entered into the ordinary and is still present in every moment of our lives. The greatest joys are when the veil falls back and God’s presence is revealed in the ordinary: a pastoral visit over a cup of coffee, at the dog park with a stranger, while folding laundry with a congregant, in stories shared while driving the church bus full of youth. The joy that calls me deeper into ministry is found in the midst of us all ministering to each other in the darkest, brightest, and ordinary parts of our lives.

What have been the greatest challenges?
My first full-time call to serve at MBC has been challenging, as any first call might be, and unforeseen circumstances led to greater responsibilities as my associate and I found ourselves leading the church through the absence of a senior pastor shortly after arriving. I have had more opportunities to preach, provide pastoral care for congregants, administer and lead in the church than I imagined would arise in my brief time as an associate pastor so far. While the responsibility has been challenging, I have learned much about my ministry, my abilities, and my areas of needed growth. I have also seen congregants from diverse backgrounds come together to ask “What is God calling us to?” and eagerly seek to minister in this period of transition.

Who have been your best sources of encouragement and inspiration in ministry?
I am so thankful to be married to an advocate for women in ministry. My husband has never doubted that my call is just as valid as his own, even in moments when I have. He has taught me about amplifying the voices of minority groups that are often ignored and what support looks like. As a clergy couple, seeking to discern the ministerial call for two, he has lived into non-traditional ministry opportunities while we followed my call to seminary and even to serve here in northern Virginia. He champions women in ministry and supports by being quiet so that women’s voices can be heard in places where they might be shut out and speaking on their behalf in places where they are not respected or welcomed. I am inspired and encouraged by his ministry and we draw on each other for strength in our weaker areas and accountability in our blind spots as we both seek to follow the call to be pastors.

While there are many men who have encouraged and inspired me along the way, it is the example of women ministers that energize me to live into who I am called to be. Rev. Dr. Tina Bailey, CBF field personnel in Bali Indonesia, teaches me about the power creativity as her ministry utilizing dance and art brings love and hope into some of the darkest moments such as those awaiting the death penalty. Rev. Lee Ann Rathbun, who served on my ordination council and as my CPE supervisor, inspires me to provide a pastoral presence in difficult situations and speak love through curiosity and care in building relationships. Rev. Dr. Meredith Stone and Rev. Kyndall Rae Rothaus, two of the first Baptist women preachers I met, craft beautifully powerful messages and seek to empower other women ministers to embrace their call and strengthen me to find my own voice.

And this list of women is growing because of organizations like BWIM! For so long I struggled with my call because I wasn’t “what a minister looked like.” After returning from a recent BWIM gathering and being strengthened by the stories of so many women ministers, I realized that my experience that weekend was what my husband has experienced his whole life as he looked at the men standing in pulpits and leading ministries. I was finally able to recognize myself as among these women ministers, to see that we are all “what a minister looks like.”

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Libby Mae Grammer

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Libby Mae Grammer.

Libby, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I have taken the long, scenic route to church ministry. In my undergraduate time at Shorter College, I found myself rebelling against my call to ministry and majored in Spanish, studying abroad in Seville, Spain for a semester. I still minored in religion and writing, but l was not sure I wanted to go to seminary, despite my call to ministry when I was thirteen years old. I took a job as an immigration paralegal right out of college in May 2007 (since I had a Spanish degree and needed a job—this worked well), and this job has served to teach me a great deal about immigration law, professional work, and the big, complex world that we live in. To this day, I work part-time for this law firm from home.

When I did decide to start seminary at McAfee School of Theology in January 2008, I was still undecided about what ministry would look like for me – but one thing I was sure of: I’d never be a minister on staff at a church (never say never…).

During my studies at McAfee, I focused my efforts in Academic Research and Christian Ethics. I had decided that my calling was probably more suited for the academy and that I would become an expert in a subject who could teach others about the intricacies of Christian Ethics in a university or seminary setting. I loved to write, and I relished the thought of being a long-term student (yes, I’m a total nerd). I wrote a thesis for my M.Div. titled “The Baptist Response to Undocumented Immigration,” merging my work and school worlds.

