THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Ashley Gill Harrington

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Ashley Gill Harrington. 

 

Ashley, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.  
As a young teenager, I felt a very strong call to ministry. Even though I was in a church tradition that did not believe in women serving in certain roles, I was surrounded by strong women like my mother who were ministering everywhere but behind the pulpit. Not until college did my calling to the local church begin to become clear. My home church asked me to come intern one summer and through that experience that grew into a permanent position, along with a supportive female campus minister, I knew that this was where God was leading me. I fell in love with the Church. I loved helping this particular congregation connect to one another and to God in new and familiar ways. I loved what I was doing and knew that this was the type of ministry where God was leading me.
 
My time at Truett Seminary and serving as children’s minister at Seventh & James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas was incredibly formative for me to not only explore my call, but to fully accept it, too. Thankfully I have only found great support and encouragement in churches that I have served since. University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi was the best place for any fresh-out-of-seminary minister to land. They loved me fiercely, ordained me, and gave me space to fully grow into my role as an associate pastor and even begin to dream dreams of being a pastor one day. Though I was only an interim for children’s ministry for a year at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, the experience with those good people solidified that my calling was evolving to pastoring, particularly with my husband, Brian.
 

 
Tell us about co-pastoring with your husband. How do you divide the ministry task? How do you keep your marriage sane and healthy?

Even in our early dating days, my husband Brian and I dreamt of how our two callings might one day merge. We prayed and hoped for what might one day be, wondering if a shared ministry model might work well for us and a congregation. Learning from others who have blazed this trail, we have modeled our ministry on other co-pastors’ years of experience. Ideally, we have what we’ve identified as six main areas of ministry divided between us, but as we’re barely into our second year at Starling Avenue Baptist Church we have yet to fully divide those responsibilities as we’re still learning the church and they are learning us. Right now we go back and forth preaching and leading adult Bible study week to week, respond to pastoral care needs either together or individually, and while Brian sees to the important, day-to-day administration needs I often am looking ahead and helping us see the big picture. Thankfully our congregation in Martinsville, Virginia has been overwhelmingly gracious to us as we figure out just how this works best day-to-day for us and for the church, too. The rhythm that works well now may look different even in a year, and Brian, myself, and Starling Avenue Baptist are trying our best to be flexible to where the Spirit might be leading all of us.
While there are many wonderful things about co-pastoring, the hardest thing for us so far has been building and maintaining good boundaries. I am known to bring up a church issue as we’re laying down to sleep and we both struggle at times with how best to untangle our personal and professional life. Our nearly one-year-old daughter has been a great help in this as we work hard to make our time with her focused on our family. We try to be away from time to time, even for a day and visit a neighboring town to simply help us take a breath and see life beyond our ministry. Though we’ve only done it once so far, a day retreat to a neighboring retreat center has been one of the best things we have done for our work and marriage. We hope to make this a regular part of our rhythm to help us be better pastors, partners, and parents. 

 

What are your greatest joys in ministry?  
I love helping to build community. It always amazes me that even in smaller churches, people who have been around for years still don’t know one another. Because they are a part of a different class or sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary, their lives never seem to intersect even in a small crowd. One of the greatest joys for me is helping people build connections with each other because I believe it only makes our faith experience richer. Whether gathering around a table together or working alongside each other for a day of service, this community building helps the church better open itself up to those who are different and what we can learn from one another. I especially love intergenerational opportunities as too often in the church we are siloed in aged ministries and we miss so much. Children and youth have much to teach us about curiousity and mystery just as senior adults offer wisdom and experience. We learn more about God as we learn about each other.

 

What is the best ministry advice you have been given? 
During my ordination council, one of the ministers told a story about a pastor. When the pastor died, the refrain over and over again was “he was always there.” My ministry colleague said that too often we applaud one another and are applauded in ministry for always being there for people, but he is always mindful of the other side. Because that pastor “was always there” for his congregation, he missed countless recitals, celebrations, dinners, soccer games, etc. with his own family and even time for himself. My friend encouraged me to always remember to live carefully within the tension of the pulls of church and home as the work at both is never “done.”

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Sara Robb

Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister. Today, we introduce to you Sara Robb.

Sara, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
My earliest memories involve playing “Lord’s Supper” with my sister and the children of the four families on my parents’ mission team in Brazil, South America. We played church all the time, taking turns being the preachers, even the girls. The summer I turned five, we baptized my mom every day in the pool out back. My early curiosities paved the way for a journey that was at times difficult but always meaningful.

