VBWIM Pam 4In August 2010, after I completed my first year with Baptist Women in Ministry, I decided that it was time to take a day to pray and to dream about the future of the organization.  I wanted some time away from my office and from the demands of life. I needed some time alone to make lists, look at the calendar, figure out next-steps for BWIM.

So I drove to Conyers, Georgia, to a Cistercian Monastery, the Monastery of the Holy Spirit. It is located in a quiet, remote area near a lake. And the monks in Conyers dedicate themselves to the worship of God . They live in solitude and silence. I decided it would be a perfect place to spend five or six hours praying alone.

When I arrived at the monastery, I headed to the Abbey church and slipped into one of the wooden pews at the back of the church that are reserved for visitors. This was August, during a lovely heat wave. The building has no air conditioning, so before settling in to pray, I turned on a fan near my pew. And then I began praying–thanking God for the good things of life and for God’s work in and through me. I prayed for my family—my children and my husband, my parents and sisters and nieces and nephews. I prayed for my friends, my students, for women ministers I know. I prayed for Baptist Women in Ministry, for its leaders, for its work and its future. I examined my heart, confessed by sin, prayed for forgiveness. Then I prayed some more. And finally, I was all prayed out. And I looked down at my watch–it had been all of fifteen minutes!

I panicked—how could I possibly spend another five hours at this place. What had I been thinking—going to a place of contemplation and quietness. Should I just give up and go home!?

What you need to know about me is I am a do-er, an organizer, an achiever. All the personality test indicators say that I am scheduled, structured, orderly, planned. I don’t do sitting very well. I don’t do waiting very well. And as much as I appreciate and am so grateful for the monastic tradition within our Christian history and as much as I long to be a contemplative person, I struggle in that area of my spiritual life. I find it very hard to relate to the life choices of monks and nuns, especially those who live isolated lives of silence and contemplation. So I sat in complete panic—in this silent church with only the swooshing sounds of a fan, trying to get comfortable on a hard wooden pew and to stay cool on a hot, hot morning—trying to figure what to do with myself.

Eventually, I did what any self-respecting woman of faith would do—I got up and went to the gift store.  Shopping always helps! Plus I knew that the monks in the gift store would have to talk to me if I bought something! I did buy something, several somethings. I bought a book of prayers and some of the chocolate fudge that the monks make!

After thirty minutes or so I finally worked up the nerve to go back to the Abbey church. I went back to my same pew, sat down with my new book of Catholic prayers and began flipping through and reading some of the prayers. Just a casual reading, thinking more about how these prayers developed and have been used historically by Catholics than thinking about what they actually could teach me.

But when I got to the prayer to the Holy Spirit, I stopped and read and re-read it – over and over again—and one sentence became my prayer that day, I read it out loud. I whispered it to myself. I wrote it in my journal over and over. And it became the prayer of my heart. And I relaxed into that prayer, sitting quietly with it. Breathing it into my spirit. Resting in an awareness that God was there with me—surrounding me, speaking to me.

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

I breathed those words, sat with them quietly, ran my finger over them on the page, and closed my eyes and rested.

About an hour later the monks began to file into the church, one or two at a time, each taking their place for worship. And I could tell that these men each had their own place, a place to be in that community, a place to stand, a place to worship, a place to pray. They each had their place! Then the noon day service began—soft quiet music, sung in Latin, beautiful sounds of worship.

After ten minutes of singing, a monk stood to read the scripture passage of the morning: 1 Peter 5. In that epistle chapter, the writer offers words of encouragement and advice to the “elders among you” – those serving in the name of Christ as leaders, caregivers, overseers.  In verse 2 of chapter 5, these are the words Peter offered: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must but because you are willing, as God wants you to be, not greedy for money but eager to serve, not lording it over those entrusted to you but being examples to the flock.”

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.”

The monks finished their worship and walked quietly out of the church to have lunch together, but I remained, sitting and sweating on my wooden pew, listening to the words that now filled my head and my heart:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care.”

Those words echoed over and over. And I finally began to understand. This day that I sat aside for planning and scheduling was of my own design, my own need for structure. And in the midst of that, God was offering me something more than a well-organized calendar and a strategy for the future. God was offering me assurance and presence.

In that first year with BWIM, I had moments in which I have wondered if this work was indeed what God had called me to do. After all, my training, educational background, and experience is as an academic. I know how to work and live in the academic arena, but this new BWIM role was been about leadership and about caring for and encouraging women ministers. So during that first year, I questioned my new role, wondering if this position was something I had created because of my own needs. I struggled with self-doubt—and frankly, I struggled with embracing myself as a minister leading other ministers, caring for other ministers, supporting and encouraging other ministers.

But there in Conyers, Georgia, God offered me these assurances:

“Come, Holy Spirit, fill my heart with your holy gifts.”

“Be a shepherd of God’s flock that is under your care.”

In the years since that experience, I have pondered these assurances and have embraced the truth that I have gifts—gifts I have never explored, gifts that are developing, gifts that others have recognized and affirmed—holy gifts, given by God. I have also embraced the realization that God has indeed given me flocks to tend over the years. Some of those flocks have been within the church—I have been a shepherd to Sunday School classes and Bible study groups to youth groups to senior adults, but I have also been a shepherd to a good many flocks that are outside the church, flocks that were entrusted to me to love and care for – including my children, my friends, my peers, my students. My present flock is a rather undefined flock, one that is constantly changing and expanding. I have a flock under my care of women who need encouragement, support, guidance—they need me to listen, to offer practical help, to pray with them, to give them words of hope. And every day I am thankful–for words of assurance that came to me on a quiet day in Conyers.

Pam Durso is the executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.