After a couple of years living in Chattanooga and continuing my job as a paralegal, I decided to try my hand at a more academic master’s degree in theology, moving myself and my new husband (of only half a year!) to Charlottesville, Virginia to study at the University of Virginia Religious Studies Department. There, I was introduced to Christian Feminist scholarship in a deeper, more meaningful way, and I found myself always asking the question, “but what does all this theology mean for real people—for Christians in church?” Again, I wrote a thesis on undocumented immigration, this time from a Christian feminist prospective, specifically from the margins (Womanist, Black Feminist, and Mujerista theology).

At the end of that degree, we had moved to the West End of Richmond, Virginia, so that my husband, William Underwood, could work on his degree at VCU. We joined a lovely, thoughtful congregation just up the road from where we live—River Road Church, Baptist. After a few months of membership and singing in the choir, I found myself chatting with our then-pastor about a pastoral internship. Perhaps I was meant to be in a church ministry setting after all; the academy just did not seem to be answering the harder questions for me—the question of “how now shall we live?” needed real people involved in the answers!

Since January 2015, I have served the good people of River Road Church (comma-Baptist; a meaningful distinction for this very ecumenical and liturgical congregation!). I began as an intern, a position I held until September 2015, when I took on the additional responsibility of Interim Minister of Christian Education and Spiritual Formation when our pastor retired.

Our church has entered a new season with a new pastor. Daniel Glaze began his work among us in November 2016, and I am delighted to be offering support and leadership among these good people.

Meanwhile, I do continue to write. I have a book coming out with Wipf & Stock Publishers in the coming months that combines the work of my two master’s theses. It is titled Privilege, Risk and Solidarity: Understanding Undocumented Immigration through Christian Feminist Ethics. I also enjoy the blogging and article-writing that I am asked to do at church and for other groups. I also have just begun work on a Doctor of Ministry degree at my alma mater McAfee, where I hope to blend the work of ethics and practice in my ministry—working toward my end goal of constructing an ethical methodology to help churches learn about and move toward deeper ethical reflection.

My call to both pastor and write are affirmed and flourishing these days, and it seems that no matter how far we try to detour, God manages to find us and send us back where we need to be. For me, that place right now is serving God’s people in the church.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy are those whom I serve in my positions of ministry, along with those with whom I work. While an interim time in a congregation is always an anxious time, even feeling a little hopeless sometimes, the people and staff of our church have weathered and grown through the adversities and are living into new hope with a new leader.

I love the gifts and talents we have among us at River Road—from an amazing chancel choir (of which my husband and I are both a part), to excellent teachers for all age groups, to a plethora of retired ministers who still serve among us in so many ways, and so much more. The richness of this congregation, and their continued support of women in ministry (including the calling of a new pastor who happens to be on the BWIM board!) further reminds me of what wonderful people are here and working toward the Kingdom of God in Richmond and around the world.

My other sources of joy are those who continue to teach me and challenge me—from my professors at McAfee who continue to teach me about church ministry and ethical reflection (David Gushee, Rob Nash), to my ministry coach here in Richmond whose wisdom helps me be a better minister and writer (Bob Dale), to my supportive family and cheerleading squad at the church who remind me that being a little harried is to be expected when writing a book.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Over the years, probably my greatest challenge has been my own anxiety. I have had the worry of being on staff at a church (growing up as a minister’s kid can be a little scarring), the worry that I was never quite qualified enough (imposter syndrome is the worst part of the academy, by far), and the ongoing struggles with society’s views of women as somehow lesser qualified to provide spiritual leadership (moving to a more open and progressive congregation was a necessity for me. I am ever-grateful for the general openness of Virginia Baptists to women in ministry). Being finally embraced as a full minister, especially now with the strong support of a great new pastor, these challenges are slowly being overcome with joy and hope for the future of my ministry.

Another big challenge for me is self-care. For many months, I have been working two part-time jobs that kept me very busy (sixty+ hours a week), plus writing and attempting to be a good spouse and mom to dog-children. Now that we are headed toward my husband’s new job (he just graduated in December), I am beginning to feel a little bit of weight lifted from this worry. But I will always face over-extension with my perfectionist tendencies, and I am ever-grateful for folks who remind me to slow down—including the D.Min. faculty at McAfee who insist that, as part of the learning process, we as student each take a twenty-four-hour silent, unplugged retreat. I am also thankful for my circle of ministry and discipleship friends in Richmond, with whom I have spent many evenings discerning our callings together, and praying for each other’s peace and contentment with God.