I was raised on the mission field and planned for years to be a missionary myself. One spring break in college was all it took for Baja California, Mexico, to steal my heart. I spent summers during seminary in Mexico, translating for mission teams and serving as a cross-cultural liaison. Seminary preaching class was where I found that part of me that had always longed to make a mark on the world but couldn’t figure out how. Though I had “preached” my share of “sermons” to the missionary kids and our pets who would gather for “worship,” I was terrified of preaching class. Somehow I managed to preach my first sermon ever… and loved it.

One of the most formative days of my ministry journey was the time I preached in a church for the first time. I’ll never forget that day. My parents and many of my friends were there, and my New Testament professor was also there. “Thank goodness, I’m preaching from the Old Testament today!” I thought to myself as I stood up to preach. It was an indescribable moment, and more significant that I knew at the time. Later that week, my mentor, Gwen Brown, said to me “we need to start thinking about your ordination. I’m glad you are interested in chaplaincy and have this residency opportunity, but your place is in the church.”

The day I began my chaplain residency was the same day that I lost my mentor. On that hot August day, after a long illness, Gwen died. I learned so much during my time as a chaplain, and my peers walked me through the process of reorienting myself amidst my grief and also the disappointment of my ordination being put on hold. I was called by Scott Boulevard Baptist Church in May 2015, and ordained in February 2016 in a service that rivaled my wildest dreams. My ordination certificate sits, framed with the worship order, on the back wall in my office between two windows. I look at it often because my ministry journey has certainly been an unexpected blessing of rocky, winding roads peppered with soft grassy knolls of rest and renewal. It continues to be an exciting time as the spirit blows and I do my best to follow.

My ministry, to me, is an extension of all the greats who have invested in me. Professors, mentors, my parents, and my grandfather. Ministry to older adults is the legacy that my grandfather, though gone now, and I are building together to ensure quality spiritual and emotional care for older adults, especially those who live alone.

What have been the greatest joys you have experienced in your ministry journey?
One of my greatest joys in ministry is how much serving as a minister has enriched my practice of writing. Ministry is a treasure trove of opportunities for self-reflection. Opportunities to lead the pastoral prayer in church has helped me venture into spiritual writing as well, and this has been a blessing both to my personal life and my ministry life.

I lost my grandparents early, and I’ve always been close to grandparents and surrogate grandparents in my life. I have one step-gran left, and sometimes she forgets that we are in each other’s lives. Being ordained to ministry and affirmed by a congregation of grandparents was one of the most wonderful joys I’ve experienced in my life. They tell me every time they see me to “please buy an umbrella,” “don’t work too hard,” and “get some rest this weekend.” To be loved and cared for by my people as much as I love and care for them is tremendous.

What have been the greatest challenges?
My greatest challenge in ministry, and in life, is fear. Until I was able to learn to see myself as God and others see me, I was nearly crippled by a fear of failing, or worse, not being perfect. I’ve been able to make huge strides in doing what I can to show up and love people. Sabbath, however, is also a great challenge for me.

Creating space in my life to write, to rest, to be is an ongoing quest and the road ahead is long. I can tell by the way little voices of fear creep in from time to time, that I’m not observing Sabbath as I should.

Who have been your best sources of encouragement and inspiration in ministry?
My parents, both ministers to the core, have always been my greatest supporters. Some of the churches in the faith tradition in which I grew up were vocal about my place—or my “unplace”—in the pulpit, but that was not a message I ever received from my family. Gwen Brown helped me claim my place in the pulpit and in congregational care, and my professors at McAfee School of Theology were, each in their own way, wonderful guides along an unfolding journey of self-discovery.

McAfee will always be a heart-place for me, because there I found my voice. I’m inspired daily by the people I serve alongside with at Scott Boulevard, lay leaders and staff alike. We are a partnership of people who love God and others, and want to participate in God’s work in the world. As a woman in ministry, I follow in the steps of fierce and faithful women who have paved the path I walk. What a blessing to pave the path ahead on the shoulders of women like Addie Davis and Ann Judson; and Gwen Brown and Jane Hull. I walk a holy path, rich with inspiration from people who have shown me what it means to be a follower of Christ.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Jennifer Hawks

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

Jennifer, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
When I dedicated my life to full-time Christian service at the age of seventeen, I thought God was calling me into medical missions, but God had another path for me. Neither of my parents are clergy, but both have been lay leaders in the Southern Baptist mega-church I grew up in. Dad is on the bus committee, mom the hospitality committee, and both chaperoned youth camps annually for almost twenty years. Their example and commitment gave me an early love for the church and her ministries. When I began coaching in our recreation ministry at sixteen, I had already been a camp counselor and Vacation Bible School teacher many times.

