Just One Little Kiss: A Case of Clergy Sexual Abuse

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.

By Anonymous © 2007

Several years ago, I made a presentation on ministerial boundary issues and sexual misconduct. Following the presentation, Sally Johnson [pseudonyms are used throughout] asked to speak with me privately. We went to a quiet spot, and she disclosed to me an alleged incident of inappropriate ministerial boundary crossing. Sally has given permission for me to relate the following information from that conversation and subsequent ones relative to her alleged abuse.

Sally told me that our conversation was the first time she recalled having spoken of the incident since its occurrence back in 1974. As she told me her story, the memories pained Sally deeply. She spoke very softly, with obvious anxiety, and with tears. Because I had known Sally for fifteen years and because of her demeanor in this conversation, I found her story very believable. She did not identify the pastor who had abused her, and I did not ask. I told her that if she wished to disclose his identity either to me or especially to her current pastor, it might be helpful in case others came forward and named the same perpetrator. Sally told me that she would give it some thought. But feeling better already for having shared the story with me, Sally said she felt no particular need to have anything else done about it for her own sake.

A few months later, I received via email a written account from Sally of the clergy/spiritual abuse she claimed to have experienced twenty-nine years earlier. Her account named her alleged abuser.

“In November of 1974, I was twenty-six-years-old and newly married. I was struggling with two problems. Rev. Hank Jones [pseudonyms are used throughout] had been my pastor and friend for four years so I decided to talk with him. When the counseling session was over and as I was leaving, we were facing each other talking. He took hold of my hands, stepped forward, and began kissing me on the lips. I was shocked and disgusted as I felt his belly pressing against me and his lips on mine. I left the church building asking myself, “What on earth kind of counseling technique was that?” I remember thinking that I had come to counseling confused over two issues. I left more confused now with three issues. I knew I couldn’t tell my husband about it. He wasn’t very excited to go to church anyway. Knowing this, he would probably not go again. I also did not want to imagine what he would do to Hank. I couldn’t tell any of the church members because everyone seemed to think Pastor Jones could walk on water. I couldn’t tell his wife because I didn’t want to hurt her. I didn’t know what to do, so I chose not to think about it. I’m not the confronting type.
 
I never went back for any more counseling. It wasn’t long after that he wasn’t the pastor anymore. Years went by, and then he moved back. It was hard to watch him at church. I always felt angry, especially when he would talk to me like we were old buddies. It made me sad that he acted like he was unaware of the years of hurt, anger, and disappointment he had caused, like he didn’t remember what he did. After twenty-nine years, all the emotions are as acute as the day it happened.
 
I do not seek vengeance or even an apology. I do not want to hurt or embarrass his family, our church, or the denomination. The only reason I am writing this is in the hope that Hank will realize the confusion and hurt he has caused me and not do this to another person. I don’t want another person to go through life feeling such negative emotions toward someone who represents God. I know that we all make mistakes, but it just seems worse when an ordained minister crosses over the boundaries. . . .
 
My only regret is that it took this long to figure out a way to deal with this. Only God knows if there were others who experienced similar things in the mean time. . .”

In fact, it turned out that there had been at least one other potential victim of Jones’s abuse of professional authority and power. I received an email from another woman who named the same pastor as a sexual abuser. The abuse happened decades earlier when the victim was eighteen and nineteen years old, and Rev. Jones was in his early forties, married with young children. This accuser shared details of numerous occasions of abuse—in the pastor’s church office and elsewhere—of kissing and fondling.
 
After further email communication and many conversations, both victims chose to write statements and submit them to regional church officials for investigation and follow up. Both victims were deemed believable by the judicatory investigator, and Rev. Jones confessed to at least some of the allegations while claiming no memory of the incident with Sally. Jones retains his clergy credentials but has been asked by officials to refrain from accepting any invitations for public ministry.
 
Recently, Sally said to me, “You know, I remember now that I went to see a psychiatrist for awhile in the midst of a lot of stuff; and whenever I mentioned God or faith, it was like he didn’t know what to do with that. One time I also mentioned this thing that happened with Pastor Jones. The psychiatrist didn’t say anything, didn’t ask anything. He didn’t say a thing!” Sally never spoke of the incident again—until decades later when she confided in me, but she never forgot being abused by her trusted pastor.

