Destructive Walls and Healthy Boundaries by Micah Pritchett

To draw attention to the ever-present and devastating reality of clergy sexual abuse and to provide resources for churches, lay members, and ministers, the Clergy Sexual Misconduct Task Force formed jointly by Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will sponsor an ongoing blog series featuring informational articles, helpful sermons, and relevant materials.

The Resurrection and Pentecost are this divine explosion in our world that propels the early church outward breaking down wall after wall after wall. Acts is the story of the early church trying to race to keep up with this rush of the Spirit that is destroying every barrier and dividing wall of hostility.

The appointing of the first deacons is the breaking down of the wall between Palestinian Jews of the Jewish homeland and Hellenistic Jews from outside of the homeland who were more Greek in language and culture. Peter and John’s affirmation of Philip’s ministry in Samaria breaks down the wall between the Jews and the Samaritans, who were of mixed Jewish and Gentile descent. The conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch breaks down more walls of exclusion. Peter’s vision and encounter with the Roman centurion Cornelius breaks down the wall between Jew and Gentile.

The early church is racing to keep up with this outward movement of the Spirit. In the midst of all of this, there is this one rather disturbing story.

A Christian couple, Ananias and Sapphira, follow the example of others in the church and sell a piece of property. They bring part of the proceeds to the church leaders, but they lie and say that it is the total value of the property.

They didn’t have to sell the property. No one forced them to. They didn’t have to give the total amount to the church. They could have given part of it to the church and said we want to keep the rest for ourselves right now. That would have been okay. But that’s not what they did.

They sold the property and brought part of the money, but lied about it and said it was all the money. They wanted the best of both worlds. They wanted acclaim and admiration for their generosity and self-sacrifice, along with the security of having a little money in the bank.

Their behavior threatened the well-being of the church. Instead of being filled with the Spirit of God, Peter says their hearts were filled with Satan. The early Christian community was built upon love and trust, and their actions were lies. Their actions were a threat to the health of the church.

Peter, as a leader of the church, didn’t ignore their behavior. He confronted them and publicly named their behavior. Then in a very dramatic way, they experienced the consequences of their actions. God struck them dead. Fear seized the whole church as it was clearly communicated that this type of behavior is not acceptable and won’t be tolerated. (How we make sense of God striking someone dead is a sermon for another day so try not to get hung up there).

The early church was an open community, but it still had boundaries that said certain behaviors are counter to our mission and who we are and those behaviors won’t be tolerated here. A healthy individual, a healthy organization, a healthy church has to have healthy boundaries.

Boundaries provide safety, structure, clarity of roles, and expectations. Boundaries clarify what behaviors are permitted and appropriate and what behaviors are not. In a church, healthy boundaries are about creating a safe environment for people to make themselves vulnerable and open themselves up to God and to one another. (reference not available)

Now we have to be very careful about the boundaries we create. Boundaries can become walls. We can find ourselves recreating the very walls Jesus sought to tear down. We live in a tension here. We want to tear down walls of division while maintaining appropriate healthy boundaries.

Duke Divinity School professor Dr. Richard Lischner wrote a wonderful autobiography of his first pastorate entitled Open Secrets. He was a newly minted Ph.D., but with no experience when he took a position as the pastor of a small Lutheran church in a rural farming community in New Cana, Illinois.

One day a twenty-year-old young woman showed up in his office for counseling. He was pretty sure her parents had strong-armed her to come in the hope that he could straighten her out. She was in full rebellion against something. She was trying to make some sense of her life but going about it in ways that would only bring her more pain and heartache. Her first act after turning eighteen was to legally change her name from Harriet to Heather. She was trying to find an identity of her own.

Now she was having a very public affair with a married man with three children. As the pastor, Lischner was supposed to make her come to her senses. But to her, he was just another authority figure trying to tell her how to run her life, and she was going to have none of it.

He asked, “What about his wife and children?” She professed not to care. “What about your parents?” She claimed to care even less. It was a painful conversation.

Until finally, with no premeditation or forethought, he said, “Well, as long as you continue to see a married man, I don’t think you should take communion.”

He meant it as a way to get through to her . . . to communicate to her the seriousness of what she was doing, to emphasize the harm her actions were causing to herself and everyone who was touched by them.

