Today, Baptist Women in Ministry is pleased to introduce a new blog series, one that we have titled THIS IS WHAT A MINISTER LOOKS LIKE. Each Friday, we will “interview” a woman serving in ministry, and going first in this fun series is Mary Alice Birdwhistell, a new member of the Baptist Women in Ministry’s Leadership Team.
Mary Alice, tell us about your current ministry position.
I serve as associate pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas. Some days I spend my time at a hospital bedside, or a dinner table, or a baseball game, or a pulpit, or a local elementary school, or my purple office at church (yes, it’s purple!), or the corner table at my favorite coffee shop. The chance to share life with a beautiful congregation and community is a gift. Yes, it can be challenging, demanding, and messy work. Ministry is never 9-5. But it is an honor, and I consider each of these spaces of ministry to be incredibly sacred.
What have been some of your “bumps in the road” as a woman minister?
Most of the bumps in the road I have experienced related to my gender and my calling have been internal. It took me several years to work through the muck in my mind that was holding me back from living out who God was calling me to be.
I was afraid of what other people would think who might not understand my calling. I doubted whether a Baptist church would ever call me. I questioned what the Bible said about women, and what these texts mean for us today. I struggled to visualize myself in a role that, for the majority of my life, I had not seen women filling.
All of these thoughts and insecurities flooded my mind. However, I also began to receive the wisdom and affirmation of thoughtful professors. A beautiful congregation welcomed me into their fold, and although I could not see myself as a pastor, they saw me as one of their pastors. Over time, the whispers of the Spirit became stronger than the doubts of my mind, and I was given a strength that was greater than my own to pursue this calling God had planted within me.
What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
Courtney Allen began one of our recent BWIM mentoring sessions with the following statement: “We have to let God do God’s work with God’s people. Our job is to faithfully and compassionately walk alongside them.” I jotted it down on a sticky note and have looked at it every day since.
It is easy to feel the need to carry the weight of our churches on our shoulders and to become overwhelmed by situations that are not ours to carry. Our calling is to keep pointing to God and to faithfully and compassionately come alongside people wherever they are in their journey.
When I was a junior in college, I heard Julie Pennington-Russell preach at an event in Atlanta. It was one of the first times I had heard a woman preach, and I was drawn to the way her warm personality so genuinely communicated the gospel message. Julie gave a name and a face to a calling I had always felt within my soul but had struggled for so long to visualize for myself. Little did I know that the same church that had called Julie as their pastor would call me as one of their pastors just a few years later.
I had the opportunity to mentor with Julie at First Baptist Church, Decatur, Georgia, during my time in seminary. Through watching her live our her calling in such beautiful ways, she instilled in me a hope and a courage that I could do this, too. It is a gift to call her a mentor and friend in this crazy, beautiful life of pastoring that we now share.