The author has been an ordained minister for more than thirty years and does boundaries training with seminarians and other church leaders.

Preaching for the First Time by Laura Beth Roberts

I grew up at First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee, and participated in Mission Friends, Girls in Action, youth group, and choir. I now am involved in the young adult ministry at the church. Growing up, I was taught that the Lord calls us to build relationships and share the gospel and that this call is not specific to men or women but is for us all. First Baptist gave me the perfect foundation for the road ahead.

Earlier this year, I was asked to preach for Martha Sterns Marshall Month of Preaching. My initial response was “Sure! Teach me how!” I have been involved in a ministry called Young Life, which is dedicated to reaching lost and disinterested high school kids and showing them Jesus through intentional, relational ministry. I have given talks (mini-sermons) to eighty or more kids multiple times in a Young Life setting, which I assumed wouldn’t be very different from preaching at my church. Young Life ministries are directed toward kids who don’t know Jesus, and so my talks have been about the character of Jesus and our need for him and are usually based on the gospels. When my pastor, Tom Ogburn, asked me to preach, he suggested the text Hebrews 5:11-6:3, which involves encouraging believers to grow and not become complacent. I realized then that although I had spoken in front of people before, it would be different preaching from a pulpit in my own church to my fellow church members, and suddenly, I was nervous.

The preparation process of writing this sermon was very different than what I have done before. Instead of delving into a passage focused on Jesus and describing it in a way that my high school friends could relate, I was stuck in Hebrews. I remember reading the passage for the first time and having absolutely NO idea what the writer was trying to say. Was he really calling out the early followers of Jesus for being spiritual children? What? I had to explore the text in a completely new way. I read commentaries to find out what was really happening not only in the passage but also in the time period. I learned about the context and why the writer had chosen specific wordings. I had to find myself in the passage in a completely new way, and I began interacting with the text in a completely new way. What was the Lord showing me in this passage? What did God want me to share with my fellow church members?

Hebrews 5 is all about spiritual growth, and I knew that’s what I needed to share with my church. Even though it’s true, it’s pretty intimidating to tell not only your pastor but also people who have been following Jesus for eighty years that they have room to grow in their relationship with the Lord. I was worried that people wouldn’t take me seriously. Did I really have the authority to share that with my congregation? Did I have the confidence to challenge my congregation? Was it even my place to offer encouragement and challenge? The Lord met me in the midst of these questions and reminded me of this truth. We are all called to share the gospel using our unique personalities, talents, gifts, experiences, and perspectives. My gender and age do not inhibit my ability to proclaim the gospel.

The week before I preached many church members came up to me, exclaiming how excited they were to hear me. The Sunday I was supposed to preach finally came, and I did it. I preached. Although I was nervous and excited, I was surprised by how much fun I actually had! And my sermon was met with overwhelming support.

This first-preaching experience has been so valuable. It made me consider and engage with scripture in new ways. It made me face the lies that I didn’t even know I was telling myself. It reminded me of the faithfulness of the Lord, and how He shows up time and time again.

This first-preaching experience matters. Being given the opportunity in my home church to preach matters. Being offer the chance to encourage others to follow where the Lord is leading matters. I am so thankful to be part of a church that values the calling, gifts, and leadership of women and opens doors to all people who are in pursuit of what the Lord may have for them.

Laura Beth Roberts is a senior studying Speech Pathology at the University of Tennessee and serves as an intern at First Baptist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee. She is getting married this July and has accepted a position as a Staff Associate with Knoxville Young Life.

I Am a Feminist by Griff Martin

At my installation service the congregation was asked to write blessings and prayers over my ministry at First Baptist Austin. I was surprised to read through them and find this: “Griff, the Feminist! For years I have desired a pastor who was a feminist and now I have one. Don’t stop! Keep on.”

My immediate reaction was that I did not know I was a feminist, or at least I had never self-labeled myself as one. As a disciple of Richard Rohr I try my hardest to stay away from labels because they tend to distract my spirituality. And besides that, could a male Baptist pastor really label themselves a feminist.