Despite my love for the learning process, I was miserable in my pre-med classes during my junior year of college. Since I thought God had called me to medical missions, this was not only academically frustrating but became a crisis of faith. I felt like I had already failed at God’s calling on my life, and I hadn’t yet made it to graduate school, much less my place of service. After much prayer and discernment, God revealed a calling for law school and seminary. This direction change was confusing since I felt called into ministry. My home church was active in various domestic and international ministries and would frequently ask for medical personnel, builders and contractors, and even people who could pray and walk simultaneously to join a mission opportunity; never had I heard a request for attorneys to meet a ministry need. Surely God was mistaken with these law school notions, and I just needed to wait God out.

As a shy, quiet introvert, law school is not a place any of my friends or family had pictured for me. In fact my mom’s initial response was, “You realize you will have to talk to people don’t you?” I was so shy as a child that I wouldn’t ask for extra ketchup from a fast food employee, so mom’s question wasn’t misplaced. One verse that I kept coming back to during this discernment period was Micah 6:8. I surmised that if one of the things God requires of us is to do justice, then some of us should be trained in it. Almost every single law school class confirmed my calling. There are so many ways the legal profession can be a ministry. I saw how the law could be an instrument of justice or injustice, a tool to rebuild broken lives or an onerous burden that prevents restoration.

After working as an attorney in Mississippi for six years, I knew the time had come to go to seminary. I moved to Waco, Texas to attend Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary, a place which confirmed and clarified my call in large and small ways. As I researched the legacy of Mary Hill Davis (Woman’s Missionary Union leader extraordinaire and namesake for the state’s mission offering) for a class paper, I emailed all the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT) department heads whose ministries receive funds from the state offering, including Suzii Paynter, then-director of the BGCT’s Christian Life Commission. Although I had included the questions I was exploring in the email, I told Suzii a little about myself and my journey and asked to meet her for coffee if she were ever driving through Waco. To my great surprise, she responded, and we ended up meeting for lunch during which she introduced me to the idea of public policy as ministry. While I had many affirming and inspirational experiences as a seminary student, this conversation was one of the reasons God led me to Truett.

My first post-seminary job was at Waco’s domestic violence shelter, the Family Abuse Center, which serves an eight-county area in Central Texas. The center had never had an attorney on staff. In addition to exploring how to improve client access to the legal system to supplement the amazing work of our social workers and counselors, I oversaw the legal advocates and rural outreach and education programs.

Many of my attorney friends were confused as to why I would incur debt to attend graduate school only to take a legal position upon graduation that was a significant pay cut from my pre-seminary legal positions. Several people that I met post-graduation couldn’t understand how someone could be a minister but work in a non-church setting. What they and my attorney colleagues couldn’t see was that my average day at the shelter involved more pastoral care than many of my pastor friends gave to their congregations in a week. I got to play a daily role in helping clients from households marred by domestic violence find a path to a violence-free future for themselves, and often their children.

Currently, I am the associate general counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. If I had written my ideal job description, I couldn’t have come up with a better fit for my interests and giftedness. I get to do fun lawyer stuff like writing briefs for the U.S. Supreme Court and advocating on Capitol Hill, but I also get to write about religious liberty issues, teach groups about our work and their role in it, and read all sorts of Baptist history material. I often describe my job as the best job in the Baptist world and am continually amazed that this is how I get to participate in God’s kingdom-work.

What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I think I can safely say that I have been my greatest challenge in my ministry journey. I don’t enjoy doing new things that I don’t think I’ll be good at, so when God sets something before me that stretches me, my first instinct is to immediately think “no way, not a chance.” I also often focus on my short-comings and create a list on why God should call someone better suited or more capable. When I focus on Him and not my faults, I have gotten to be a part of some amazing things.

Another challenge was communicating my calling when I wasn’t sure how it would be expressed vocationally. At Truett, professors and classmates often told me some version of “there are so many opportunities for a seminary-trained attorney,” but they rarely had any examples other than congregational ministry. Working at the shelter, some of my colleagues across the state inadvertently affirmed my calling by nicknaming me “reverend attorney.” Even though I always felt a need to explain that while I had a Master of Divinity I was not actually a reverend, their nickname got me through several other encounters with those (both inside and outside the church world) who discounted a ministerial role in a non-church setting.

What advice would you give to someone considering a non-traditional ministerial vocation?
The most helpful piece of advice I received was to pay attention to what makes you cry. Tears can be holy glimpses into vocational callings. A close second is a line from one of Suzii Paynter’s sermons she preached at the 2014 Texas Baptist in Ministry conference, “Be as diligent a voice in assessing your potential as your limitations.” Since I am so quick to identify my short-comings, this statement was a lifeline: honest self-reflection involves both. As technology increases and global access becomes easier, ministerial opportunities are limited only by our imaginations and willingness to step outside the box.

