Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a woman in ministry, and this week we are thrilled to introduce Anne Scalfaro.

Anne, tell us how you are currently serving in ministry.
I am the senior pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Denver, Colorado (an American Baptist congregation). Following a two-year pastoral residency at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, I began at Calvary as a pastor in 2008. In 2012, I became the acting/interim senior pastor at Calvary and officially became the senior pastor of Calvary in 2013.

What have been some of the challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
Aside from the most universal challenge we all deal with in ministry (setting boundaries and creating a healthy work/life balance), in my short tenure in pastoral ministry, I have faced quite a few significant challenges. The challenges have come in different forms, but through it all, I have seen God’s grace through the people of Calvary–their resilience, commitment, faith, and encouragement have kept me going.

My biggest pastoral challenges so far have been related to suicides: a former pastoral staff member, a youth, and a young adult. My most recent pastoral challenges, which are still very difficult, include the death of one of our long-time congregation members in Galilee last fall on a trip to the Holy Land that I was co-leading and the death of one of our long-time youth volunteers who was killed in a car accident in March. The layers of grief in those kinds of circumstances run deep. And the roots take hold in the congregation in ways that are hard to articulate. The gift has come in becoming more vulnerable with one another, especially in discussing mental health struggles very openly and honestly within the church. The past several years, I have officiated twelve-plus funerals a year–which takes its toll. However in an odd way, because of my own experience and comfort level with grief, I feel that, perhaps, part of my specific and unique calling by God to be at Calvary has been related to these significant losses. Funerals have become one of the most fulfilling parts of ministry for me–because of the tenderness and honesty of the moment, the expressed gratitude and celebration of life, the open admission of grief, the creative work to honor each person individually and each family situation differently, and the willingness of people to discuss the hard questions of faith at such moments.

Aside from pastoral care-related challenges, the other significant challenges for me have been personnel related. Our church voted to become Welcoming and Affirming in December of 2011, and while that vote was overwhelming positive, we did lose some long-time members which was hard for the congregation and for us financially. In January of 2012 my colleague (the former senior pastor) went on a mental health leave and six months later resigned. It was a very difficult time, serving as acting senior pastor and ministering to him and his family behind the scenes. That same spring, three of our office staff resigned, which compounded the workload in the office and also my own grief of losing four staff members from our office in such a short amount of time. These are people you care for and work with each and every day so it’s tough when that dynamic shifts so suddenly and drastically. I can’t put into words the emotional complexity of it all, but I will say that if it were not for the prayers of many people, the lay leadership at Calvary, and God’s strength and grace, I would not have made it through that year or remained in ministry.

Other personnel challenges that I have had over the past two to three years are things most pastors face at some point or another: having to let staff members go because of behavior, performance, or budget challenges, and having to reduce salaries across the board because of financial constraints.

Through all of these tough situations, the hardest challenge is usually not the situation itself, but all of the confidential information you carry that you cannot tell others. And therefore, you can often be misunderstood because people do not know all the circumstances related to a decision you have made. I have learned how to differentiate myself well from hurtful criticism in that regard, but it is still hard to have your intentions questioned when you are trying your best in that moment to lead with wisdom and grace. It is never easy to see a staff member go (for any reason). You know you are affecting their lives and their family in profound ways. At the same time, I have learned that part of leadership is looking at “the good of the whole” and doing what is best for the entire church, while also dealing as pastorally as you can with individuals when situations come up. It is not helpful leadership to not make a hard decision, if it is the right decision, just because you know it will be hard. Things will only get harder–for the church, for the individual, and for you–if you do not act. This challenge never gets easier, even with experience. The longer I am in leadership, the more humbling it gets.