He wasn’t prepared for her response. The color drained out of her face. She physically recoiled and drew up into herself. Tears began to roll down her cheeks. She said several times, “It’s not fair. It’s not fair. It’s not fair.” Then she simply got up and left.
He had cut her off, banished her from full participation in her community and from the sacrament that nourished her even in the midst of her confusion and sin and pain.

In retrospect he wondered, what was it about her sin that led him to create a wall and bar her from the table? He thought about the man in his congregation who made racist comments and jokes every time he ran into him. He told the man he didn’t agree with him, but it never crossed his mind to bar him from the table.

Years later Lischner wrote:
Why not? Did his routine racism pollute the body of Christ any less than Heather’s adultery? Or does sex, especially when it is brandished by a defiant young woman, still rule in the Christian hierarchy of sins?

We have to be cautious about what sins we get up in arms about and what sins we accept and turn a blind eye to. Who gets labeled with a scarlet letter? And why? We can create walls that prevent a person from experiencing God’s love and grace, walls that exclude those who desperately need to experience the love of God and the love of a Christian community. Walls can be dangerous. We have to be careful. As a church, we want to be a place where walls come down and people can experience God’s love and grace. A place where people know they are accepted and loved just as they are.

But we also know there are those who would take advantage of our acceptance and trust and use it for their own selfish purposes to abuse and violate others. Without healthy boundaries, appropriate walls, we can become a place that fosters and allows evil to grow and take root.

The most obvious, well-known example is the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic Church in which bishops and church leaders failed to enforce healthy boundaries and allowed the evil of sexual predators to find shelter and protection. They lacked appropriate walls to protect the innocent from exploitation and harm. But let’s not kid ourselves into pretending that sexual abuse is just a Catholic problem. There are survivor networks for every denomination.

The late Dr. Diana Garland was the dean of the Garland School of Social Work at Baylor University. She did extensive research on clergy sexual abuse. Her work focused, not on pedophiles who abuse children, but on church leaders, whether they are a minister or staff person or deacon or Sunday School teacher, who misuse their position of trust and authority to exploit vulnerable adults to fulfill their own sexual desires. (www.baylor.edu/clergysexualmisconduct)

In her writing, Dr. Garland described how churches struggle to respond appropriately when sexual misconduct and abuse occurs. It’s not that anyone wants to protect a perpetrator. It’s just that confronting the abuse and dealing with the situation is hard and painful and messy. No one wants to believe a beloved church leader would betray trust and be an agent of harm instead of healing.

So we ignore warning signs. We overlook and ignore things that don’t feel quite right because we don’t want to risk embarrassing or angering or hurting someone. We want to be nice.

Because of a person’s position as a church leader, we give them the benefit of the doubt. We respect them. We trust them. We don’t want to believe it could happen here so when it does we struggle to respond.

Sadly when accusations are made, churches often turn on the victim. Too many times the focus turns to protecting the perpetrator and protecting the church. Certainly, due process should be afforded to anyone who is accused, but often the focus is on simply making it go away. It’s a natural human response.

Abuse is an unpleasant thing to think about, and dealing with it pulls us deeper into that unpleasantness, and so the desire is often simply to make it go away. No one wants to take responsibility for addressing the issue. No one wants to be the one asking the hard questions. No one wants to be the person who holds the perpetrator accountable. No one wants to be the “bad guy.”

It’s easier to blame the victim. What they wore. How they acted. Make them out to be the seducer and the church leader the victim of their temptation. Blame them for raising the issue. If they didn’t make a stink about it there would be no more problem. Why can’t they just keep quiet? Why can’t they just forgive and move on? The Christian concept of forgiveness becomes code for “shut-up and go away.”

For the church and church leaders, it’s easier to pretend it didn’t happen. To just move on. Out of sight and out of mind. But not for the victim. Often the church’s response ends up revictimizing the victim.

Judith Herman wrote in her book Trauma and Recovery,
“It is very tempting to take the side of the perpetrator. All the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing. He appeals to the universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil. The victim, on the contrary, asks the bystander to share the burden of pain. The victim demands action, engagement, and remembering.”

We must be willing to share the burden of pain with the victim. To take action. As a church, we are supposed to be a place of justice. Justice involves hearing and acknowledging the victim and taking their experience seriously. It involves responding with compassion and protecting the vulnerable. Proving them with support and the resources they need to move toward healing.