Who have been your best encouragers and sources of inspiration?
I have been blessed by countless encouragers over the years, beginning with my family. My parents gave me the freedom to explore an unconventional path while my maternal grandparents instilled in me a profound love of the Bible. My grandparents were both deaf so we used American Sign Language to communicate. Whenever they signed “Bible,” they were technically signing “God” plus “book.” I could sign before I could speak, and I have always had a special reverence for “God’s book.”

In college, I interned for Cindy Townsend at a small local church and ended up forming a lifelong friendship. Cindy helped pull me out of my shell (even getting me to perform in worship skits!), encouraged me to write, and demonstrated for me how to passionately pursue God no matter my current circumstances. Her friendship and example gave me the confidence to follow my calling before I could fully articulate it. Her mother, Barbara Jean Malone, has also been a great encourager, always being a willing listener and speaking with the wisdom learned through decades of church work. Cindy and B.J. are two of my cheerleaders, always in my corner.

In seminary, I was greatly inspired by my professor, Gaynor Yancey, and by Suzii Paynter. Both women supervised and advised me during my mentoring semester at Truett. Through their own ministries, Gaynor and Suzii opened my eyes to a world of possibilities outside of congregational ministry. They challenged me on multiple levels and never let me sidestep difficult personal reflection because of my academic abilities. They continue to inspire me to dream big about what can be accomplished now instead of procrastinating until some future perfect moment arrives. My Truett covenant group (Kristina Garrison-Clark, Anna Goetz, Jenny Hodge, Erica Lea, and Lindsay Swain) was a constant source of encouragement and continues to be so now that we are pursuing our diverse ministerial callings.

Finally, I couldn’t do my job without the encouragement and support from my coworkers, the Baptist Joint Committee board, and other supporters from across the Baptist world. It is a true gift to work in a ministry that I love with amazing coworkers who challenge and inspire me.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Erica Whitaker

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

Erica, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Journey is embracing Way when it opens and when it closes. My journey continues to be learning equally from the closed doors and the open doors, for both continue to guide me.

I, like many women called to ministry, found more closed doors than open ones inside the church. I knew at a young age I was called to this messy work of ministry and would soon discover deep with my spirit a calling to be a senior pastor. Discovering this calling is daunting alone, but living into it at times feels almost impossible.

I am almost thirty-years-old now and have learned to let go of deep grievances against those who closed the doors in my face. They have their own journey to take and I will continue on mine.

Trusting the Spirit to guide me even behind locked doors has led me to places I never expected and to serve along people I needed to know. Churches, hospitals, and so many other places have stepped out in faith and called me to serve beside them.

I served alongside brothers and sisters of different faith traditions as a chaplain taking five units of Clinical Pastoral Education at Methodist Health System in Dallas, TX. I served alongside hard working special education teachers in Arlington ISD. I served alongside a congregation is transition at Agape Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. I served alongside colleagues learning to live out their calling as pastoral residents at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas.

Now, I am serving as senior pastor alongside a brave congregation at Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. My journey has led me here where I will continue faithfully following the Way along the unknown road ahead.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest source of joy in this season of life is sitting on my back porch. The small glimpse of the beauty of Kentucky in this sacred space. The rosy cardinals sit before me in the morning as I read and drink my coffee. The lush trees behind my home centers my soul for the blessed work of the day. My two dogs join me in prayer as we embrace the birds and bugs, the fresh air, and the foliage along with the sweet smells of the springtime.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
My greatest challenge is forgetting to laugh. The sacred work of ministry is not as serious and severe as pastor’s like me try and make it. There will always be long to-do lists and crisis each day. The messiest will always return with the grumpy gossipers and maddening emails. Laughter helps me not take myself too seriously. Laughter lightens the unnecessary burdens we put on ourselves when we become addicted to busyness. Laughter, when I embrace it, frees my spirit to love more fully.

Who has inspired you along the way in this ministry journey?
My family in Texas continues to inspire me. My parents and brothers have always supported my calling to pastor. Even when they could not articulate why God could use women in ministry they loved me and encouraged me to step into the pulpit and proclaim God’s truth. Even when my calling led me away to another place far from them, they continue to support my family and I as we plant roots and partner with God’s work here in Kentucky.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Esther Soud Parker

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce Esther Soud Parker.

Esther, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My early church experiences were in the Church of God. When I was a teenager, we moved to a Southern Baptist Church. As an adult, I experienced faith communities in a variety of Air Force base chapels and local churches as my husband was in the military and we lived in many different areas.

I had not considered going into ministry at that point. Instead, I worked as an accountant. With plans to work in finance, I majored in Business Administration and English, and later received a Master of Science in Business Administration. For ten years, I worked in the accounting field analyzing financial statements, performing audits, and preparing corporate and individual taxes.

When our children were born, I stopped working outside the home. We eventually joined a CBF church and I volunteered in a variety of lay ministry roles such as Stephen’s Ministry, AIDS Ministry, children’s choir leader, children’s Sunday School teacher, serving as a Deacon, and in multiple committee positions.

