Each week, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce Kali Cawthon-Freels.

Kali, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
I tell people that I came to pastoral ministry through the back-door—that my love for missions led to my love for pastoring. Throughout college and the beginning of my seminary career, I was extremely passionate about missions, particularly international missions. After studying mindful mission practices and doing some international mission work, I began to realize that all the things I enjoyed about doing mission work were the things that make someone a good pastor: listening to people’s stories, helping them learn more about God, learning more about their journey in life, seeing how I can walk alongside them in their faith journey, a passion for preaching. Everything I learned about mindful missions practices directly affects how I pastor, but the shift from missionary to minister made my sense of call click.

I currently serve in a couple capacities. I am the outreach minister at Redeeming Church, a young church start in St Petersburg, Florida. Our congregation is a place where all are welcome. We specifically target individuals and families that have been hurt by Christianity for a variety of reasons: because they are LGBTQIA+, because they are women called to ministry, because their beliefs didn’t align perfectly with other churches’ beliefs. Redeeming Church is a place where anyone is welcome, regardless of what they believe. My primary roles are preaching, worship planning, pastoral care, and identifying ways for our congregation to further engage our city. In 2017, my job looked like participating in the Women’s March, providing volunteers for a Reformation Project event in Florida, hosting a booth at the local Pride festival, providing one-on-one reading buddies for the Micah Center, opening up the church for shelter and meals during Hurricane Irma, facilitating games at the neighborhood Halloween block party, and hosting a holiday food drive for the St. Petersburg Free Clinic. I’m excited for us to continue those relationships in 2018 and to add a relationship with Interfaith Tampa Bay Pride.

I also serve as the education coordinator for the Micah Center of Pinellas County, a ministry of Church of the Beatitudes in St Pete. Our after-school literacy program serves elementary school children of under-employed families to ensure they have access to a great education. We provide homework tutoring, one-on-one reading help, and a literacy improvement curriculum to help further develop the students’ academic and interpersonal skills. My role is to run the day-to-day operations of the program and organize the curriculum.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
When people come into our faith community—people who have been rejected from other church communities or people who never gave church a shot because they were afraid of being rejected—and feel the peace and safety to worship God freely, my heart soars. I truly believe that when people feel safe enough to let their walls down in a new community, the Holy Spirit can begin to heal those wounds and change that person’s life for the better.

My other source of joy is bringing people of all backgrounds together to learn more about God and each other. I love facilitating conversations where everyone’s different perspectives are evident, be it through a Bible study, a book study, or one of our monthly Faith and Film events. I truly believe that if we can sit down to have intentional conversations more often, the stereotypes we believe about people fade away and we can see the spirit of God at work in one another.

How do you keep healthy physically, mentally, and spiritually?
Like many ministers, this is my biggest struggle. I recently started to practice yoga at home, which has been a wonderful way to combine my mental wellbeing with my physical wellbeing. I also try to carve out time for leisure reading, as that’s something I’ve always enjoyed. My partner and I also make it a point to preserve our date nights, so we can pour into each other as well as into our shared ministry. We love to go to the movies and play nerdy board games.

What is the best ministry advice you have received?
I can’t remember who told me this, but the best ministry advice I have ever received is this reminder: we don’t get to pick who we minister to. We don’t get to pick who God brings into our faith communities, who God leads to our events, and we have to be at peace enough with God to be able to minister to people we’d probably never be friends with in our personal lives. It also reminds me to be more gracious with those I share different opinions with and to be mindful that I don’t unintentionally favor those in my congregation that I naturally “click” better with.