Justice involves due process for all involved. Investigating to find the truth, and then telling the truth. Acknowledging and not hiding what happened. We can maintain appropriate confidentially and privacy while being committed to not covering up or minimizing the harm that occurred.

Justice also involves accountability. The abuser is confronted and faces the consequences of their actions. They are removed from positions of authority that would allow them to abuse again and put others at risk. (Broken Trust: Confronting Clergy Sexual Misconduct, Baptist General Convention of Texas)

None of these things are easy to do. The process of ensuring justice is difficult and painful, but that does not excuse us from seeking to do justice when we are called upon to do it.

We call this place a sanctuary. A sacred place. A safe haven. It’s a place we gather to meet God. A place where we become vulnerable and open up our hearts and our lives. A place where we confess our sins and pour out our deepest sorrows. We laugh. We weep. We love and serve. Profound things happen in this place.

People need what happens here. We dare not erect walls that separate and divide. Walls that keep people away from God’s love and grace. We want to be a church that welcomes and invites people in. A church where people can experience grace and acceptance and love, and where lives can be changed.

But because of the power that this place holds in our lives and the vulnerability that we bring to it, we must have boundaries that ensure that this sanctuary remains a sanctuary. That it is always a safe and sacred place. That requires boundaries that protect the vulnerable. Boundaries that prevent destructive behaviors from occurring. And a commitment to ensuring justice when those boundaries are broken, even when it is hard.

There is a tension between healthy boundaries and destructive walls. I pray that God might give us the courage and wisdom we need as a church to live in that tension, and to do it well. That like the early church, we might be a sacred and a safe place. A place where all people can feel safe to open themselves up to experience the love and grace of God and be changed by it.

Micah J. Pritchett is pastor of North Broad Baptist Church, Rome, Georgia.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Anna Holladay

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

Anna, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Vocational ministry was never on my radar growing up, but not because I was lacking female ministerial role models (I realize now how exceptional my experience was). Every Sunday I saw women in robes and stoles leading in worship, but I simply never imagined myself as one of them. I felt the divine nudge to some sort of ministry late in college. It has been a slow and thoughtful journey from then on.

I was a youth ministry intern at my home church, Highland Baptist in Louisville, Kentucky, the summer after my junior year of college. This was my first taste of vocational ministry. I loved my experience but wasn’t convinced congregational ministry was right for me. After graduating from college, I served at CLUE Camp in New York City through Student.Go, CBF’s student missions program. After that summer, I immediately flew to Bucharest, Romania to live and work for three months at Project Ruth. I loved it so much that I went back for the next summer to run a day camp for the children at the Ruth School. During this time I began to sense a call to ministry. After rich missions experiences and a call I couldn’t quite place my finger on, I started Divinity School at Wake Forest University. The summer after my first year, I served again through Student.Go at a Children’s Home in India. All of these experiences set me on a path of community ministry, of witnessing to God’s work in the world, and being committed to personal and communal flourishing.

After graduating from Divinity School I moved to Chicago and served a year in the Episcopal Service Corps. I worked in a local Episcopal church, St. Mark’s, as their Community Engagement Director. It was there where I was allowed the space to really ask how God was calling me. Every day I was able to chip away at the barrier between the sacred and secular by working with organizations who were concerned with our community’s thriving, just like the church was. I was able to embody my belief that a life of faith propels one out into the world. I realized I loved being able to walk with church members as we navigated life and its big questions.

Could there be a full-time role for me in congregational ministry which allowed me to focus on collaborating with God in bringing God’s kingdom of kindness, acceptance, equality, and justice here on Earth? This was the question on my mind as I began searching for a full-time ministry position. Last year around this time, I was in conversation with Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, where I currently serve, for their position of Pastor of Missions and Communication. I was (and am) so glad that I found a place where I am able to live out what God has placed in me.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
A constant challenge in ministry has been living in the tension of “the world as it is” and “the world as it should be”. I believe wholeheartedly in the dream that God has for this world, (“the world as it should be”). We serve a God who created the world and saw that it was good; a God who has placed a spark of the divine in each of us; a God who proved that love is stronger than death. God dreams of a world where no one goes hungry, where everyone has safe shelter, and where all know their worth and are able to give and receive love.