As the children got older, I fully intended to go back into accounting. However, while serving as an interim children’s minister, I began to feel God’s call to go to Divinity School. I graduated from Campbell University Divinity School, focusing on Education and Pastoral Care.

After graduation, I was ordained into the gospel ministry and served as a hospital chaplain for eighteen months before being called as a minister of children, and later as a minister of education and children.

In 2013, Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina, extended a call for me to serve as their minister to children and their families. What a gift it is for me to be in ministry at Watts Street!

What is the thing you love most about ministry?
What I love most about ministry is sharing in the faith journey with children and their families in our congregation.

What have been the hardest challenges you have encountered?
One of the hardest challenges I have encountered is being with family members as they say goodbye to their loved ones. It’s a holy, sacred time, and filled with a wide range of emotions – joys and sorrows. While I am grateful to be welcomed in these moments, I am also aware it is a difficult and often stressful time for the family.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
“Love God. Love the People. Do the Work.” Daniel Aleshire delivered this challenge in a sermon during convocation when I was in Divinity School and it has helped shape my ministry. It’s a reminder that the work of ministry is important but we must first love God and love the people in our community.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Tillie Duncan

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

Tillie, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
Thirsty! I was so very thirsty. I was sitting in a seminar on multi-family housing ministry. The desire to be a pastor manifested itself physically. I could see no way of fulfilling this specific call of God on my life. I was a middle-aged woman, a wife, and a mother to three sons. Living into God’s call was not a new concept to me. I grew up with a mother who told me, “God has something special for you to do.” So there was always an awareness of ministry in whatever I did: public school teaching; helping out friends with child care; and volunteering in the schools my children attended. Of course that awareness of mission came with whatever leadership positions I held in churches and in associations.

My first job as a professional minister was to serve as chaplain in two mobile home parks, where I led worship services, conducted children’s programs, and oversaw a food pantry. When missions minister Gerald Worrell, with whom I was working, left for other work, Pritchard Memorial Baptist Church asked me to move into his position, overseeing their entire missions program. After being with Pritchard, for about 5 years, I took a three-month sabbatical which I spent teaching in Honduras. I came home to an exciting, beyond-my-imagination opportunity. Sardis Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, was seeking a part-time associate pastor to work side-by-side with their pastor, Tim Moore. He was transitioning to part-time in order to spend more time with the family’s triplets. My job description changed over the eighteen years I served as one of the pastors at Sardis. Teaching, preaching, ministering with various age groups, newsletter duties, and pastoral care were areas which waxed and waned with various staff configurations.

What is the thing you love most about ministry?
What most gives me pleasure in ministry is interaction with others. I especially enjoy teaching when there is interested participation, bold questions, and insightful contributions. Having a group mixed with those who have “teethed on the Bible” and those who are reading it for the first time opens the eyes of all participants and provides for serendipity moments.

What have been the hardest challenges you have encountered?
The most difficult challenges in my ministry came during Sardis Baptist Church’s year of transition between the resignation of long-time (nineteen years) pastor Tim Moore and the calling of Bob Stillerman. As acting head of staff, I added hours to my work week and stress to my equilibrium. Congregants’ fears for the future manifested themselves in various ways from temporary withdrawal to antagonistic confrontation. However, with the help of coach Scott Waggoner, the congregation was able to work through most of their anxiety and move forward.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
The best you one can be is to be oneself. Just because the person you work with is a popular preacher doesn’t mean you should copy that style. Your own style can be just as engaging and inspiring.

What has been your source of joy and given you a sense of affirmation?
What has been a source of joy for me throughout my pastoral ministry has been the association with pastors Tim Moore and Bob Stillerman. They always regarded me as a peer. Their genuine inclusive spirit has been a source of encouragement and affirmation.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Suzii Paynter

Every Friday Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister, and today we are so pleased to introduce our friend, Suzii Paynter, who was ordained on May 7, 2017 by Austin Heights Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas. Suzii serves as the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Suzii, tell us about your journey to embrace God’s call to ministry.

My sense of call emerges from a life of Christian preparation and discipleship that has been ignited by an adventurous obedience to Jesus. Since an early age, I have been aware of ministerial leaders and held them in high regard. As a child, I would rush to sit in the still-warm cushion of the couch when the visiting minister left our living room. That admiration was held from afar. I did not anticipate that God’s call could be for me. Like many women of my generation, I was limited by an anemic imagination toward ministry as a vocation or path for my life. My sense of call developed from my commitment to Christ, from the witness of a faithful family, and from the practice of discipleship as a servant leader in Jesus name. My call toward the gospel ministry has had distinct movements.