And then I began to think back and wonder what I had done in the pulpit that allowed a congregant to label me as a feminist. I know that I am not scared to talk about the issues that girls and women face in the world today. I know that I am willing to talk about the huge issues of gender equality. I can preach words like rape and sexual abuse knowing they need to be spoken aloud in our world. But surely, honesty alone does not make me a feminist.

I know I am honest about the female voices that have deeply impacted my own spirituality from Barbara Brown Taylor to Paula D’Arcy. I know well the roles some pivotal women have played in my own sense of calling from Ruth Ann Foster to Suzii Paynter. I know how the church has truly mothered not only me, but my ministry. But surely, recognition alone does not make me a feminist.

I know that I personally need to hear the Gospel in a female voice in order to be whole. So, I find ways to regularly hear female pastors proclaiming the Gospel, because I am not whole without those sacred voices preaching in my soul. But surely, simply acknowledging a spiritual need does not make me a feminist.

I know the commitment I had made to the First Austin pastor search committee and to the church, to have a female voice in our pulpit at least once every two months, although we aim to increase that even further. In the last year we have had Lee Ann Rathbun, Stacy Blackmon, Meredith Massar-Munson, Amelia Fulbright and Leigh Jackson preach and we have Ann Pitman-Zarate, Tracee Henekee, Carrie Houston and Anna Carter Florence all lined up to preach soon. Additionally this spring child-led worship and youth-led worship both feature females in the pulpit. But surely, that commitment alone does not make me a feminist.

I know that I have a daughter who seems very interested in spiritual things and I know that I want her to grow up in a church where she hears the Gospel in her own voice, where she sees females in leadership roles, where being female is celebrated and where equality of male and females is the aim. But surely, trying to make the church more realistic for my daughter does not make me a feminist.

And I know I have a son who pays a lot of attention to things and I want him to grow up in a church where he hears the Gospel in a voice that does not sound like his. I want him to see women in bold leadership roles and to learn equality is the Kingdom of God. But again, trying to make the church more realistic for my son does not make me a feminist.

Surely simply doing these things alone does not make me a feminist, this is just the work a pastor should be doing, right?

And then I thought about the words of one of my favorite authors Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: “My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”

And if that is the case, well I know there is a deep problem with gender as it is today in most Baptist pulpits and I want to help us to do better. I want more female peers leading churches. I want to hear the Gospel spoken by all people. I want the leadership of the church to look more like the Kingdom of God—like creation where male and female, in God’s image, God created them. I don’t want my kids to have to look for a church with female clergy, I want that to be the norm.

So yes, I am a Baptist male pastor and I am feminist. And, it takes both to finally bring equality into this blessed calling of ministry.

Griff Martin is pastor at First Baptist Church, Austin, Texas.

The First Meeting by Vallerie King

From the editor: This week, Baptist Women in Ministry celebrates an anniversary. Thirty-four years ago, on March 20-21, 1983, thirty-three women met and dreamed into existence a new organization that would advocate for and support Baptist women ministers. The women concluded that a gathering for Baptist women ministers should be held on June 11, 1983 prior to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Vallerie King, then a seminary student and now a pastor in Virginia, attended that June meeting, and today she shares her memories on the BWIM blog.

In the summer of 1983, I had just completed my first year at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as a Master of Divinity student. When I returned to campus in the fall, I would be co-leading, along with my friend, Rachel, the Women in Ministry group at Southern. Because of my involvement with Women in Ministry on campus, I learned that a national group was forming, and the first meeting would be held during the Southern Baptist Convention’s meeting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Rachel and I decided it was important for us to attend.

Over the summer break, I went back home to Silver Spring, Maryland to take a job as a bank teller. Because I had no car, I took a Greyhound bus to Pittsburgh and stayed overnight in a college dorm room at Duquesne University. The next day, I attended the first meeting of Southern Baptist Women in Ministry, which was held in a small conferences room in the convention hotel.

