Sometimes dreams do come true. Mine did . . . last week.

About a year after I began serving as executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, I began dreaming of forming a mentoring program. I knew that women ministers needed supporters, encouragers, and mentors if they were going to be healthy and stay in ministry for the long haul. In 2011, I first shared my dream with the BWIM Leadership Team and talked them into starting small—and I also talked them into being the first mentors. (If you know me, the last sentence will not surprise you).

That fall, seven Leadership Team members formed mentoring groups, which consisted of three to four “new” ministers. Each group was unique—some were formed based on geographic proximity; others formed based on shared ministry experiences; and still others formed around seasons of life. The groups included pastors, mothers in ministry, and “outside the box, non-traditional” ministers. Several of those groups continue to this day. Some lasted a few years, but each group met the needs and fulfilled its purpose.

In the years since, new Leadership Team members formed new groups. My dream was slowly unfolding, but this way of building a mentoring program had limits. We could only organize one or two new groups each year, and only women ministers known to the BWIM staff or the Leadership Team members were included in the program. But the biggest drawback of our informal program was that there were no funds available to bring group members together—for them to see each other, sit by one another, and share in conversation and fellowship in person, and that, that was my big dream!

bianca groupAnd it came true last week in Cullman, Alabama, thanks to a generous grant from the Forum for Theological Exploration. We received the grant last year, and the money allowed us to develop a more formal application process and reach out across the country and across Baptist life to invite women new to ministry to participate. The grant also allowed for better technology for group meetings (we are loving ZOOM), but best of all, the FTE funds made possible a retreat.

So last Thursday, twenty-four members of our five mentoring groups gathered at the Sacred Heart Monastery, including two groups for new pastors, one for associate ministers, and two for outside-the-box ministers. On our first afternoon together, I realized and said out loud that this gathering was my long-time dream come true. And by Saturday afternoon, I realized that the reality was so much better than any of my dreams.

dorisanna jennifer silasWe all spent time praying, laughing, talking about sisterhood, sharing stories, discussing healthy practices for ministry, affirming and blessing each other, walking on the labyrinth, visiting the monastery’s cemetery, eating meals and snacks (chocolate, of course), and rocking baby Silas who came to the retreat with his minister mom (babies are always welcomed at BWIM events). The added bonus was our time with the sisters of Sacred Heart. They invited us into their sacred space and shared their prayer times with us. Sister Elizabeth, who is the director of their retreat center, talked to us about the content and rhythm of the prayer services and explained to us how to join in and participate. Her hospitality and kindness lingers with me—and with all those who were in Cullman.

I look forward to sharing in the days to come some of the beauty of our time in Cullman, but for now I leave you with a blog written by Emily Hull McGee, who shared her reflections on the retreat and also shared her sweet baby boy with all of us.

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