I was nurtured through the discipline of being a Bible teacher, through preparation, study, discussion, debate, and caretaking of many people in seven church settings, numerous retreats, and countless conferences. It is as if the echo of a calling voice of God beckoned me through the weekly habits (2,000 weeks—I just counted!) of study, prayer and teaching. This long obedience in teaching allowed a “between the lines” sense of calling to be formed in my life and assure me of my foundation for gospel ministry.

My sense of call has also come from the crucible and opportunities of activism on behalf of many needs in the world. It has been a hallmark of my adult life to advocate for hungry people, literacy and learning, prisoners and ex-offenders, children, immigrants and refugees, religious liberty for all, creation and the environment, victims of human trafficking, and other marginalized people. In every effort, even times of futile outcry, the voice of God has beckoned me to move with vigor and to be sustained with a quiet strength and even joy of persistence in the effort. This has been a clear call to the gospel ministry. It has been fruitful, and many have followed my lead.

Finally, my sense of call has emerged explicitly from roles and duties of leadership on behalf of churches and Christian organizations. In leadership roles at Baptist General Convention of Texas and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, I have preached in more than 100 pulpits and led in worship for thousands of people. I love the people of God and am called to their care and well-being.

Tell us more about your spiritual journey and how you are seeking to live more fully into your calling? 

The love of Christ and discipleship under his leadership has given me such great purpose and joy in my life. I wish to share this gift. I am aware that Jesus prays over the disciples for their unity with God’s purposes. I take that prayer as a personal prayer for me. Who is Jesus that prays over me? He is the Living Lord who I followed into the baptismal waters at age seven and who has nudged me to answer a developing call to ministry throughout my life.

Jesus somehow had this puny little girl encountering great preachers and theologians, Elton Trueblood and Paul Tournier personally, by age nineteen and also led me to the writings and ideas of James McClendon, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and Reinhold Niebuhr. Jesus guided me to Baylor, where I was introduced to great teachers and to the writings of Thomas Merton and the life of Dorothy Day. Jesus led me to Richard Rohr to encounter deep centering prayer, to Frederick Buechner, and to poets who sing and dance God’s sweetest songs.

Jesus is the One who has held me and even given me riches in the wilderness of my own life. He led me into great churches to be around people of profound, mature faith. Jesus has taught me to value forgiveness and has led me to experience it as a true gift from God to reshape my life and the lives of others. The virtue of Christian hospitality is a forming energy in my life that has created and nurtured friendship and family through the expression of loving congregations. I see the church as an outpost of love for a world in need of home.

What are your grandest hopes for your next season of ministry and leadership?   

Feeling grateful to Jesus as the One who has led me on adventure after adventure and the One who leads me still, I know in the depths of my heart that all I really want, all I really, really want is to have the faith to be like Christ in the ministry I have been given, and I know that is enough.

God asks that we find it within ourselves to say, “O God, what would you have me to do this day with this life you have given me? How shall I wear Your Name?” I carry that question in anticipation of the future.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Melissa Wise

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

Melissa, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
When I reflect on my ministry journey, nothing in my upbringing would ever have suggested the direction my life has taken. I went to church under my mother’s influence between the ages of five to eight, then under my grandmother’s influence between the ages of twelve to thirteen. Outside of these time periods, my father, who is agnostic, influenced the larger part of my young adult life. I did not “grow up in the church.” I grew up under the influence of family and western culture that set values on individualism, money, position, and independence. I actively lived for and sought after these things, but none of them satisfied me or fulfilled the deeper needs that resided in my spirit.

With this difficult and complicated past, there were questions that formulated: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the meaning and purpose of life? These questions were present with me most of my life. They were like fuel that kept me running despite the exhaust that was spewing in other areas of my life. A number of health, financial, relationship, and personal problems eventually led me to the feet of Jesus Christ. The location was Mount Sinai, Egypt at St. Catherine’s Monastery where I was on retreat during Easter 2003. It was at this time and place that I received Jesus Christ as my personal Savior. It is when my ministry journey became a full-time occupation.

I believe that ministry service does not require a job title or position. Otherwise we might find ourselves waiting before we begin serving God. I believe that we are meant to actively serve God in church and in our everyday lives with every opportunity He places before us. For me, this includes when I’m at the mall, supermarket, library, on the bus, etc. I was ready to serve God wherever He would send me. However, He had other plans.

I began serving in a local church in Olympia, Washington in many capacities. I began as a Sunday school teacher for children in fifth through seventh grades. I served on mission trips on Indian reservations in Eastern Washington and in various cities in Costa Rica. I’ve taught and facilitated at women’s retreats and sang in the choir. In these capacities, I was serving God and helping others. But I believe God placed me in these positions not just to serve, but to grow into a mature disciple of Jesus Christ. I believe He was also knitting and repairing those parts of my spirit that needed healing that were greatly affected by my past life experiences before I began living for Christ.