What struck me the most about that meeting was the wonderful presence of Carolyn Weatherford. She was a fierce advocate for women in ministry. I remember being surprised that the executive director of the Woman’s Missionary Union would be such a strong supporter of women ministers. Her courage and fortitude made everything seem possible. Molly T. Marshall and Reba Cobb also attended the meeting. These were two women I knew and greatly admired. There were other well-known women present, who I came to know and recognize over the years.

Rachel and I sat together and took it all in. The plans were bold, yet it all seemed so natural. The group decided to begin a publication that would be a voice for women ministers. The mood in the room was joyous. The Holy Spirit filled the space with such power and peace.

It didn’t occur to me at the time that I was watching history being made. But I knew that what was being started would continue. There was such hope, strength, and giftedness in the women present. The time had come, our kairos moment had arrived.

After the meeting, I boarded another Greyhound bus and returned home. I could never have imagined that one day Baptist Women in Ministry would be the large, national organization it is today. I am grateful that pioneering women had the courage and foresight to start this organization. I am also grateful that as a first-year seminary student, I got to witness history in the making.

Vallerie King is the pastor of Emmaus Baptist Church in Providence Forge, Virginia.

Mary and Martha: A Reflection by Dorisanne Cooper

During the Baptist Women In Ministry Mentoring Program Retreat in January, Bianca Robinson Howard, Julie Long, and Dorisanne Cooper shared reflections on Mary and Martha. Their words were powerful for the women at the mentoring retreat, so we gladly share these reflections to the BWIM blog.

A Letter from Mary and Martha

A portion of a letter was found recently, a letter from Mary and Martha to their granddaughters. While we don’t have the whole document, what we do have is part of their effort to communicate about their story after the encounter we all know about, how they engaged and changed their story going forward from one of conflict to engagement and strength and how they wanted their granddaughters to know.

Here is the portion we have:

Have you ever had someone tell a story about you, a story that came to be known by just your name? As you know that happened to us. And as you know the story took on a life of its own in the church. As it did people seemed prone to want to make us two opposing teams, antagonists, different distinct approaches to the gospel. There especially were people who wanted to rank who was better, who was more like Jesus. And on the one hand we understood—Jesus said that Mary chose the better part. We get that. But we also know this was the same teacher who told the story of the Good Samaritan—who taught that practical action reflected the hands and feet of God, not to mention action that crossed barriers—that went against what was expected or allowed or the way the things are usually done.

Still we got to thinking about our part of the story—about that day, about our relationship. And we began to ask ourselves if we were going to live that story again and again going forward or if we could create a new narrative?

So we began to ask questions. What if we changed our story going forward? What if we took the power from the challenge of what makes us different from each other and used it creatively instead, used it to fuel a relationship instead of fracture one? That felt like good news to us.

And, of course, it took time. It took energy. It took commitment but, oh, the rewards, the possibility, the sisterhood we found. It’s been a gift. It’s been a challenge. It’s been something we wanted you to know about—so we thought we’d write you some of our lessons, our practices, our disciplines in becoming true sisters through and through so that you might too.

• First things first, we decided to resist the world’s categories of us as over and against one another and instead decided we complimented each other. We resisted that that one story was the only story.

• We learned not to define ourselves against each other.

• We learned to be grateful for those times one of us filled in a place the other couldn’t. We tried to stay open to places where we needed to stretch ourselves. We learned to let hard questions come.

• We started to wonder what the other might teach us.

• We took deep, inward looks at ourselves individually—at our motivations, at our fears.

• We stayed curious about everything we could. We learned to ask why we were prone to blaming another for our frustration.

• We sacrificed for each other—as a discipline and manifestation of our faith.

• We learned not to pigeonhole each other even into the roles we loved. We tried not to always say, “Martha, you have to cover the details.” Sometimes I (Mary) needed to be the one who took care of things so Martha could be present. Sometimes I (Martha) needed to step back so Mary could find the joy of doing.

• Finally, we learned to laugh at ourselves and marvel at each other.

At least that’s some of what we did. The truth is that we hesitated to make a list of these things—we didn’t want to give the impression that somehow they were things we did once and checked off. Or that they were all easy. Or even final. They weren’t any of those. But they were part of the ongoing and challenging process. And they pushed us toward connection and transformation and helped us understand and live more into who we felt we were each called to be. Individually and together.