What brings you great joy in life and ministry?
So many things bring me joy in ministry. First and foremost–the people. I love hearing people’s life stories . . . in a coffee shop, a home, a hospital room, a hike, or sitting on a church pew. I enjoy the deepened connections that come with hospital visits (and pastoral care in general). I enjoy working collaboratively with my colleagues to plan worship or special worship experiences during seasons such as Advent and Lent. (I have the best staff. They are gifted beyond measure and we have a lot of fun together! And I have a wonderful supportive pastor emerita in my congregation–Mary Hulst, who is a grace-filled mentor.) I love getting creative with daily Holy Week Services or quarterly Healing and Wholeness services; I enjoy designing rituals that invite people share their struggles and griefs with one another while also drawing hope and healing from Christ and the community.

As a person, my favorite thing in the life of the church is worship–so that is my favorite thing as a pastor too. I find worship to be this time of re-orientation to God, of pivoting back to what I might have strayed from or forgotten during the week: that God loves us all deeply and that God calls us to love others deeply. The perpetual nerd in me loves preaching and sermon preparation. Scripture, the stories of God’s people, give me so much to hope in as well as so much to struggle with, and I love to share that passion for the Bible with others. For me the confusion and challenge of the Bible is what makes it so powerful, and so very relatable to our lives. It is always a joy to baptize people and to serve communion, both of which are intimate and public moments full of meaning. To be able to look a congregation member in the eye and call them by name as I serve them the bread and the cup is the greatest of privileges.

Calvary is a church that works hard to be Open to All Closed to None, which is truly hard work if you really mean what you say. And we’ve struggled and continue to struggle to truly live up to this radical call of Christ. But as we try, over the past few years, I have experienced the deepest and most lasting joy in welcoming people into our congregation who did not feel welcome in other churches before, or who felt that there was no church for them, or that they were not worthy of God’s love. I am encouraged and uplifted by the testimonies of people who say they have never felt as accepted as they do in our community. To me, being this tangible embrace of God for one another is what church is about. Being a Christ-like community means doing things that may be out of our comfort zones for the sake of giving someone else the opportunity to feel comfortable for once. Being able to come together and worship freely is such a privilege–one we often take for granted. And when we can welcome people as they are into our communities and work together to worship God and serve others–then we all begin to be transformed in the process. And to see that transformation in others . . . and in myself . . . well, it doesn’t get much better than that! It’s the clearest evidence that God’s Spirit is alive within each one of us and at work among all of us.

Beyond ministry, my husband, Damon, gives me the greatest joy because of his love and support and fun-loving nature. Our puppy, Deacon, is also a great source of joy, especially when we spend a lot of time outside together. (I’m training him to be able to be up at the church with me during the week . . . hence the name) Family aside, practicing yoga is what keeps me spiritually renewed and physically healthy. Yoga teaches me so much about how to be truly present and how to let go of outcomes and focus on the process. Yoga reminds me to focus my energy on what I can do, not what I cannot do. These are great lessons for life and for ministry. In many ways, I feel like I am the best version of myself on my yoga mat–the version of myself I’m working on being in the world . . . especially at work.

What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
“To never stop asking for advice.” Actually, I’m not sure anyone has ever told me that, but that is my answer because I receive so much advice and support from mentors and lay leaders and friends and congregation members all the time. I can’t narrow it down to one thing. Pastoral ministry would be daunting and near impossible if I believed I had to do this by myself. But to know I have the support and wisdom of people who have gone before me and who are journeying alongside of me–well, that makes facing each day an opportunity for learning and growth. I try to surround myself with people whose strengths compliment my weaknesses, I have a couple of people who I always reach out to for emotional support and guidance when things are tough, and I try to ask a lot of questions and listen discerningly for the wisdom in the answers. And I listen openly to everyone who has an issue or complaint, because even if I see things differently, there is some wisdom and truth in every perspective.

The best advice I have ever received and continue to receive is from my mentor, George Mason, of Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. His is an “incarnational advice” and presence: his life’s ministry (something I have witnessed and benefited from since I was nine years old), his continual support through my calling and journey to ministry, and now our mutual support of one another as colleagues who share the joys and struggles of leading our respective communities with one another. I can only hope that I am as good a mentor and colleague as he has been to me. And to all of the struggles and joys I listed above, he would say, “This is what we do.” Indeed it is. And it is a great privilege to do it.