Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Grace Powell Freeman. Grace IS what a minister looks like!
Grace, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
Early on as a teenager as a member in a wonderful Baptist church, I was able to begin my ministry journey. Central Baptist Church in Newnan, Georgia, was ahead of her time in encouraging and welcoming women into ministry roles and to encourage young people, men and women, to explore a calling into ministry. It was in that beautiful place that I was nurtured in the faith and encouraged to open my heart to what God might be doing in my life.
When I returned to Newnan to teach elementary school after completing college, I was questioning how to spend the weeks I had off from teaching in the summer. My wonderful pastor, Bill Henderson, encouraged me to consider applying to work for Centrifuge, the summer youth camp sponsored by the Southern Baptist Convention. These were formative summers (yes, I worked several) in my discernment of my call to ministry, leading me to leave my teaching job and pursue my seminary training.
After receiving my M.Div. at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, I dipped my toe in local church ministry. The wonderful folks at First Baptist Church, Forsyth, Georgia loved me and let me figure out that this was not the right match for me at that time. What a time of growth and discovery of my ministry journey. From Forsyth, I moved back to Louisville and spent some formative years working with the Woman’s Missionary Union of Kentucky. The love I was able to share in that setting was affirming and compelling, but also difficult as those years were tangled in the angry and divisive fighting in the SBC.
Soon my marriage to Bob took me to New York City. Can you imagine trying to find a ministry position in that city, proudly touting my diploma from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary? But with the encouragement of my dear mentor and sister in Baptist Women in Ministry, Carolyn Weatherford Crumpler, I was hired by the American Bible Society. After the infighting of the SBC, this was an amazing balm for my soul. The diversity and expanse of ministry of ABS opened my eyes to a world that I had not known.
After some years in New York, our first son was born, and we felt a tug to return to the south and be near family as we raised our children. We searched and prayed for the next place we would call home. At that time there was a new upstart Baptist organization on the horizon, and I was invited to join the staff of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. I spent the next twenty-one years ministering in the Global Missions area of CBF, loving the work I did with missionaries as they were being the hands and feet of Jesus around the world. I felt that my work in the national office helped in a small way make it possible for the missionaries to do their work. In January 2016, my position with CBF was eliminated, and I was in a time of ministry crisis.
Many months of soul searching and jobs that were ‘jobs’ and not my calling brought me to a place I have found home. I entered the Clinical Pastoral Education track in June of 2018, and this past month I completed my fifth unit of CPE. Currently I am doing part-time hospital chaplaincy work at two Atlanta hospitals as I continue to seek where my next chapter of ministry will be lived out. CPE has pushed me to be the pastor that I think God called me to be many years ago, and I am grateful for this new and fulfilling ministry journey.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
The greatest sources of joy in ministry have come for me when I am in relationships. These might be relationships with parishioners when I was able to support them when life was very bad and celebrate with them when life was very good; relationships with missionaries around the world as I helped hold them in the joys and the struggles of ministry; relationships with fellow chaplains as we care for patients and families who are in crisis and struggling through the darkest hours; and relationships with patients, whether children or adults, as they work to make sense of medical crises that come pouring down around them. Relationships . . . that is the joy of ministry for me.
What are the greatest challenges you have encountered?
I am very fortunate in that I have not had overwhelming challenges with being a female person called to ministry. I was raised in a church that nurtured me, cared for me and gave me opportunities to live out my calling and I have had ministry positions that let me be the minister God needed for me to be at that time and in that place. Even in the midst of the darkest denominational infighting, I continued to know who called me and would be reminded over and over to claim that calling even when it was questioned.
The greatest challenge in ministry came for me when my calling at CBF came to an end. I was crushed and broken, confused and wandering. But I continued to claim my calling and continue to do that today when the memory of that brokenness can sometimes come creeping in. God is so much bigger than one job or one location, and for that I give thanks daily.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
I am fortunate to have many mentors who have offered me wonderful ministry advice over the years. Most recently, a favorite piece of advice comes from one of my CPE educators. “Stand in the rain. When someone is standing in the rainstorms of life many people are willing to tell them to come inside. Some people will offer an umbrella or a blanket. Very few will stand in the rain with them.”
I am grateful for the people I can stand with in the dark moments of life, but even more I thank those wonderful folks who have stood with me in the rainstorms. It is not a comfortable place to stand in the rain beside a hurting person, but the companionship is often very overwhelming.