Love your grandmothers,
The M & M’s

Dorisanne Cooper is the pastor of Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, North Carolina.

She’s My Pastor by Rebecca Weems

A few weeks ago, I was walking across the street, hand-in-hand with my friend’s nine-year-old daughter, toward the playground in her apartment complex. As we neared the parking lot adjacent to the playground, I noticed a white church bus. It was the same church that had told some of our kids they were not welcome because they were “bad.” It was the same church that had made some of our younger kids come up to me with fear and shame in their eyes–because they had been told that if they kept acting up they would “go to hell with all the sinners.” It was the same church that had walked around the apartment complex almost every Saturday handing out (in the words of my friend, who lives in this community and is a deacon at our church) “their moldy old bread and their white Jesus”.

As we neared the playground, my friend’s daughter let go of my hand and ran to the swings. I continued walking toward the playground where I noticed a middle aged man and three young adults talking with four of the kids who lived in the complex. All four of the kids either attend Literacy Camp, Homework Hot Spot, or our church on Sunday mornings.

As I approached the group, one of the kids (K, eight-years-old) spotted me and yelled out, “Hey, Pastor Rebecca!” Immediately the four adult heads snapped in my direction, with looks of curiosity and confusion. As I was returning hugs and high fives from the kids, the older man asked K if he had heard him correctly, that I was K’s pastor, to which K just nodded. The man then said, “Well, you know… the Bible says that only men can be pastors.” I took a breath and paused – partly because I wanted to see what the kids would say, and partly because I didn’t want to say anything I might regret later.

Thankfully, the kids spoke up. This is what that conversation was like:

“Uhhhh – Ms. Rebecca can be whatever she wants to be. That’s what she always tells us,” said A (eleven-years-old)

“But you are a pastor, right?” asked K (eight-years-old)

“Yes,” I said.

“And Mrs. Lanta?”

“Yes.”

“And Mrs. Jen?”

“Yes.”

Then, the older man began citing scripture and talking about gender roles to explain to these kids why I couldn’t be a pastor when another one of the kids (W, eight-years-old) interrupted him and said, “Well, she’s my pastor.” He then took my hand and walked with me toward the swings.

Until that moment, I really had not accepted the title of pastor. I fought the title for about a year (mostly internally). I didn’t have all the qualifications or skills I thought a pastor had to have. I couldn’t check off all the boxes I felt needed to be checked. I don’t love preaching. I’m not the most eloquent speaker. How can I be called a pastor?

One simple sentence from a child allowed me to see myself in a new light and I began to embrace the title, and the calling on my life to pastor…whatever that may look like.

On the days when my anxiety and self-doubt keep me from doing my best or believing that my best is enough, I am thankful for this story. I am thankful for a child’s words, “She’s MY Pastor.” On those hard days I am also thankful to work alongside five other incredible pastors who somehow both affirm every part of who I am and challenge me to be and do better.

I’m not perfect. I’m broken. I’m human. And…I am a pastor.
 

Rebecca serves on the pastoral team at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia as the Pastor of Educational Advocacy and Administration. Helping kids develop spiritually, academically, and emotionally into who God has uniquely made them to be is her calling.

Mary and Martha: A Reflection by Julie Long

During the Baptist Women In Ministry Mentoring Program Retreat in January, Bianca Robinson Howard, Julie Long, and Dorisanne Cooper shared reflections on Mary and Martha. Their words were powerful for the women at the mentoring retreat, so we gladly share these reflections to the BWIM blog.

“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38-42, NRSV)

In many sermons, Sunday School lessons, and other interpretations of this Luke 10 passage, Martha is set up as the negative example, the one not to be. But as one who tends to act more like Martha than Mary most of the time, I want to defend Martha a little. I know what her gifts can be. I know how much she’s needed.

It was Martha who opened up her home to Jesus, offering the radical hospitality that he talked about. It was Martha who filled his hungry belly. Martha was the one who provided the space for Mary’s encounter with Jesus to happen.

