Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce Deborah Loftis.
Deborah, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served.
Currently I am executive director of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada, a position that I have held since 2009. Prior to that I served on the faculty as church music professor (1999-2008) at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond. Before that, I was . . . well, let me say that my ministry journey has been anything but a straight line! I started seminary in an education degree and switched (in what I can only describe as a Damascus Road experience) to music. Ordained to the ministry in 1983, I’ve worked as a minister of music, associate pastor, and music librarian in a public library alongside a volunteer music ministry. There were four years that I was a “full-time volunteer.” It was during that period that I served as Moderator of Alabama Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in its fledgling days. I was piecing together ministry and my call as best I could. Every time I thought I had figured out my vocational path, there was a left turn in the road that made me refigure things.
What have been the greatest challenges you have faced in your ministry journey?
I think my greatest challenge has been to keep exploring new ways of ministry despite the seeming roadblocks along the way. Sometimes I’ve had to work bi-vocationally, paying the bills with one job and pursuing my call in volunteer ways. In my present position, one might consider the work simply administrative – most of my days are spent at the computer and on the phone. I see my work, however, as an opportunity to encourage individuals and congregations to enliven their worship practices through active participation in singing. I am working to encourage the poets and composers who create new songs for our worship and I’m still engaged in teaching, both in the classroom (live and online) and one-to-one as people call, and email their questions about hymnody.
What have been some of the unexpected surprises of ministry?
When I finally had the opportunity to teach church music at the seminary level, moreover, to design a course of study in church music, I thought I had found my dream calling, the one thing I had been working toward. I was able to meld my experiences as a local congregational minister with the years of academic study. I thought that all my prior work and preparation were now coming to fruition. I thought I’d retire as a professor. When the teaching position ended because of financial strictures at the seminary, there was another surprise “left turn” for me.
In my work with The Hymn Society, I am still pulling together all the experiences and preparation of earlier jobs and academic study – minister of music, reference librarian, seminary professor. My dream job is now this one – this must be really what God intended as my calling. Sometimes I think everything must have been leading to this work with a not-for-profit organization. Looking back honestly, though, I think each of my ministry positions was the right one for that time. I think I did important work and I’m grateful for those opportunities. But I’m a little worried: I’m retiring in a few months and think I have all my plans in place. Uh-oh – there’s probably a left turn ahead.
What are some of the resources or practices that are important for you as you seek to stay spiritually and emotionally healthy?
My most important practice is to stay connected to family and friends. It sounds simplistic, but these are the folks who help me negotiate those pesky left turns and remind me of God’s greater call on my life than just one particular job. When the pressures of work seem to be pushing me toward isolated, task-driven existence, that’s exactly when I need to work on family and friend relationships and remember how vital they are. That helps me maintain my balance.
Another vital practice for me is music. I worship best through musical expression, particularly song. It’s important for me to maintain space in my life to make music – both individually and in groups. Music invigorates me at the deepest levels and reminds me as I sing with others that we are The Body of Christ- alive and energetic.