On Giving Tuesday, BWIM is featuring Baptist women in ministry who have demonstrated strong leadership and resiliency in 2020. We hope you will consider giving to BWIM to join the work of elevating and nurturing the leadership of women like Rev. Molly Shoulta Tucker.
Rev. Molly Shoulta Tucker started her tenure as pastor of Ridgewood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky on January 1, 2020, just a couple of months before the pandemic began. She is also part of BWIM’s 2020-2021 Mentoring Cohort. Below, Molly shares her experiences of navigating change in her first year of pastoring this new congregation, the support her mentoring cohort has provided her, and the work of the Spirit through it all.
One of my professors in seminary would say, “where there are too many coincidences, it must be the Holy Spirit.”
From the friends who sent the job opening early on when Ridgewood Baptist Church began their search, to the string of seemingly coincidental coffee-shop conversations in different towns at different times with different people, I could write a book with coincidences that consist of people and places that pointed me to Ridgewood. But at some point, I believe, these coincidences breached a threshold into Spirit-movement.
I was called to Ridgewood on December 15, 2019. I was set to begin on January 1, 2020.
March 8, 2020.
I stood at the pulpit for announcements that Sunday. “Be smart, please listen, please do what’s best for you and your family.” A few nods, a few chuckles.
Our passing of the peace was foot-tapping or elbow-bumping that day. I’ve often wished that we could go back and that for one final Sunday we could embrace each other, savoring human touch and holding on just a few seconds longer. How humbling to think back to that sunny morning, when the green-stained glass cast colorful designs on the pews and faces of congregants.
We had no idea what was coming.
March 15, 2020.
The Deacons would meet, in person, for the last time for a while.
“Let’s say we’re planning to be virtual until Easter?” one of our Deacons suggested.
“No, no, no, we’ll be back before Easter!”
“I heard this isn’t supposed to peak until May.”
“Have you heard of Zoom?”
Completely unchartered territory.
For about 6 weeks, it felt like everything froze as we tried to figure out which way was up. Rest, grieve, walk the dog, call a church member to ask, “are you okay?” Repeat.
But (and I say this next part without naivete that churches, including Ridgewood, have struggled to maintain finances and interpersonal relationships) in the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit convinced me, and maybe Ridgewood, that change is sometimes something we don’t want, but it’s not something we can’t do.
And so our journey of change began.
Several un-Facebooked members joined Facebook to stay in touch. Our Sunday morning Coffee Hour created intentional “get to know you” time that has helped me, as Ridgewood’s Pastor, better understand personalities and backgrounds. Book studies, while on Zoom, have opened up times to share admittance of implicit racism or grief stories followed up with a “I’ve never shared that before.”
We drove by homes of shut-ins to wave and hold up posters filled with hearts and messages of “We miss you!” Dozens of gallons of chili were donated and passed through windows to the families of our Child Development Center in mid-October. Our church went on a “Halloween Extravaganza Parade” through the neighborhood and tossed candy to costumed children.
We welcomed new faces to conversation (and soon, to membership!). We shared communion in “tailgate” formation in our parking lot. We hosted our first-ever blood drive in our Sanctuary, no less! Those sneaky Ridgewood folks even arranged for a surprise birthday party for me and a month-long string of Pastor Appreciation cards.
Most recently, we hosted three guest speakers via Zoom that talked specifically about the words we use for LGBTQIA, BIPOC, and women and how we can shift our language – both spoken and written – to empower traditionally disempowered groups.
One of these happenings could have been coincidence. All of these things are possible only by the musings of the Holy Spirit. I won’t speak for Her, but I’m not sure how else a community could draw together in relationship with each other and God without actually physically being together. Don’t get me wrong—there has been grief, there has been doubt, there has been targeted anger and hurtful words, but the Holy Spirit has consistently shown her grace to us.
A little over a month prior to the start of the pandemic, I met four incredible women as part of the BWIM Mentoring Cohort. All Senior Pastors, we often forget to let ourselves be pastored “to.” The receiving of pastor-ing has become the first priority in our monthly meetings or ongoing text thread. In the constantly changing waters of COVID, sometimes the most needed pastoral words offered have been, “no, you’re not crazy.” In the midst of navigating pastoral leadership, sometimes the Spirit has comforted through words of, “yep, that’s sexism!” or “your video stream looks great!” or “breathe.”
There is more uniqueness than I originally knew to being a woman in a pastor role. This group of women, and several others in Kentucky BWIM and across the country, have listened to ramblings, celebrated growth, and cried alongside of me that some days ministry isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
This sisterhood of women has become another appearance of the Holy Spirit drawing people together and sustaining the work of God in difficult and changing days. Reflecting on the past year, the Holy Spirit has taught me that change is possible both within us and around us. Change can be forced and change can be voluntary. But most of all, there is a difference between not changing because we don’t want to, and not changing because we can’t. This pandemic has challenged me, and Ridgewood, to think through what is possible, to talk through how we will accept or resist growth, and to hold onto hope that on the other side of this pandemic, the Holy Spirit will continue to move in big, bold ways, as she has during it.
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