Martha provides the ministry of making space. The ministry of making space is an important one.
Table fellowship cannot happen if no one has cooked the meal. The missions offering can be collected but it will not make a difference to the people it’s meant to serve unless someone delivers it. Worshippers may not find sanctuary if no one has bothered to cut on the heat and the lights, and they can’t experience the beauty of an anthem if the choir has not rehearsed, and they cannot remember Jesus through the taste of the bread and juice if the elements have not been bought and prepared.

Martha is the one who misses the choir’s Christmas production because no one else wanted to keep the nursery that day. Martha directs Vacation Bible School every year. If you want to know where the Christmas decorations are stored or how to run the industrial dishwasher in the church kitchen, ask Martha. You can count on Martha to always show up with a casserole.

Martha’s strength is taking the lead where action is required. She wants the job done well, and she is infuriated when she counts on someone else and they drop the ball.

You know her. You, too, may be a lot like her. And you give thanks to God for her because Sacred moments that take place in sacred spaces because of Martha.

You know these things, and surely Jesus does, too. So what does he mean by seemingly reprimanding Martha? Is he not appreciative of all that she does?

A few interesting things to consider about this story and this relationship:
•I think it’s helpful for us to consider the context of this story. This story comes right after Good Samaritan story, in which Jesus has shown us the importance of taking action. “Go and do likewise,” he says. And then, in the story of Martha and Mary, Jesus affirms Mary’s desire to sit and be attentive to the Word. “This is the better part,” he says. So which is it?

We need both stories. The model for the disciple is found in the juxtaposition of the two. Disciples often need more discrimination, not more vigorous effort.

• When Jesus responds to Martha’s complaint about Mary’s unhelpfulness, surely he’s not unappreciative of all she has done. He doesn’t criticize Martha’s active service. Rather, he focuses on the fact that she is “anxious and troubled about many things.” Her service is “distracted,” and it is this anxious, driven service that Jesus contrasts with “the one thing that is needful,” which is Mary’s attentiveness.

Jesus doesn’t say Martha is to abandon her work. But he does invite her to center her life. This is not a story about the supremacy of a life of prayer over a life of action. It’s an invitation to move from being distracted to being attentive—in our prayer as well as in our action.
When we busy ourselves out of our fear or anxiety or jealousy or a need to control, we have come off center. Jesus was inviting Martha to reconsider why she was doing what she was doing and to realign.

• Jesus may have been encouraging Martha to step out of the box that she found herself in. Martha is fulfilling the role assigned to her by society. In contrast, “By sitting at Jesus’ feet, Mary is acting like a male. She neglects her duty to assist her sister in the preparation of the meal and violates a clear social boundary. Jesus allows Mary to claim the same role that the disciples later claim for themselves – not to leave the ministry of the word to serve tables.

To love God with all one’s heart and one’s neighbor as oneself meant then and now that one must often reject society’s rules in favor of the codes of the kingdom. Perhaps Jesus was empowering Martha to break the rules and follow Jesus’ example.

There’s nothing wrong with “everything in its place” and “wanting a well-run household,” is there? No, there’s not. But when the process or the product become more important than the people served, Martha has become unhealthy. This is what Jesus reminds Martha of.

Julie Long is associate pastor and minister of children and families at the First Baptist Church of Christ at Macon, Georgia

Mary and Martha: A Reflection by Bianca Robinson Howard

During the Baptist Women In Ministry Mentoring Program Retreat in January, Bianca Robinson Howard, Julie Long, and Dorisanne Cooper shared reflections on Mary and Martha. Their words were powerful for the women at the mentoring retreat, so for the next three weeks, we will gladly share these reflections to the BWIM blog.

“Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying.  But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”” (Luke 10:38-42, NRSV)

Mary, in this passage, is the ultimate example of what it means to be intimate with Jesus through spending time with Jesus, getting to know Christ better and deeper, and taking the time to stop our busy lives and enjoy the presence of God.

Mary reminds us that “doing ministry” is not spending intimate time with God. Working on a sermon is not your one on one intimate time with the Lord and your self-care time is not serving at the retreat you planned. Our service to God can, at times, become self-serving and unsatisfying if we don’t check our motives behind it.