I have always loved meeting new people and listening to their stories. I am deeply interested in exploring issues that are challenging them and connecting their story with the Divine story of God. This is what led me to begin serving as a volunteer hospital Chaplain and a Crisis Hotline volunteer in Washington state.

I have had supernatural encounters with God in the past. On this occasion, He led me to a church during a snow storm. In this church, I met a woman pastor who had pursued chaplaincy. She was leading me to do the same based on our conversation about my volunteer work. I prayed about this, seeking guidance for such a substantial change that would require a Masters in Divinity, Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), and my becoming an ordained minister. God immediately (the next day) confirmed this direction. When God speaks, I listen and obey! Within a year, I gave away my belongings and I relocated to Northern California to attend Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (GGBTS – now Gateway Seminary). I graduated from GGBTS in May 2016, received my preaching license January 2015, and became the first woman clergy ordained in the seventy-two year history of the church and the district in April 2016. During this time and process, I put my trust in God and He has been faithful to me. I have served Him as a corporate chaplain and I am serving Him as an associate minister, and as a hospital chaplain.

I believe that God will continue to use me in traditional and mostly non-traditional ways to serve Him in ministry around the world. I believe the most important thing in my life is my relationship with God. In this relationship, I come to know and understand God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. In this relationship, I have come to desire the things and ways of God. In this relationship, He has made me whole and truly live as my authentic self – created in Christ.

Mark 12:30-31 states: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

This is my life focus, because it is God’s command.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I love reading, studying, teaching and preaching the Word of God. I love hearing the Word of God preached. It has especially been a joy to hear more and more women preaching sermons. I have been seeking the answers to the three questions I identified above: Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the meaning and purpose of life? I have found the answers to these question in the Bible and in my relationship with God. There is no greater joy for me to live and know truth.

Another one of my greatest sources of joy in ministry is being on my feet. I love walking and traveling to visit with people. I meet so many new people each day as a hospital chaplain and I have the wonderful opportunity of bringing the presence and hope of God to each of these people in their times of joy and in their times of suffering. It is a privilege to listen deeply and create sacred space for others as they traverse their personal health journeys and narratives.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
It has been and continues to be a question regarding my full role in ministry and the church. God has beautifully and wonderfully made me and gifted me into this person who naturally enjoys being with others. I see myself as a missionary minister and chaplain. I am willing to be a minister and a chaplain in the church or on the mission field. As I am completing the credentialing process for chaplaincy, and then, through God’s guidance and direction, pursue a PhD, I wonder at my full role in ministry. I believe I need to remain focused on what God is continuing to prepare me to walk through on a day by day basis. I need to continue to trust Him and have faith that His will will be done.

What advice would you give to a young woman who is discerning a call to ministry?
It is interesting to reflect on this question in view of my own life experience. When God led me to chaplaincy ministry, I simply listened and immediately obeyed Him. The most amazing instance in the world is when God takes time to bring you a message. To speak to your spirit and give you direction and guidance. As I was going through the process of completing the things needed to be a board-certified chaplain, the call to ministry became clear as I continued to be obedient to God. For example, during Revival week at my home church, the guest preacher for the evening was to preach a sermon related to the theme for Revival week. I was asked to teach a related lesson prior to the preacher for a few minutes. The evening before, while I was editing my lesson, the Holy Spirit led me to “preach” not “teach” the lesson. I made some changes to the lesson in preparation. When I arrived at church the following evening, my pastor introduced me and stated that he believed that I was called to preach the Word of God. He asked me to preach the lesson for the evening from the pulpit. This is how my call to ministry was discerned. It was confirmed through the Holy Spirit and through my pastor. I believe in discerning the call to ministry that this call is an irresistible call to Jesus Christ. I believe that when you receive this call it will not leave you. If you try to ignore or refuse this call, you will not be at peace. My advice would be to always be in the Word of God and make your relationship with Him a priority. Look for God at work in your life and through others. Discuss your call to ministry with someone you trust.

THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE: Courtney Stamey

Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Courtney Stamey.
 
Courtney, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I did not grow up Baptist. In fact, as crazy as it sounds, I chose to be Baptist as an adult. After growing up in the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, and feeling a distinct call to vocational ministry, I floated around for a bit. By the time I began Divinity School, I had visited many denominations. There were some Baptist churches in that mix, including serving a brief stint as a summer youth and children’s minister at a small Baptist church in rural South Carolina. But, I decided to be Baptist for two reasons. First, I believed in Baptist founding principles. They were something that I could dig into and ground myself in. Principles like religious liberty, soul freedom, and the priesthood of all believers were things that resonated with who I was becoming as a Christian and as a minister. Second, I fell in love with a particular church. At First Baptist Church, High Point, North Carolina, I felt needed, welcomed, and loved. It was the place that would later identify, support, and bless my ministerial gifts. It was the place where I was ordained, in an interim nonetheless. I was ordained by the people, what’s more Baptist than that?