Who has inspired, encouraged, and affirmed you as you have lived out your calling?

In December 2010, I was ordained to the ministry by a group of wonderful people at a small church in North Georgia. They believed in me, supported me, and blessed my ministry. On a snowy day, a group of my professors from McAfee, along with a row of McAfee friends/students, drove up from Atlanta in spite of the weather to offer their hands as a blessing.

From there, the congregation at First Baptist Chattanooga, Tennessee (Golden Gateway) provided me ample opportunities to use my seminary training as a supply preacher, small group leader, worship leader, and in many other ways. I had ministry guidance, love, and unbridled support from these wonderful folks who became our home church for my husband and me. It was from them, from Michael Cheuk at University Baptist Church in Charlottesville, from River Road Church’s now retired-pastor Mike Clingenpeel (and the whole of the RRCB staff since then), and from all those who support me in my writing and my ministry here and all over the United States that I feel more called and affirmed today than I ever have been.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Hannah Coe

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

Hannah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
As a child, I was fascinated with missionaries and always envisioned myself becoming one. Corrie Ten Boom was (and is) a deeply influential figure in my life, particularly during my most formative years. I fully expected to serve God and others in an international medical missions program as a physician.
God invited me to consider other options for ministry during my college years. I served in a program called Arts in Medicine at a local hospital in Rome, GA to help patients achieve their therapy goals using visual art therapy activities.

I worked at the Winshape Retreat Center, a marriage and couples’ ministry of the Winshape Foundation, on my college’s campus. Through these opportunities, I saw God’s healing and empowering presence in the lives of others. I began to wonder if God might be calling me still to a lifetime ministry of healing, but through different means than I originally expected.

In 2007, ten years ago this summer, God invited me to my first local church ministry experience at First Baptist Church of Athens, Georgia, my home church, working with Matt DuVall as a youth ministry intern. When FBC Athens called to ask if I’d consider coming on staff full-time upon my college graduation, I felt led to say yes. I worked at FBC Athens for nearly seven years during which time I had the opportunity to minister with youth, college students, and children. FBC Athens gave me opportunities to experience church leadership at many different levels, gave me time and encouragement to complete my seminary education, and ordained me to gospel ministry in March of 2011.

In April of 2015, I made the bittersweet decision to end my time at FBC Athens and transition to First Baptist Church in Jefferson City, Missouri where I serve as associate pastor of children and families. I’ve again found myself on a wonderful team of pastors experiencing tremendous opportunities, not only to pastor with children and their families, but also to preach and serve in various church leadership roles.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
When I worked with the Arts in Medicine program during college, I met a young woman on the rehab unit. A serious infection left her paralyzed from the shoulders down and she spent weeks in the hospital doing therapy to establish a “new normal”. She was in her mid-twenties, a mother of three, and cleaned houses for a living. We became friends over the weeks and would often discuss the dreams she had, dreams about being able to walk again. In our times together, I was deeply humbled by her courage, specifically the emotional and spiritual courage she worked to build during her time in the hospital. I found great joy in journeying with her through rehabilitation, watching how peace and healing somehow found her in the midst of great loss. Even though her life would never be the same, she found the strength she needed to move forward, strength she professed to come from a power higher and greater than herself.

This story is a great example of what I love most about ministry: journeying with others, even and especially through the hardest of life’s seasons and questions; searching for and finding the healing and empowering presence of God. A child discerning a call to faith. A parent working through a difficult situation. A team of church leaders grappling with a challenging issue. I find joy in searching for God together.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
My greatest challenge in ministry has been learning to trust myself. I often struggle with what others will think about what I say and do (or don’t say and do). I’ve struggled to speak up when I disagree, to be patient in seasons of conflict, and to assert healthy boundaries in ministry relationships. These insecurities and anxieties keep me from hearing and trusting what’s in my heart. A while back, I found myself ready to make the commitment to practice trusting and using my voice. The more I do so, the easier it is to use my voice and “claim my seat at the table.” Guess what, the world hasn’t fallen apart yet (wink, wink). Being able to trust ourselves, to trust God-in-us, is part of what guides us during the most challenging seasons of ministry.

