Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we are thrilled to introduce Ashley Gill Harrington.
Ashley, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
As a young teenager, I felt a very strong call to ministry. Even though I was in a church tradition that did not believe in women serving in certain roles, I was surrounded by strong women like my mother who were ministering everywhere but behind the pulpit. Not until college did my calling to the local church begin to become clear. My home church asked me to come intern one summer and through that experience that grew into a permanent position, along with a supportive female campus minister, I knew that this was where God was leading me. I fell in love with the Church. I loved helping this particular congregation connect to one another and to God in new and familiar ways. I loved what I was doing and knew that this was the type of ministry where God was leading me.
My time at Truett Seminary and serving as children’s minister at Seventh & James Baptist Church in Waco, Texas was incredibly formative for me to not only explore my call, but to fully accept it, too. Thankfully I have only found great support and encouragement in churches that I have served since. University Baptist Church in Hattiesburg, Mississippi was the best place for any fresh-out-of-seminary minister to land. They loved me fiercely, ordained me, and gave me space to fully grow into my role as an associate pastor and even begin to dream dreams of being a pastor one day. Though I was only an interim for children’s ministry for a year at First Baptist Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, the experience with those good people solidified that my calling was evolving to pastoring, particularly with my husband, Brian.
Tell us about co-pastoring with your husband. How do you divide the ministry task? How do you keep your marriage sane and healthy?
Even in our early dating days, my husband Brian and I dreamt of how our two callings might one day merge. We prayed and hoped for what might one day be, wondering if a shared ministry model might work well for us and a congregation. Learning from others who have blazed this trail, we have modeled our ministry on other co-pastors’ years of experience. Ideally, we have what we’ve identified as six main areas of ministry divided between us, but as we’re barely into our second year at Starling Avenue Baptist Church we have yet to fully divide those responsibilities as we’re still learning the church and they are learning us. Right now we go back and forth preaching and leading adult Bible study week to week, respond to pastoral care needs either together or individually, and while Brian sees to the important, day-to-day administration needs I often am looking ahead and helping us see the big picture. Thankfully our congregation in Martinsville, Virginia has been overwhelmingly gracious to us as we figure out just how this works best day-to-day for us and for the church, too. The rhythm that works well now may look different even in a year, and Brian, myself, and Starling Avenue Baptist are trying our best to be flexible to where the Spirit might be leading all of us.
While there are many wonderful things about co-pastoring, the hardest thing for us so far has been building and maintaining good boundaries. I am known to bring up a church issue as we’re laying down to sleep and we both struggle at times with how best to untangle our personal and professional life. Our nearly one-year-old daughter has been a great help in this as we work hard to make our time with her focused on our family. We try to be away from time to time, even for a day and visit a neighboring town to simply help us take a breath and see life beyond our ministry. Though we’ve only done it once so far, a day retreat to a neighboring retreat center has been one of the best things we have done for our work and marriage. We hope to make this a regular part of our rhythm to help us be better pastors, partners, and parents.
What are your greatest joys in ministry?
I love helping to build community. It always amazes me that even in smaller churches, people who have been around for years still don’t know one another. Because they are a part of a different class or sit on opposite sides of the sanctuary, their lives never seem to intersect even in a small crowd. One of the greatest joys for me is helping people build connections with each other because I believe it only makes our faith experience richer. Whether gathering around a table together or working alongside each other for a day of service, this community building helps the church better open itself up to those who are different and what we can learn from one another. I especially love intergenerational opportunities as too often in the church we are siloed in aged ministries and we miss so much. Children and youth have much to teach us about curiousity and mystery just as senior adults offer wisdom and experience. We learn more about God as we learn about each other.
What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
During my ordination council, one of the ministers told a story about a pastor. When the pastor died, the refrain over and over again was “he was always there.” My ministry colleague said that too often we applaud one another and are applauded in ministry for always being there for people, but he is always mindful of the other side. Because that pastor “was always there” for his congregation, he missed countless recitals, celebrations, dinners, soccer games, etc. with his own family and even time for himself. My friend encouraged me to always remember to live carefully within the tension of the pulls of church and home as the work at both is never “done.”