Each Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce Natalie Webb.
Natalie, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
When I was thirteen-years-old, I began to feel a call to pastoral ministry. I remember the day I told my dad, a Texas Baptist pastor, that I wanted to preach. After expressing his pride and support, he dug out a file folder full of articles he’d collected on the role of women in ministry and told me to get to work! He knew I’d have to defend myself. I dove into the pile of papers with determination and came out with an even firmer sense of call, as well as a newfound love for the Apostle Paul. I found that Paul’s letters gave me a voice in the church and validated my participation in ministry. (I am well aware that this is not the initial experience most women have with my beloved Apostle!) This early experience was formative of my commitment to serve the church, as well as my academic interest in the New Testament.
In high school and college, I had opportunities to serve in youth and children’s ministry contexts, but it wasn’t until seminary that I began to preach regularly. Several Waco area churches invited me into their lives and pulpits, and it was in those tiny country churches (mostly UCC and Methodist congregations) that I found my voice and felt my call to preach confirmed by local congregations. During most of my time at Truett and during coursework for my doctoral degree, I was a member at Lake Shore Baptist Church, in Waco, Texas, where I had the privilege of volunteering as a pastoral associate to Rev. Dorisanne Cooper. Although I’d wanted to preach for most of my life, Dorisanne was the first real-life example I had of a woman actually doing it! I cannot overstate the impact she had, and still has, on my life and calling. #representationmatters
I currently have the honor of serving as pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, a lovely little congregation in North East San Antonio that values contemplative practices, inclusivity, connecting with God through nature, and providing a safe place for those who’ve been hurt (especially those who’ve been hurt by the church). As the only staff member, I serve by preaching, planning worship, providing pastoral care, and doing occasional odd-jobs like wrapping the pipes for winter and taking out the trash. I’m fortunate to have incredible volunteers who never cease to amaze me with their creativity, gifts, and willingness to serve. In addition to serving as pastor of Covenant, I’m a doctoral candidate in Baylor University’s religion department, where I study my beloved Paul and am writing my dissertation on 1 Corinthians 15:29 and the relationships between the living and the dead in the Greco-Roman world.
My other current ministry project is co-organizing (along with my friend, Kyndall Rothaus) the ecumenical grassroots women’s preaching celebration/conference, Nevertheless She Preached. Our second annual gathering is coming up in Waco, Texas on September 23-25, 2018. Hope to see you there!
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I find a lot of joy in preaching – I mean, not necessarily in the preparation, but in the actual preaching moment. The mulling, researching, prayerful listening, outlining, writing and rewriting and rewriting parts of my sermon prep often feel tortured and sometimes even painful. I think of Jacob wrestling with the angel by the river Jabbok as I imagine myself wrestling with Scripture, being wounded by the vulnerability it requires (especially of women), but encountering God and walking away with a blessing every time. Every Sunday, I get to stand before my church family and spill out the blessing and challenge that Scripture and the Holy Spirit have given me – to invite them deeper into the mystery of God, to urge them on in the faith, to open some new pocket of meaning and hope. There’s nothing better than that. It’s joyful and terrifying at the same time.
Another part of ministry that gives me joy is the ability to be present and bear witness to moments of both deep pain and deep joy in the lives of my congregants and those outside the church who come to me because they want to speak to a pastor. I spend a lot of time listening to people’s stories and watching God’s grace unfold in their lives. This window into people’s lives and souls is a great gift that I hope I never take for granted.
How do you keep healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually?
I chase my three-year-old around a lot, and I recently took up yoga. Both of those things help me physically and spiritually. I’ve learned (and am still learning) the hard way that keeping some kind of Sabbath day for rest is crucial for my mental health. I’m lucky in that Covenant has beautiful grounds – a winding prayer path that leads to a labyrinth at the back of our property, and lots of plant and animal life (it’s not unusual to see deer, bunnies, lizards, butterflies out my office window) – so I practice mindfulness meditation and contemplative prayer in nature as much as I can. But honestly, I struggle with all of these. It’s hard to fit everything in to the time I have, and as a pastor, I’m finding that there is always, always some other good and important thing to be done.
What advice would you give to a young woman sensing a call to ministry?
I would say, “You can absolutely do this. The Church needs your voice, your tenacity, your experience, your bravery. The Church needs you, even if they don’t know it, yet.” (Then I’d give her my phone number, tell her to call me any time, and invite her to come preach at my church.) I’d also probably tell her what she already knows: that the patriarchy (in all its forms, from seemingly benevolent to openly aggressive) is absolutely going to try to push her down, to silence her voice. I’d encourage her to hold onto her God-given calling and her responsibility to that calling. God is faithful, and there are women and men, people across denominations and around the globe, who are working alongside her and for her on behalf of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Preach, preacher!