At the same time, ministers must face the awful realities of the world we live in- a world that is too often dominated by manipulative and oppressive power instead of God’s liberating power. Authentic ministry means acknowledging “the world as it is”. We must be willing to see the personal prejudices and public policies that have shaped our world, and we must testify to where the Church has participated in injustice. It takes humility and courage to lean into this tension.

Another challenge is learning that self-care must be balanced with self-sacrifice. The thread of self-sacrifice in our Christian tradition is an important one, but often times we are not aware of the dangers that it can pose. Our culture is obsessed with efficiency and productivity to the point where being overworked is glorified. Pair that with the call to deny yourself, and one can quickly conclude that having healthy work-life boundaries and taking care of yourself is selfish and lazy.

When self-sacrifice is exclusively lifted up as the right way to live, we end up thinking that our own lives do not hold any worth. If I recognize that others are beloved children of God while denying that to myself, I am not living fully. If I refuse to take a vacation because there is too much to be done I deny that rest, relaxation, and play are part of a holistic life. It is difficult to balance following Jesus, who rightly shows me a life of sacrificial love and the truth that self-care is necessary for a healthy, thriving life.

What are the best lessons about ministry you have learned that you would want to share with a teenage girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
Be authentic and don’t settle. God has created each of us with a call. You will be happiest and healthiest when you figure out what that call is, even if it’s just one step in the right direction toward your calling. Your true self, who God has created you to be, is already inside of you. Sometimes we must brush off all of the dirt our soul has collected throughout the years to really let it shine. Our soul tends to get muddled by societal expectations and well-meaning advice from others. Once you are convinced you know what God has called you to do, don’t settle for anything less. Perhaps you are called to a ministry role that hasn’t even been created yet. There were some who told me I would never find a church who would hire a full-time pastor of missions. While I appreciate a reality check, had I put that limit on myself I would not be where I am today.

Learn to take up the space you deserve. Yes, it is something you must learn to do because our society will not afford you that privilege as a woman. You will be told, directly or indirectly, to sit still and look pretty. That is when you must hear Jesus saying, “Get up and don’t be afraid”. And if you sit, let it be the kind of sitting that Mary did at the feet of Jesus, assuming the posture of a disciple. This radical type of sitting and listening to God will make it harder for the voices of doubt and fear to make it to your ears. As Frederick Buechner says, “Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.” Never forget you are a gift to this world. You do not have to shrink in order to make space for others. At God’s table, there is room for all.

Who has inspired you along the way in this ministry journey?
I learned from an early age that ministry was not confined to the church. My dad is an ordained Baptist minister and has directed a non-profit ministry his entire career. It was from him that I learned ministry is first and foremost about compassion, justice, and seeking the good of the other.

I strive to emulate Emily Hull McGee, my minister, mentor, and friend. She came to be the minister to young adults at Highland Baptist when I was in college. She inspired me to be authentic, to name my questions and doubts as well as my beliefs. Her ministry of fierce love and acceptance has been a guiding light for me as I make my own pathways in ministry.

I have also been inspired by the CBF Field Personnel that have guided me in missions: Ronnie Adams in NYC, Ralph and Tammy Stocks in Romania, and Eddie and Macarena Aldape in India. It was from them I saw that God cares for the whole of a person; their body, their mind, and their soul. It was from them I learned to see the face of God in everyone I met, no matter their race, sex, age, or nationality. I was able to experience firsthand the diversity of God’s creation, and that has been a defining part of my formation.

Lastly, although I’ve never met him, I’ve been deeply influenced by Parker Palmer, a Quaker author, activist, and overall marvelous human. The way he weaves together spirituality and social change to form an authentic faith has been a great gift to me. The deep wisdom he offers on vocation and discernment has given me the much needed freedom to look inside myself to hear the voice of God.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Natasha Nedrick

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

Natasha, who has inspired you along the way in this ministry journey?
When I first sensed my call to ministry in 2011, I thought I would serve in a university teaching seminary and religion students. My bachelor’s degree was in economics so I had no clue what my next step should be. I reached out to a minister at my home church who taught religion classes at a local college. He politely listened to me talk about my sense of calling and then proceeded to strongly urge me not to peruse Ph.D. studies because there were barely any full-time positions for the vast number of students that completed Ph.D.s. Practically speaking, I would likely end up with a low-paying adjunct job. I was completely discouraged but kept smiling to be polite.

