Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a brilliant minister, and this week we are excited to introduce Chrissy Williamson.
Chrissy, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
My ministry journey began at a very young age. Growing up as the daughter of a minister of music, I spent many hours in church offices and freshly emptied sanctuaries. By the time I was fifteen years old, I knew that I wanted to spend my life in those types of places. Around that same time, I began exploring different avenues of ministry. The most available pathway for me was to become a foreign missionary. I grew up in Southern Baptist churches that really didn’t know how else to guide young women who were discerning a call to ministry. Throughout my high school and college years, I eagerly went on mission trips and individual assignments to places like San Antonio, Texas, France, England, and China.
I attend Furman University, and as graduation drew near, I applied to divinity schools and opted to study at Wake Forest University School of Divinity, where I earned my Master of Divinity degree in 2009. My time at Wake was incredible. My mind, heart, and soul were opened to lived realities and theological studies that truly pulled the rug out from my feet. It whet my appetite for the academy, and I knew I had to do more! From Wake I went to Union Theological Seminary where I studied theology with Roger Haight, a Jesuit priest who never seemed to tire of my constant theological questions around the trinity, salvation, and pluralism. While I worked on a Master of Arts degree at Union, I had the great honor of working at The Riverside Church in New York City as associate director of young adult ministries (20s-30s) and as the interim director of worship.
From New York, I was called in 2010 to Myers Park Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina as youth minister. In 2014, my role shifted to adult faith formation minister and then again in 2016 to associate minister. As associate minister, I supervise staff teams with faith formation and communications/technology.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest sources of joy in ministry tend to be areas of creativity and innovation. Most recently these have included the creation of a new pedagogical model called “The Awakening Series,” a year-long series of large and small group gatherings all focused on understanding complex issues of our day. In this model, folks have opportunities to listen, discuss, read books, process personal issues with the topics, and attend pilgrimages to further solidify learnings. So far, we have had series on racial injustice and immigrant injustice, and this year we will be exploring the concept of “embodiment” with the title: “Awakening the Body.”
In recent years, I have established a podcast book-study called Theology Upstream,.which is an attempt for two young-ish clergy people (Ben Boswell and me) to take complex content in theological/spiritual books and to put that content in conversation with real-life, lived experience. We tend to select books from the recommended reading lists for the Awakening Series that we are studying at the church, which helps our podcast have thematic consistency. It is so joyful to hear from congregants that they love listening to our banter, or that they are learning and understanding things they would never have found (or read) on their own. It’s a really cool way to help the academy and the church grow a little closer together.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
Being a woman. For sure. And being a fairly young woman on top of that. I’m thirty-three years old, which means that for all of my career, I’ve been one of the youngest members on ministerial staff teams. Now, this is kind of fun, because it gives me an opportunity to “surprise” people with maturity and professionalism. But the very fact that my maturity comes as a surprise to folks is challenging for me. I will never forget the first time someone told me, “Wow, you can really pray!” after a worship service.
For whatever reason, many congregations are not accustomed to being led by young women. Church members struggle with the ways we embody leadership and positions of power, and they often just don’t know what to do or what to say.
Along the same lines, being a young(-ish) woman in a traditionally male workplace, I find it challenging to discover my own voice. I so badly want to sound like Morgan Freeman when I speak, and yet that deep, calm, divine, authoritative-yet-casual sound will never be my sound. As I’ve grown into my identity as a pastor and a preacher, I’ve struggled with finding my own voice and letting that voice be at home in my sound.
What advice would you give to a teenage girl who is sensing a call to ministry?
Find women who will mentor you! Men and women (not ignoring that things aren’t always that binary) inhabit leadership differently. Even when we are not trying to. I have a mentor in my life, Robin Coira, who extended her hand to me early in my career, and her presence has made all the difference. She understands the challenges that I face as a woman minister, and she is always there to help me navigate tricky or unknown waters.
Believe in yourself! Don’t spend too much time listening to folks who say your voice is too high, your earrings are too sparkly, or you’re too emotional, or any of those other things that people use to discount and discredit women. Be firm in your calling and trust that the Spirit who calls you forth has gifted you for ministry and will carry you all along the way.
Find other women in ministry to be in community with. Seek out female colleagues, and establish regular rhythms of meeting and sharing life.
Don’t write off all men. Just because some of them don’t understand the unique challenges of being a woman in ministry doesn’t mean none of them get it.
Finally, have fun, enjoy every moment, trust the Spirit. Doing ministry as vocation is a gift, don’t forget that! Be open to the creative movement of the Spirit, and let Her breathe new life into everything that you do!