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting out in ministry?
Over the years, I’ve been given three pieces of advice I carry with me to this day:
You are in charge of your own self-care. In the earliest days of ministry, a friend told me that the church will not take responsibility for my self-care, that’s something for which I’m responsible. Practicing self-care has become increasingly important to me as I’ve become a mother and taken on additional vocational responsibilities. Because self-care is vital to my ability to be the kind of mother and minister I feel called to be, I intentionally build self-care into my weekly, quarterly, and annual routines. Keeping routine doctor’s appointments, seeing a spiritual director, getting exercise, regular times of solitude and silence, pampering myself…these are a few things I do to practice self-care. The more time goes by, the more I actually believe that taking care of myself is one of the best things I can do as a minister and a mom.

Even people who love Jesus will let you down. My friend Lee Ritchie says, “There’s no hurt like church hurt.” It’s the truth. Even though I know that not a one of us is perfect, it still hurts when people speak harshly, don’t keep their word, or worsen conflicted situations. This is part of journeying together in faith. When I find myself hurt or angry, it helps me to pause and say, “Sometimes people let you down.” These words have often been a gateway to grace.

Do what keeps you closest to God. Julie Pennington-Russell offered this advice to me one day several years ago. I’d shared with her my struggle to “know” what type of congregational ministry God might be calling me to. She encouraged me to go where I could be closest to God and to do what keeps me closest to God. I think about these words nearly every day.They have carried me through many questions and decisions. My future in ministry holds many unanswered questions. I find the strength to patiently hold these questions with God by focusing on God’s presence and leading in my life.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Carrie Jarrell Tuning

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are excited to introduce Carrie Jarrell Tuning. 

Carrie, tell us about your ministry journey.
I am a new church starter aligned with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I pastor the H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Prepare for Eternity) Christian Fellowship Church in in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. Our motto is “A Church Where Everybody is Somebody and Christ is in Charge.”

I was born and reared in the rural city of Roanoke Rapids, which is located in Halifax County. I attended the public schools in Halifax County and graduated from Northwest High School. I continued my education and received a Bachelor of Science Degree from the University of Maryland, a Master of Science Degree from Central Michigan University, a Master of Divinity Degree from Howard University School of Divinity, and a Doctoral Degree from George Mason University.

I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal Savior at an early age and joined Quankey Baptist Church, where I was a faithful member until I joined the U.S. Army Judge Advocate General Corps. For the next twenty years, throughout my military career, I was under the watch care of military chaplains in various chapels at U.S. Army installations.

God called me into the gospel ministry in October 1994, and I later joined Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Triangle, Virginia, and was under the teaching and ministerial mentoring of Rev. Dr. Alfred Jones, Jr. I was licensed to preach in 1995 and ordained in 2014. Rev. Dr. Jones later appointed me to develop and oversee Mt. Zion’s children’s church ministry and I served there until starting my own church. While at Mt. Zion Baptist Church, I was also the spiritual adviser for the aide to the pastor and an instructor for the new members’ orientation ministry.

In 1995, God gave me a vision to start a jail and prison ministry at the Prince William-Manassas Regional Adult Detention Center in Manassas, Virginia. Since that time, the superintendent of the detention center has given me a weekly program through which I minister to the female inmates in the main jail.

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
One of the greatest challenges that I have faced has been finding acceptance as a female servant of God. During my journey of seminary and interactions with various churches, some of the situations I encountered were very discouraging, but I knew that God’s word would not return to him void. My pastor was very supportive and was an awesome mentor. He provided me opportunities to serve in various capacities in the ministry and licensed and ordained me, as well as other women in his church, even though some of his colleagues did not accept female minsters. He stepped out on faith, knowing that we are all accountable to God. There were occasions early on in my journey in which I accompanied my pastor for his preaching engagements at other churches, and it was implicitly understood that my sharing the pulpit or even going in the study were not welcomed by other pastors. I delicately emphasized that I had learned to follow Proverbs 25:7, “It’s better to wait for an invitation to the head table than to be sent away in public disgrace.” (NLT)

What have been some of your favorite moments in church ministry?
Some of my favorite moments in church ministry have been teaching new members. Because I have a formal background in education along with a passion to serve, I enjoy equipping and empowering the new members with the Word of God. As a new members’ instructor, I, along with others in the ministry, were the first ones to interact with the new members as they become acclimated to their new church home.

