Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Mary An Wilson.
Mary An, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My first inkling of God’s call in my life came when I was eleven-years-old. It was strange because Baptist women had few choices in those days—Church secretary? Organist? Missionary? My mind mulled over the possibilities, knowing that God was trying to get me to understand something. I just couldn’t figure out what, and I saw no one with whom I could entrust this sacred information. By the time college days rolled around, I had decided God wanted me to marry this ministry, so when Ron Wilson appeared on my path, I was sure I had my answer. This soon-to-be graduated Minister of Music was the love of my life. I could certainly be a dedicated minister’s wife.
In the 1990s, through some intense encounters with women serving in pastoral ministries in other denominations, I began to recognize a now-familiar longing in my heart. At that time I was serving as children’s choir coordinator in a large church where Ron was serving as minister of music. Though I had learned a lifetime of lessons in love and leadership in this capacity, I continued to feel there was more on the horizon. About that time I also became close friends with Patricia Taylor, a Baptist woman who was completing her seminary education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and seeking ordination through the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Whatever this “new” group of Baptists was, I liked what I was hearing, and I began showing up at various gatherings. I was invited to lead in prayer at one such event, and that was the beginning of the end of my welcome in the “big church.” That kind of information travels fast! I was eventually given the space to “resign” quietly after nineteen years in that work. I knew the time was right.
At that point, a young CBF-minded pastor, Jonathan Ivy, serving a small Baptist church in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, called and asked if I would meet with him and talk about the possibility of working with his church. After ten days of being called EVERY day, I finally agreed to meet and talk. Through that three hour coffee-drinking, ministry-sharing encounter, I agreed to come to Woodland Forest Baptist Church for six months…”just to see.”
I was immediately in love with this church and her people. In January 2000, I was ordained and “officially” called as associate pastor. Jonathan Ivy proved to be an amazing pastor and teacher. He saw to it that I experienced everything first hand: baptizing new believers, presiding over the Lord’s Table, visiting the homebound, leading children and youth, sharing funeral service responsibilities, officiating at weddings! And preaching….Oh my!!
Some twelve years later in 2011, Jonathan moved to a full-time chaplaincy. A pastor search committee was formed, and they searched (at least they said they did!). In the end, the church called me to be their senior pastor. I served there for the next six years until health issues made it clear that it was time to give that ministry to God’s next appointee! I retired on May 28 of this year. With the Psalmist, I declare: “LORD you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure. The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.”
What are the greatest challenges you have faced in ministry?
Truly the greatest CHALLENGE I have faced is the gender thing! I understood that God had a special task for me, but there were virtually no role models or anyone to offer me counsel. Even as a college student, I understood that ministry opportunities were gender-limited. At the time, I accepted that. In retrospect I know this attitude has been passed down through the decades, as conservative thinkers have simply accepted what they were told by their predecessors.
Still we must continue to ask the question: “If God calls ANYONE to serve, who are WE to say, “ YOU ARE MISTAKEN. GOD WOULDN’T DO THAT!”? How can anyone be forbidden to share his/her experience of God’s love either in or out of the pulpit? Declaring God’s love and plan of salvation is NOT exercising authority over any man (or woman). Instead, it is witnessing obediently to God’s plan for the spread of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
What are your greatest joys in ministry?
My greatest joy is seeing children (young and old) come to know Jesus. To then be asked to baptize them is breath-taking. They come with such innocence and delight that God sent Jesus for them. Having served in one church for eighteen years I have been given the gift of watching many come to Jesus and follow Him faithfully through the growing up years of their lives!
Woodland Forest Church is uniquely blessed with the gift of unconditional love. Another great joy has been that of watching people come into to our little church overwhelmed by the pain and grief in their lives. They have been taken in and loved back toward spiritual and emotional health by a group of people who know life’s pain as well and do not judge. We have been called a “hospital” church. So be it! We are called to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ in our community. Jesus said, “Come unto Me, all who are weak and burdened down, and I will give you rest for My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
I was definitely given a lot of negative advice regarding my personal call to ministry including this: “Get over it! You will never be called a minister because you aren’t one.”
The best advice came from my spiritual director: “Dear one, it is God who called you to ministry. Do not listen to other voices. If your heart is turned toward God in trust, you will know the truth.”