Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Betty Wright-Riggins. Betty IS what a minister looks like!
Betty, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving:
I never imagined I would be called to the “ ministry.” As a teen I was drawn to education, serving special needs persons, or in the helping professions as a psychologist. I always knew I would graduate from college. That was a central theme in my household. I would be the first in the family to graduate from a “ good” college.
As a child, church attendance and participation was not an option in my family. I did as required and loved it. I could not get enough of hearing and reading the Bible stories or learning all I could about the prophets and kings.
I began my professional career as a speech pathologist with special needs persons, in clinical settings and in the public schools in Los Angeles. Later I served as district administrator, assistant principal, and principal in settings for special needs and adjudicated youths sentenced to jail in other districts in Los Angeles and in the greater Philadelphia area.
I served as head of school at Cornerstone Christian Academy, a private Christian school started by Tony Campo. Its goal was to provide a private Christian school experience for the working poor and their families in the Southwest area of Philadelphia.
I was a church planter, Solid Rock Community Church, Philadelphia, which was a one-hour dress down experiment serving persons recovering from abuse, and addiction.
I pastored the First Baptist Church, Manchester Center, Vermont and ministered with the American Baptist Churches, USA as a financial and pastoral consultant for pastors, missionaries and churches as well with the Philadelphia Baptist Association as communications consultant.
I have been blessed to provide leadership as a spiritual director with individuals and groups, and I provide spiritual formation leadership in small groups, in homes, and at retreats, seminars, abd workshops. I started a spiritual formation group in my home “Breathing the Breath of God.”
Currently, I serve as spiritual director and cohort leader with seminarians at Princeton Theological Seminary and cohort leader at Oasis School for Spiritual Development for those striving to be spiritual directors. I also am cohort leader for Pulpit, a Lilly Endowment Thriving in Ministry grant offered to Missio Theological Seminary for the spiritual and well being of urban pastors.
Looking back is appears that God has honored my childhood dreams of serving those most vulnerable in mind and spirit.
What has been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest joy is teaching. I am a pragmatist at heart. When I read something, I begin to translate that into a spiritual lesson or a method that leads to heart growth. This applies to me first then to others.
I was told once the way you know what your spiritual gift is to think about what you naturally do. Then consider what you cannot help but do. Therein lies one’s gift. Mine is teaching. I have been graced to have been able to do this in seminary’s, churches, and many other gatherings.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
I can think of two challenges that rocked me to my core. The first was early on when I felt a deep longing within and was not sure how to articulate it. I thought it was the Spirit nudging and pushing me toward seminary and something else. I spoke with my pastor, and he was not supportive. He convinced me God wanted me to change my career working as a speech pathologist to education. I did and obtained a Master’s degree in education administration. The stirrings intensified and continued.
The second was becoming a church planter. The church vision of leadership was to be team focused. With much prayer and discernment, team members were identified, trained and a unique vision cast. Each team member was highly gifted in different areas. All of us were certain of this call and mission and to the location. But team members left after maybe six months to start their own ministries. All are faithful to their calls still and flourishing in their ministries.
Within that same year our place of gathering was no longer available. Those who attended were accustomed to non-permanence in their lives started to drift away.
I began to ask God if I had made this vision up. Maybe it failed because of something I had done or not done. My spirit was broken. I would say I wandered in the wilderness of self- doubt for about a year. I prayed and heard nothing. I became withdrawn and quiet, convinced I had failed God and my ministry was over.
Then I received a call, out of the blue asking if I would consider pastoring the First Baptist Church of Manchester Center, Vermont. God is amazing!
What advise would you give to a young girl who is discerning a call to ministry?
I would suggest she surround herself with loving caring people who know her and love her. People who will listen as she wrestles with how she perceives the Spirits moving within her.
I would recommend she be theologically educated. There are many ways to do this nowadays. I would challenge her to find mentors, male and female. Do some research to make sure these people are engaged in ministry areas she may be interested. Also that they tend to their inner soul relationship with God.
I would caution her to not be concerned if her area of ministry service is not readily clear. It will crystallize in time.
I would assure her that the Spirit of God will love her, sustain and carry her especially during the rough times.