This month, the BWIM blog features the stories of women who have been a part of the BWIM Mentoring Program. Applications will be accepted for the 2020-2021 cohort from August 1 through September 15. Visit to learn more.

“If I’m ever in the hospital, don’t send the kid.” Such was the instruction in 1986 of Mildred, the church matriarch of Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco, to Bill Smith, my pastor and mentor in ministry. At that time, I was a fresh-out-of-seminary associate pastor whose ministerial identity was still soft clay. Bill’s compassionate, wise encouragement during that crucial season of vocational ministry helped me to persevere when others’ appraisals of my gifts and abilities were less than glowing.

While I wouldn’t trade my mentoring experience with Bill Smith for anything (and am happy to report that Mildred and I became dear friends during the 14 years that I served at NABC)—there is enormous value for women beginning any type of ministry to benefit from the encouragement and wisdom of women who have walked a similar path. In 1986, women pastors were few and far between and I knew of my role models only from afar—women whose names were whispered with hushed reverence by those of us on the road behind them: Molly Marshall. Nancy Hastings Sehested. Susan Lockwood.   

Today, thanks to the creative, strategic leadership of Pam Durso and her team, BWIM offers a brilliant opportunity for women who are fledgling ministers to be mentored by seasoned women in a context of shared, caring community. As a mentor to four first-time pastors this year, I’ve been enriched, challenged and inspired by our monthly conversations (via Zoom) on topics ranging from preaching and claiming pastoral authority to setting boundaries and work-life balance. These gifted women often become my teachers as we navigate together the often-choppy waters of pastoral ministry. Mostly we hold each other in prayer and serve as hands to one other’s backs. Since January, when we began our mentoring year, we’ve supported each other through family crises, church leadership conundrums, theological ponderings and questions like Is it possible to be a pastor and a whole, healthy human being at the same time? Thanks be to God, in 2019, a meaningful mentoring moment is only a text away. 

Some years ago, when I served at Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, a little girl in our congregation, an energetic, radiant kindergartener named Josie, was having a talk with her grandfather. During the conversation the grandfather inadvertently used the word “stupid”. Josie gasped out loud and her eyes grew wide. “We don’t use that word, Grandpa!” she exclaimed. “That’s a bad word!”

Her grandfather quickly apologized. “You’re right, Josie,” he said. “I’m sorry.”

Josie paused for a minute. “But that’s not the worst thing you could say,” she declared.

Her grandfather’s curiosity got the better of him. “Josie, what is the worst thing you could say?” 

Josie leaned close and whispered, “I hate your artwork.” 

All of us need people around us who put an arm around our shoulders and say, with encouragement and love, “Your artwork matters. Keep painting, dear.”

Thank you, BWIM, for this gift.   

Julie Pennington-Russell is Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of the City of Washington, DC, and serves a mentor to new pastors in the 2019 BWIM Mentoring Program Cohort.