The jail and prison ministry has definitely been a wonderful and rewarding experience for me. Because of my dedication, love, and compassion for the less fortunate, this ministry allows me the opportunity to evangelize, educate, equip, empower, and encourage others to advance the kingdom of God and become kingdom builders by their commitment to be led by the agency of the Holy Spirit at ALL times. Simply put, I work at “changing one life at a time.”

Who has inspired you along the way as you have lived out your calling?
I was inspired along the way by my parents, who instilled strong values in me at a young age. I was the youngest of eight girls and grew up in the rural Roanoke Rapids textile and farm community. By no means was I reared in a wealthy family, but I was empowered with a wealth of knowledge about the Lord and a strong set of values that focused on the importance of family and education. I was encouraged to stay on “Route 66 from Genesis to Revelation” and if I did, I would never go wrong. I am often reminded of my meager beginnings and how God has now, after forty years, called me to return to my roots in Roanoke Rapids to finish the good work that he has predestined for me.

Serving the Lord, my family, and education are my three priorities. On many occasions, I remind others that it is not enough for me to give charity but rather it is my duty to help build a society in which charity will not be necessary, a society in which people will feel free to worship God in spirit and in truth, a society in which no sick person will go unattended, a society in which no hungry person will go without adequate employment, and a society in which good schools will be provided for all. This is why I refer to myself as a “Servant for the Servant who must be about my Father’s business!”

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Kate Hanch

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

Kate, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I felt a distinct, almost mystical-like call to ministry when I was sixteen, and haven’t wanted to do anything else since. I majored in religion in college and went straight to work on my M.Div. at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. I’ve tried (at times more successfully than others) to consider every job as a preparation for ministry. I often prayed in college: “Let everything I do be an act of worship toward you, O Lord.” I still believe this. Since the time of my calling, some of my jobs have been as administrative assistant, a bank teller, a childcare worker, a cashier, a student activities assistant, a children’s and communications pastor, and a seminary and undergraduate instructor. These positions have taught me empathy, compassion, and organization. Along this journey, in church life, I think I’ve filled in teaching for Sunday School in almost every age group (from preschool to adults), set up chairs, decorated for Vacation Bible School, and preached sermons. Each position and job, both paid and volunteer, shaped me as a minister. (And, if we think about it, aren’t all followers of Christ ministers?) Currently, I am pursuing a Ph.D. in theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. I teach adjunctively, work at a small non-profit organization, and serve on the leadership team at my church.

What are your hopes and dreams for living out your calling in the future?
I’m constantly discovering my call anew. I perceive my academic calling and ministry calling as intertwined. My goal in pursuing a Ph.D. in theology is to foster thoughtful theological action and thinking that leads to flourishing in the church and the world. As I’m reminded by liberation theologians, our theological commitments often mean life or death (manifesting spiritually, emotionally, and physically). That is, what we believe about God and one another affects how we prioritize, live, and act in the world, from the smallest decisions to the big ones. In ministry, I want to help people realize how the Holy Spirit is present and active in their midst, and encourage their participation in the work of the Triune God. In academia, I hope to listen to and highlight the voices that have been overlooked by traditional systematic theology. This is a tactic I’ve learned from Womanist and liberation theologians. For instance, I’ve presented papers on the theology of Julian of Norwich, Anne Dutton, Jarena Lee, Zilpha Elaw, and Sojourner Truth. Their voices depict a God who desires all persons to flourish and often serve as correctives to the theologies of their day. I hope to live out this calling wherever and however it manifests—in the church, the classroom, and the world.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Myself, honestly. It can be easy for me to turn inward and disengage when I’m frustrated, or when many doors seem to be closing. When I encounter something difficult, I want to procrastinate. I often lack the self-discipline required for graduate studies. I have difficulties being vulnerable and authentic. I still confront imposter syndrome in both ministry and academia. The fears of inadequacy, the sense of pretending, the worry of being discovered as a fraud—these feelings have inhibited my ability to be present to and for others. Maintaining good friendships has helped me face these weaknesses. Community helps me realize that my shortcomings don’t mean that I am a failure.

Another challenge in ministry would be the inherent sexism that often does not announce itself boldly, but presents in more insidious ways. For instance, it manifests in the form of persons remarking on my appearance rather than the content of my ideas, or lip service to women in ministry without a consideration of larger systems which push against that ideal. I have often not been bold enough to call it out when I see or experience it, which I regret. I’m grateful for preceding generations of female ministers who have done the groundwork in calling out and resisting such sexism, and still more is to be done.