In verse 40, Martha began to lose her joy in serving Jesus and in verse 41, he told her how troubled she seemed. But Mary was not troubled or frustrated because she was spending her time with the one who could take all those feelings away. We must find time away from everyday ministry tasks to enjoy the Lord. By doing so, we gain strength, self-awareness, peace—and we get to keep the joy in serving God.  Spending intimate time with the Lord gives us time to release burdens and to be reminded that God will fight our daily battles.

Mary and Martha had two different serving styles, not necessarily better, just unique to them. Mary’s way of serving was sitting at Jesus’ feet listening to him. Listening can be seen as an underrated way of serving. However, the ministry of listening and the ministry of presence can be just as powerful as the “doing”. I believe Mary’s listening helped Jesus and vice versa, making their relationship stronger together.

Also, in verse 40, Martha is comparing herself to Mary and complaining that she was not serving the way she thought she should be serving.  But Mary stayed true to herself and did it her way. In ministry, we need to know how we serve best. We should not compare ourselves to how others are doing ministry or serving God. We are to serve God the way we know is best for us. Stay in your ministry lane. Stay true to your gifts and calling when you serve God. Please the Lord by doing what you do best and don’t try to be what you are not.

Your gifts are special and specific in God’s kingdom and God will use you as He sees fit.  Your gifts will make room for you. Live them out and let God open the doors for you. Don’t spend your energy comparing yourself to someone else. There is enough work for us all to do, no need to compare ourselves, complain or get jealous.

In the end, Martha and Mary both served the Jesus in their own unique way and Jesus received each of their gifts of serving.

Bianca Robinson Howard serves at Zion Baptist Church in Marietta, Georgia, as associate minister and the full-time children and youth pastor/director.

Seven Ways to Organize Support for Ministry by Eileen Campbell-Reed

Support for ministry – from both peers and experienced mentors – is essential for those who wish to thrive. Whether you are a chaplain, pastor, minister of music, youth director, or minister by any other name, you can make use of your place and experience to organize more peer support for women in ministry. It is easy to wish that someone might take the lead. But as South African poet, June Jordan put it: we are the ones we have been waiting for.

I hope the following suggestions will spark your imagination for how to build the support you and your sisters in ministry need.

    1.  Make connections with friends. If you’re a minister serving in an isolated area, you can start by reaching out to gather your friends through the usual channels. Pick up the phone. Email a friend. Connect on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. Take the direct message approach. Invite a friend to meet with you over coffee or lunch. Tell them about your longing for support in your work. Ask what they hope for. Then make sure you listen to what your friend in ministry tells you. Your strategy has begun.
    2.  Leverage Your Position. If you hold a position in any religious organization then think about how to leverage it for the good of other women in ministry. Here’s one approach that has worked in Tennessee in the past. The TN Cooperative Baptist Fellowship provided a very small stipend to three women in different regions of the state. Every month each woman gathered other women in her area for a meal. Having a key person who’s paid a small amount of money for their time and who is already committed to the cause is key to making this strategy work. Two other keys to making it work included keeping the mealtimes simple and open. Meeting on a monthly basis, people simply want to catch up, share stories, and laugh (or cry) together. Additionally, it also helps to have some kind of structure or deepening question to take people beyond the simple “hi-how-are-you?” level of engagement. Here are a few examples of deepening questions I used recently: what kind of risks in ministry do you feel called to take right now? What kind of support do you need to take that risk? What area of your ministry could use a creative boost at the moment?
    3. Retreat Annually. Another model of support is one successfully maintained in both Georgia and North Carolina: an annual retreat anchors the support network of women in ministry. This approach works in these two states because they also have an organization or board of women who keep activities and communication going between retreats and alongside other gatherings (like state CBF meetings). Both of these states also present annual awards, scholarships, and recognition that help people with a sense of belonging to the group throughout the year and also attracts ministers and students from across the state.
    4. Hire Someone. Yet another model is the one in which an existing organization – for instance, a state CBF – hires a woman and one aspect of her job responsibility is to support and offer resources to women in ministry. Sometimes these women also organize events and provide communications to network and connect women in ministry. This is also proven to be successful at times past or present in Tennessee, Alabama, Kentucky, Florida, and South Carolina.
    5. Organize a Conference. Sometimes events of interest emerge as the most effective connecting point for women in ministry. Preaching conferences, spiritual retreats, and educational events are labor-intensive. The do not necessarily provide the lasting or ongoing connection that some women crave. However, they can provide a good space to meet, network and lay groundwork for more lasting structures of support. In Texas, this approach has been successful in bringing together women from a wide geographical area.
    6. Network Ecumenically. In some places, the only way to sustain a gathering of women serving the church and other ministry settings is to reach out for support across denominational lines. Women in ministry across every denomination face similar needs for support. They often experience isolation, particularly in rural areas. Video chat and social media are important for keeping women connected with friends over great distances, being able to meet face to face is a tremendous encouragement.
    7. Go to School. Yet another successful form of support for women in ministry has been the school related group. A number of seminaries like Baptist Seminary of Kentucky and colleges like Carson-Newman University have formed support networks for women called to ministry and their allies. The key to making these work seem to be having school staff, faculty, and/or a community minister who are able and willing to be a steady presence as a sponsor. Sponsors can make space for students to gather and lead the ever-changing group of students. Sponsors can also help to stabilize structure the support from the school as well as nurturing the budding calls to ministry of younger women.

