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.