Who has inspired, encouraged, and affirmed you as you have lived out your calling?
How much am I allowed to write? This would take a small book, and I’m only sharing a part. My parents, knowing the ministry journey would be difficult, encouraged me anyway and demonstrated what hospitality and curiosity look like. The churches where I grew up—Centertown Baptist Church and First Baptist Church of Jefferson City—had wonderful Sunday School teachers and pastors who loved me well. My youth minister, Melissa Hatfield, demonstrates a sense of humor, justice, and compassion in her approach to ministry. In seminary, Holmeswood Baptist Church—both the clergy and congregation—was a great teaching congregation. They gave me the space to test new ideas and make mistakes. My mentors, Kathy Pickett and Keith Herron, gave me permission to experience the full range of ministry—the beautiful, the mundane, the difficult. Kathy’s own call story still sits with me and inspires me, and our conversations promoted a deeper self-understanding. Keith encouraged me to apply at Garrett for my Ph.D. I sat in their offices as we worked out conflicts, planned worship, and discussed pastoral care. I consider them dear friends today.

On my journey in academia, I received another mystical-like experience while sitting in Molly Marshall’s constructive theology class at Central Baptist Theological Seminary, when she and another student affirmed my questions and prompted me to consider further studies. Molly was the first woman with a Ph.D. in theology whom I had met, and her commitment to both the academy and the church was something I wanted to be and do. As a student, she, along with the whole community at the seminary, offered me opportunities to test both my ministerial and academic gifts.

My friends and family have encouraged and affirmed me, even if they do not live in ministry or academia worlds. For instance, when I was ordained, some friends from college, from a former job, and extended family members showed up for the service. They were not necessarily familiar with Baptist ordination, and some did not attend church regularly, but they were present with me and ministered to me.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Patty Villarreal

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

Patty, tell us about your current ministry role and share with us what it looks like to be in that ministry.
I am currently serving as a social work instructor for the Baptist University of the Américas (BUA). Celebrating my eleven year anniversary with BUA as an adjunct professor, I am privileged to share with the students my knowledge, experiences, and training I have received as a social worker for more than thirty-nine years. Even though they may not all become social workers, it is a joy to see students become enlightened and equipped in their paths on their journey as professional helpers.

I also serve as the development director for the Latina Leadership Institute (LLI). Under God’s guidance and with Dr. Nora Lozano, a systematic theologian and professor at BUA, we started the LLI, a training ministry to equip and nurture Latina leaders in the U.S. and Mexico. We celebrate ten years this year, and we were awarded a 501c3 status last year. This is a new role for me. I am learning so much about the role of development in non-profits.

As a member of Woodland Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, I was surprised to be nominated and then blessed to be ordained in 2013 as the first Latina deacon. I was asked the year before to consider deaconship but my personal cultural biases kept me from seriously considering it. I had been trained that a woman could never be ordained by the church and even less, serve as a deacon or a pastor. My pastor and members of the church, lovingly nurtured me through my biases and helped me accept the call to serve as a deacon. Currently, I am serving as chair of the education committee and as a member of the church choir. I love the professionalism that our music leader expects of choir members. My skill and abilities have increased as a choir member!

Share with us your ministry journey.
My leadership mission statement is : “to maximize the potential of God given abilities and rights in children and women by serving as an agent of change to eliminate barriers that limits these gifts.” My calling and development as a social worker and ministry leader are intertwined.

I was raised in low-income ethnic neighborhoods. As a mission pastor’s daughter, we lived in the community we served. I remember a childhood of playing in unpaved streets, dusty back lots and walking to school crossings into nicer neighborhoods and paved roads. My African-American friends lived nearby, usually meeting up with us as we walked to school. Even as a child, I sensed something unjust in inequality of people and neighborhoods. It was the same situation as we moved several times to various pastorates my dad served.

When I began my university studies at Howard Payne University, I declared a major in elementary education, thinking I would be a classroom teacher. By my sophomore year, I felt a need to make a difference outside of the classroom. I wasn’t sure what a social worker did exactly but the pursuit of a social services career was clearly what I wanted to do. Within a year after graduation, God opened the door to begin my social work journey.