Upon the completion of my MDiv at Wake Forest University, I was unsure of the next step in my call. So, I intentionally took a year of discernment as I completed a CPE Residency in a hospital with a very active trauma service. It was not the quietest place for discernment, but it was a place that shaped and formed me into a more self-aware, more holistic, and more courageous minister. It was during this year that I felt more of a calling to congregational ministry. So I began my search process and I was informed of the opening for the Pastoral Residency at First Baptist Church of Greensboro in partnership with Peacehaven Community Farm. I was not sure how the “farm thing” would work. I knew nothing from farming aside from the 6’x3’ garden my family kept for a couple years. That little garden patch had since gone fallow and so had my green thumb, but the position made sense. Our world is growing continually divided, and our churches smaller in number. Yet, here was this position, a “bi-vocational” pastoral residency. This position realized that ministerial work does not exist solely in the church, and it recognized that collaboration with an existing church mission partner need not be only money or an annual event where the church goes. The position seemed to be aware of the current challenges of our world and the opportunities of our future.

Functionally, it plays itself out in this way. I spend two of my days at the farm working in a non-profit chaplain role. The majority of my time there is spent in an accompaniment role with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I also do things like group reflection with caregivers, one-on-one pastoral care, and sometimes even picking vegetables. Peacehaven Community Farm is just as much about growing relationships and an alternative worldview as it is about growing spinach and squash. Three days a week, I spend my time at the church. I participate in worship leadership, co-facilitate a young adult small group, visit the homebound, and work on a couple of projects that I have chosen (like a revamp of our Wednesday Night Activities). More than anything, at both places, I get to be creative. I get to try new things, stretch myself, and further discern my call.

This is what I hope I can have the courage to do when my two year residency is finished. I hope that no matter where I follow the call of that mysterious, and sometimes mischievous, Holy Spirit that I will be creative, try new things, stretch myself, and continue to discern the call.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
One of my greatest sources of joy in ministry are the one-on-one conversations. These may be with homebound members, patients in the hospital, or Core Members at the farm. I think that these are some of the most sacred of moments, when we sit in the presence of another and try our best to see the image of God in them. What makes it so joyful is that in those moments I really feel like a pastor and there have been moments in my life when that felt like something I could not be because of my gender. It is joyful because when I exercise my vocation in this way, I feel whole.

What have been your greatest sources of challenge in ministry?
What continues to be a challenge for me are unrealistic expectations. I place most of these expectations on myself. This was a challenge for me before I entered into ministry, but it feels even greater sometimes. Have I put in enough hours? Am I doing enough justice work to confront the systems of our world? Am I equally invested in both halves of my bi-vocational ministry? I think that the expectations feel greater because in ministry all sorts of folks place expectations and project their own images of what a minister could be or should be on their ministers. Communicating expectations with my supervisors and seeking from support from places like my BWIM Mentoring group have made this a more manageable challenge. Ultimately, what I am working on is offering myself the grace that God has already given me

Who has inspired you along the way in this ministry journey?
So many wonderful people have inspired me in ministry. First, my spouse Michael, who is my biggest support and advocate, day in and day out. Then there are my professors and mentors from Gardner-Webb University, Wake Forest University, and my growing community in the Triad of NC. Also, my peers, particularly the women who are following their call in ministry even when the road is particularly rocky and narrow.

However, the most influential person in my ministry journey in particular, and my life in general, was my maternal grandmother, Anne Bradford. She passed away last year, but her legacy and the lessons she taught me carry me through. She had the ability to stop you in your tracks with a one-liner. And these were not mere platitudes but deep wisdom from decades of walking with Jesus. No matter how well I knew her, she always seemed to surprise me. She was the one who led me to Christ, she was one of the first to completely affirm my call, she was the one who I would practice all my sermons on, and she was the one who challenged me to always follow Jesus. As I was considering my current position, it meant that my spouse and I would be at different churches for the first time, worshipping under different steeples on Sunday. So, I called my mother (who always puts it on speaker) and asked her opinion. My grandmother piped up in the background and said, “Tell Coco (her nickname for me), that I need to talk with her tomorrow.” I usually knew that kind of request came with an opinion that was different than my own, so I was nervous when I called the next day. But when we talked she simply said this, “Coco, keep following Jesus, he hasn’t steered you wrong yet.” When the way forward looks foggy or it seems like I have lost my way, I remember that line, “Coco, keep following Jesus, he hasn’t steered you wrong yet.”

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.