As I walked away, I heard someone quietly calling my name. It was Rev. Cleve Tinsley who was the minister of Christian education. I walked in his office, and he told me to shut the door. He looked me dead in the eyes and said, “I overheard the conversation. Ignore everything he just said. If you feel called, nothing else matters.” Cleve was the first person to affirm my calling. He quickly pushed me to look into seminaries and introduced me to young ministers who were serving at our church. If he hadn’t called me into his office, it’s very likely I would still be working in corporate America.

Tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Shortly after sensing my call to ministry, I spoke with my pastor, Ralph Douglas West Sr., to get some advice. The conversation was brief. He said, “I know you. You need to go to Truett.” I took his advice and moved to Waco, Texas. While in seminary I quickly joined Greater New Light Missionary Baptist Church. The congregation was warm, the praise team was awesome, and Pastor C. J. Oliver was a great servant leader with a wealth of experiences. I knew I could learn from him. After a couple of short months, I was tasked with starting small groups. After successfully launching M.O.R.E Small Groups, I was promoted to director of Christian education. In 2016, Pastor Samuel J. Doyle licensed me to preach.

Simultaneously, I began working for the Family Abuse Center as a Community Educator with a focus on African American congregations. My proudest moment was organizing the Remembrance Day Service. Every year FAC remembered victims who died from domestic violence in McLennan County, but we never reached out to their families to tell them about the service. Thanks to online newspaper articles and Facebook, I reached a young lady who lost her mother earlier that year. She drove up from Houston, to attend a fifteen-minute service that honored her mother’s life. I’ve never seen anyone so grateful to know her mother wasn’t forgotten.

For the past five years, I have served on the board of EES Ministries, a ministry dedicated to addressing delicate and sensitive issues that women and families face. I have also had the opportunity to intern at two thriving mega-churches. The first at my home church, The Church Without Walls in Houston, where I served in the Christian education ministry. The second was the House of Hope Atlanta, where I created training processes for the minister of hope. After graduation, I served on the pastoral staff at One Fellowship United Methodist Church until I was offered my current position at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship as the executive assistant / project specialist for Global Missions. I am very grateful to work in my first full-time ministry job in Global Missions where we cultivate Beloved Community, bear witness to Jesus and seek transformational development. After a much longer church discernment process than last time, I have recently become a member of Greenforest Community Baptist Church.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
By nature, I am a planner. I need order. I don’t go through life without a plan. However, I am not a preacher’s kid. There were no ministers in my family. The truth is that I had no clue how to navigate myself in ministry. I defaulted on the one thing my parents drilled in my head, “you need an education.” I started Truett a year after being called to ministry and the questions soon started. “Do you preach?” “No.” “Are you a dual Social Work student?” “No.” “Then why are you in here?” What I was thinking in my head, “Because I feel called to ministry.” However, I knew that wouldn’t shut people up so I always added, “I think I want to get a Ph.D. in New Testament and teach at a seminary, but I also want to work in the church vocationally.” It seemed no one in the church really understood my calling, and it didn’t help that it often felt like it was shifting.

By the time I left Truett, I knew I was a preacher and teacher who has a heart for people who are hurting, but I didn’t always know that. I think it might have been easier if God gave me a burning bush experience to explain the totality of my calling in one moment, but instead, my calling came and still comes piecemeal. The greatest challenge in ministry has been to accept this and ultimately accept that everybody doesn’t have to understand, agree or affirm God’s calling on my life.

What are things you wish you would have known at the beginning of your journey?
Don’t allow titles to define the totality of your ministry. After being in ministry a while I have met a lot of pastors and ministers who are simply burnt out and miserable. Work-life balance is hard enough in our culture, but especially hard in ministry. I have seen ministers who get so caught up in their day-to-day responsibilities that they lose sight of God while doing God’s work. It’s so easy to fall into that trap, especially being a single minister, so here’s my advice. Set boundaries. Schedule time to hang out with friends. Go to the doctor. Turn off your phone, watch your favorite TV show, and don’t you dare feel guilty about it. Your spiritual, physical, emotional, and mental health is important. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Christy Foldenauer

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

Christy, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I began in ministry as a lay-leader years ago, serving primarily in the area of worship leadership. However, as time passed, I began to feel a call to teach—and then to preach. As I grew into this part of God’s call on my life, I also felt called to seminary. I had such a wonderful experience at Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond, where I began a degree with a pulpit supply ministry in mind. By the time I finished my MTS, it was clear that God was calling me to shepherd a specific flock as a pastor.