Buckner Baptist Benevolences (now Buckner International) provided a foundation and platform to serve ‘unto the least of these’. Now thirty-nine years later, it is a joy to serve as an agent of change and empowerment for the underserved. It may be a quiet voice or an “outspoken” voice that I use to maximize potential in people or speak out against injustice that creates barriers to their potential. I praise God that He has used me to serve as a leader of many “firsts” – first Latina or first Latina LMSW in a variety of leadership positions or initiatives that have been influential both in the faith and secular community that led to the advancement of others.

Tell us about one person you look up to in ministry and how their ministry has impacted and shaped your ministry.
It has to be my parents who are at the core of my leadership development by showing me that God loved me, wanted the best for me, and gives me the capacity to do whatever He calls me to do. They modeled servanthood and faithfulness in the joys and challenges of ministry. They have supported, encouraged, and motivated me as I have pursued my career and leadership journey. Especially with all the experiences as a social worker, I know I am truly blessed to have been raised by strong, healthy Christian parents!

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Aurelia Pratt

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce Aurelia Pratt.

Aurelia, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I became heavily involved in ministry while in college at Louisiana Tech University. The LA Tech Baptist Collegiate Ministry has long had a thriving student-led ministry, and there were many ways to grow and serve. I was a small group leader to freshmen for a couple of years, and I also oversaw the facilitation of the small group ministry as well. I traveled abroad for summer missions multiple times and served as President of the BCM my senior year. By the time I graduated, I had become accustomed to having ministerial commitments on campus or at church nearly every day of the week.

Following college, my husband and I moved to Texas so that I could attend Truett Seminary and Baylor University’s Master of Divinity/Master of Social Work dual degree program. If I’m honest, I arrived at Truett extremely burned out. On top of the burnout, seminary elicited questions and challenged my paradigm in many ways. So, even though my time at Truett was a highlight of my life that was full of happy memories, deep experiences, and rich friendships, it was also a confusing time for me spiritually. It took a while to understand that I didn’t have to choose between having an intimate relationship with God and engaging my faith critically. I am still learning exactly how to live in this tension each day.

While I was in seminary, I never really knew where the future would take me. I only knew that I wanted to devote my life to being a person of God and that serving people in some capacity made me happiest. So when people would ask me about my “calling,” it was always a little awkward. Still, I always had faith that the right doors would open and as they did, I would walk through them. I simply had to pay attention. My final year of seminary, two very unexpected callings revealed themselves to me: church planting and preaching. These are both things I never thought I would do (these are things I even said I would never do!), but these are the doors God opened for me. Whether I walked through them or God pushed me is debatable, but it was probably a little of both!

After I completed my degrees in Waco, I moved to the Austin area with my husband who was already commuting here for work. Through a number of amazing circumstances and events, which I can only describe as God-breathed, I now find myself working and doing life among a small, amazingly authentic congregation at Peace of Christ Church in Round Rock, Texas. I have been with this church since its inception in 2012, overseeing the spiritual formation programming and regularly preaching, but mostly learning how to be a better person of God in this broken, but beautiful world.

I’ve said before that calling is a lot like holding a water balloon in your hand. You can’t hold it too tightly, and its form is constantly changing as it rolls across your palm. I never want to think too concretely about how God has “called me” or where God will lead me next. Instead, my hope is to simply live in the present moment, trusting that a posture of listening is enough.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
The way some people in the congregation serve even when they don’t have to, even at great sacrifice. And the children. I am inspired by their imagination and sense of wonder.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Unreasonable expectations. I have to constantly remind myself that it’s my job to think about the things of the church every single day. Other people are probably slightly less obsessed with the happenings of the church.

Also, our church is small – small enough to really feel like an extended family. Family means family – good times and bad. It’s a challenge for me not to run from the bad. It’s a challenge to give grace every single day.

Who has inspired, encouraged, and affirmed you as you have lived out your calling?
First and foremost, my husband who has supported and empowered me wonderfully.

Second, Kyndall Rothaus who told me I could be a preacher. I am thankful for the example she has been to me, and I cherish her friendship.

Finally, my church, who ordained me. These people teach me how to be a better minister, but mostly they let me be me: sass, quirks and all. I am so lucky to get to do ministry in an environment that embraces authenticity and openness.