Bringing it All Together
Currently in middle Tennessee, we are taking an approach that draws on the best of all of these elements. The gathering is called Scholastica, named for the sister of St. Benedict, who began an order of women called to serve God in the fifth century. Scholastica is ecumenical in its make up. We gather monthly during the fall and spring semesters (September through April) for lunch and conversation on Fridays. Most months we focus on conversation, networking, and relationship building, accompanied by a good meal. We help make the conversations go beyond the surface by providing a provocative idea or several deepening questions.

Once each semester, Scholastica sponsors a keynote speaker who comes to address a particular topic focused on women in ministry. Scholastica is cosponsored by three organizations: Central Tennessee, Tennessee CBF, and Scarritt Bennett Center where the group meets monthly. We draw in women from a wide variety of denominations and locations around middle Tennessee. Some of the participants in Scholastica are students at Central Tennessee and Vanderbilt Divinity School. Others are seasoned ministers and women exploring a call to ministry.

The pathways to support women in ministry and contribute to their thriving are numerous. Perhaps it is time for you to lead. Are you the one you have been waiting for?

Eileen Campbell-Reed is co-director at Learning Pastoral Imagination and the author of Anatomy of a Schism: How Clergywomen’s Narratives Reinterpret the Fracturing of the Southern Baptist Convention. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

Update on New Overtime Regulations by Jennifer Hawks

In August, I wrote an article summarizing the Fair Labor Standards Act and how new regulations expanding overtime protections for the American workforce might affect churches. These new regulations were set to go into effect on December 1, 2016.

Since writing my article, two lawsuits were filed to block the implementation of these regulations. A lawsuit filed by 21 states successfully obtained an emergency nationwide injunction on November 22, 2016, thus preventing the new regulations from taking effect on December 1, 2016.

The U.S. Department of Labor is continuing its efforts to implement the new overtime regulations by appealing the judge’s injunction. Although they requested an expedited appeal schedule, it is unlikely that the case will be resolved prior to President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017. If the appeal is not concluded by then, a Trump administration could choose to continue the appeal or to withdraw it. If the Trump administration withdraws the appeal, the injunction remains intact and the federal overtime regulations unchanged.

Many churches reviewed their employee job descriptions, pay rates, and workloads in anticipation of the new regulations. If your church did not, consider doing so in preparation for the next budget cycle. Even though these specific regulations may never be implemented, it remains a good stewardship practice for all churches to periodically review employee job descriptions, pay rates, and workloads.
 

Jennifer Hawks is the Associate General Counsel at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. She is a graduate of Baylor’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary and a member of the U.S. Supreme Court, Texas, and Mississippi bars.