Phil Faig at Gayton Baptist Church was the first to extend me an opportunity to serve as vocational minister to adults. I joined Gayton as Discipleship Pastor in 2014, and served there for several years in this capacity. During that time, I began to sense a call to lead a church as a senior pastor, but I didn’t see the right opportunity as I explored openings in the area. Then, one day, as I was praying about what might be next, my phone rang! (Yes, it really is one of those stories!)

The call was from Tomahawk Baptist Church, and they were looking for a new senior pastor. My name had been given as someone they should consider. We began to talk, and by the second call, I remember thinking, “this is the place.” I felt a strong assurance that God was calling me to Tomahawk, and when they felt the same, I was overjoyed. I’ve been serving at Tomahawk since November of 2016, and I absolutely love the role of senior pastor.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My favorite part of ministering is what I call the “aha” moments—those moments when someone understands or sees something in a new way. Sometimes, “ahas” come while I am preaching, and I can see a face light up in recognition of a new idea. Sometimes, “ahas” come in private counseling sessions, where I am able to speak directly to a situation in someone’s life. Sometimes, “ahas” come when I am not around, and then I get the joy of hearing those stories. To me, this is what ministry is all about: helping others experience the joy of God’s Kingdom today, in the now.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
The first challenge was in finding the right place. I have never actually done that – the right places have found me. I believe that is God’s leading, and I am grateful for the way God has opened the right doors at the right times. Beth Moore once said something like this, “I never want to walk through a door I have to open for myself – it probably means I’m not ready for what is behind it.” Those words have really stayed with me. God has a way of bringing the right opportunities in the right time. I’m learning to trust God with each step of the journey – but that has been more difficult in some seasons, particularly where I felt underutilized in a role.

Now that I have this wonderful opportunity at Tomahawk, I’d say that leading change is never easy! I’m so grateful for several partners who will mentor me on a moment’s notice as I seek to faithfully lead Tomahawk to the place God is showing us. On my wall right now is a business model for ADKAR (a change management process I am working to employ), models for discipleship, and ideas about vision and necessary conditions as we seek to move forward into the next chapter here. This work is heavy! I take it home with me, because I’m all in here, and I want so much to see Tomahawk thrive. In this way, balance can be elusive. I’m focusing instead on rhythm – finding the ebb and flow of ministry life.

What advice would you give to a young woman just starting out in ministry?
Be true to your call. God gifted you in specific ways – believe that God can accomplish His purposes through your life. Have tenacity about pursuing what God lays on your heart! Listen for God’s voice and strive to please Him alone.

I’d also encourage women to find mentors – both women AND men – who are ahead of them and who will be honest with them about opportunities and challenges along the way. In my own ministry, there are definitely women who speak truth into my life. I’ve also found invaluable support through three male pastors from different church contexts whom I trust and can turn to for advice and direction. Each of these men helped me in different ways between Tomahawk’s first phone call to ask me to consider this opportunity and the actual call to come to Tomahawk and serve. I am so grateful to have both men and women cheering me on in ministry. Identify these people early on, and make this a two-way partnership: there are things you uniquely understand and skills you bring that you can use to help a mentor.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Andrea Edwards

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

Andrea, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
As a person with a science background, I think about humanity as the substrate, or layer upon which ministry is done. Because people are everywhere, the opportunities for ministry are, indeed limitless. I can now apply this concept in retrospect as I think about my own experiences in ministry. With that, although my first formal ministerial experience was when I served as graduate assistant to the Dean of the historic Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University, I came to understand that many of the ways that I was accustomed to existing in the world and walking alongside others in community and the work I engaged in was, indeed, ministry.

As far as what I now recognize as the beginning of a call to ministry, I remember being at home over Christmas break as a junior while I was an undergraduate student at Wake Forest University. I had a series of “strange” dreams. Thank God these dreams did not announce themselves as a “call,” nor did I realize that this was one way to understand what I had experienced. I am confident that I would have been far less agreeable, to say the least. In the dreams, I had started a faith-based counseling practice that focused on holistic wellness and integrative care. I knew of no one who was doing this kind of work and had never heard of anything like it at that time.

