Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce Mary Beth Foust.
Mary Beth, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My journey of call has been one that seemed to start as long ago as I can remember. I grew up with theologically educated parents and a mom on church staff. I traveled on mission trips and some of my first memories of church center around tables of homeless people in the fellowship hall of Broadway Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. When I was twelve-years-old, my mom and I traveled to work with Shelia and Arville Earl in Macedonia and I knew then that something about my life was different. I have always had a bend in my journey to the poor and marginalized as well as to women and children.
Since then, I’ve been trying to listen and lean into each new pathway of ministry. I continued to travel to Macedonia and ultimately served a summer in college through Student.Go. I served a second summer with Student.Go and ended up working in the office with Amy Derrick, aiding with correspondence and logistics of summer and semester service as well as orienting students in preparation for service. After college, I married a minister and I see that as a unique part of my journey. His ministry with youth allowed me to serve and to pursue my own education as well.
I studied at the Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and worked as the Admissions Counselor during my three years as a student. I also worked with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia as an intern as well as an intern at Central Baptist Church where I was ordained. After graduation, I spent three months working at Westminster Canterbury of Richmond as a Pastoral Care Intern before beginning with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Virginia as the, then, Networking Coordinator. After some time in that position, it was determined that the budget of the organization could not sustain my position any longer and I was given six months to job search before it would end. During this same time, my husband was forced to resign from his ministerial position and we entered a major time of transition and questioning. I was the one who couldn’t run away from the church. Somehow, I believed if I kept showing up and holding my hymnal I would be reassured that God had not abandoned us, but instead was beckoning us back into the goodness and richness of our callings.
I took the first job that was offered because I had no other choice, I wish I could say at the time I believed it was my ministry, but I think that only took shape after the fact. I worked as the administrative assistant for a loan program that offered low-interest car loans to low-income individuals. During the six months working for that organization I learned in much deeper ways about those we were attempting to serve, but it was not a right fit for me. I then moved on to work as a bilingual parent educator through a home visiting program until my husband was called to a church in High Point, North Carolina.
Upon our move, I was a stay-at-home-mom, and then began working part-time at High Point University with the Bonner Leader Program. I currently serve as the assistant director of civic responsibility and social innovation, where I work with the Bonner Leader Program, serve as VISTA Supervisor, and aid in the development of a new minor at the University.
My experience is vast and varied and each new setting has presented new challenges for me. I learned that pastoral care really is a transferable skill and that often we know not what we are doing in the moment, but God continues to work and reveal newness in our calling as we journey on.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Oftentimes, I am my own greatest challenge. I have difficulty believing that what I do outside the church is real ministry. It seems I have never fit the mold for traditional ministry. (Thankfully, I was recently reminded that I was not born to fit any molds). Would the church who ordained me be proud of me for this work too?
Job loss was surely a great challenge. My husband and I were both forced into many questions about our own callings and places in ministry together and we came to realize that God is the one who calls; no church or organization can ever take away that calling by stripping you of a title.
Who have been your sources of inspiration and support along the way?
Thankfully, I am surrounded by a very large safety net of loving ministry mentors who have carried me when I most needed their love and support. I think it fit to leave a love letter of sorts to some of these love carriers of mine.
To Shelia Earl: the woman who told me at twelve that I should pay attention because God was calling me. We teased about it being my “Macedonia call.” She has loved me, encouraged me, and taught me SO much about how to be in relationship with people and about how to use the creativity that God gifts you with to give to others. I know I would not be the minister I am today without you and Arville in my life.
To Amy Derrick: the woman who dreamed dreams that students would experience the world and find themselves, I could not be more grateful for your vision, and for your unorganized self. You allowed me both to experience God in other cultures outside myself and to strengthen my coordination and organization skills. And you never stopped checking in on me and dreaming dreams for me.
To Nelson Taylor: the man who would listen to me talk on end for who knows how long and still find ways to challenge me and bring me into new ways of spirituality. Who affirmed what ordination was for me, who encouraged me to keep preaching and bringing my particular voice to texts, and who blesses me still with his vision for what the church could be in the world.
To Victoria White: for taking a chance on a seminary graduate who needed a safe place to land and for pushing me and reminding me that I am capable and worthy of it all. Thanks for always reminding me about perspective and being real with me—and for endearing yourself to my kid with lollipops. Genius.
To my own sweet family of ministers: When I joined the “family business” I didn’t realize what a unique gift it was to know that each one of my family members was living out their calling too. What a gift to call my sister and sermonize about things that matter, text my dad about complex theological ideas, complain to my husband about worship planning (ha, poor thing), and check my privilege after conversations with my mom about weeks of sheltering homeless men and listening to their stories. To my brother-in-law and father-in-law thanks for putting up with us and for following God’s call too. I love you all so, so much.
What advice would you give to teenage girls sensing a call to ministry.
My advice would be to pay attention to the gentle nudge (or maybe loud yells) from God and find ways to cultivate your calling. Let other people bring out the best in you and listen to them when they both affirm you and clarify your growing edges. While having women in senior pastoral leadership roles is something I value, cherish and affirm, it is not the only way your calling will be lived out—and it’s okay if you really feel that your gifting pushes you outside the “traditional” structure of ministry. Walk the path and look back to find the ways that all your experiences weave together at specific moments of clarity, each one of them is shaping you into the minister you were born to be.