After graduation, I returned home for a couple years and worked as a licensed personal trainer. As a trainer, I applied what I had learned as a Health and Exercise Science major in practical application. I witnessed and perhaps, even helped to bring about, healing for my clients. We worked to achieve their fitness goals and rehabilitation, but there was also something less tangible at work — they also seemed to find themselves in a better state psychologically, emotionally and perhaps spiritually than when we started. They talked; I listened. It appeared that the very act of sharing that which ailed them, but was unseen, enabled our professional relationship and commitment to attending to their physical concerns (injury or rehabilitation need) to become stronger.

In that time, questions were raised for which I had no answer, which brought those strange dreams from college back to the forefront of my mind. I wanted to prepare to develop a clinical/pastoral/counseling ministry that would attend to these needs—both the seen and unseen in a holistic approach to health and wellness. With those questions in my head and heart, I went to Howard University School of Divinity to get a theological basis for this integrative work. I needed to delve more deeply into the questions that had been raised through my experiences at the intersection of faith, health, spirituality and healing.

After graduation from Divinity School in 2012, I went back to my hometown in Greensboro, North Carolina where I served my home congregation. Upon returning, I was licensed to preach and became involved in the life of our faith community. I was later appointed as an associate minister, and have had the privilege of serving in this capacity since that time. This has been a learning lab for my development as a public religious leader and fellow journeyer with those who hurt, seek meaning, question, rejoice, and desire to be well. I was ordained as a Baptist minister in 2014.

At the same time, I also worked in student services at North Carolina A&T State University. In that communal and individual work, I encouraged my students to ask the difficult existential questions in life and seek answers within themselves in light of their own beliefs. I found meaning in helping each student to navigate life by meeting them where they were and ensuring them that, while their particular circumstances were unique, adolescent struggles are universal.

Because I worked at a public institution, the ways I guided and helped them to explore their spirituality was not direct, but I encouraged them to be thoughtful each day by reflecting and making sense of their experiences through their core values and beliefs. I found that this opened the door to a meaningful encounter and created a safe space for the exploration of needs. I later came to understand that this was ministry. Today, in my work as Assistant Director of Admissions and Recruitment at Wake Forest School of Divinity, I hold space for prospective and current students in similar ways. My title has changed, as have the goals and vehicle of my work, but the processes and tools are very similar. I am privileged to journey with those seeking answers to the hard questions, and more specifically—how divinity school can help them to connect the dots in their own lives. I find meaning in walking with these seekers of opportunities for transformation, not just for themselves, but also for the communities and people they are called to serve.

How has your understanding of calling and discernment changed, grown, expanded in these last few years as you have worked with students at Wake Forest?
I have experienced an evolution in my understanding. Prior to working in student services at North Carolina A&T and in Admissions at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, my experiences with the notion of discernment and calling felt very personal, because they were. I was trying to “figure it out” both quickly and definitively as a student. I felt enormous pressure to do so because that’s what society tells us. In my work with college, graduate and prospective students in the throes of similar circumstances, things became more clear for me. Each person’s journey is truly unique. Because of the ways the School of Divinity is innovating theological education, I have been witness to our students exploring, taking ownership of, and seeking to live into the unique ways that God is calling them forward. As the recruiter and someone who is often privy to parts of the strangely beautiful, sometimes scary, often messy, process of discernment as it unfolds, I have learned to be a participant observer as people listen for the voice of God along their journey.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
One of greatest challenges I have encountered in ministry has been in making sense of the fact that God has and is calling me in ways that do not resemble “traditional” ministry. When I was in divinity school, many of my classmates and closest friends felt called to congregational ministry—I did not. That was difficult because I didn’t feel like I belonged, but I knew that God had called me to the work I was passionate about. I felt like the perfect “misfit” as a seminary student. Because of that discomfort, I grew and I began to flesh-out what God was up to. I began to embrace this and have long since discovered that ministry looks different depending upon the work it’s meant to do and with whom it’s meant to be done.

Where have you found encouragement and inspiration in ministry?
Gosh, I am encouraged and inspired in both the major and the minor, the big and small, and in the ordinary and extraordinary. I try to be intentional in how I live from moment to moment, and in that, I have found that I can be fully present to the ways God is speaking through and in my life. I am also encouraged by the hope I witness in others daily, which helps to ignite something in me, especially when life is tough. I am encouraged when I see and experience others living into the fullness of their own callings in all the ways that means for them. In that, I am inspired to be and do the same.

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.