Each Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week, we’re thrilled to introduce Kelly Strum.
Kelly, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
I believe that God began my ministry journey as a young girl in Girls in Action and Acteens where I learned to listen and discern closely because God had a plan for my life. What a gift! I learned to be prepared for God to lead me anywhere to do anything! I am so grateful for the experiences I had during my college summers as a missionary at Connie Maxwell Children’s Home, a children’s ministry intern at my home church, and in a downtown mission–all of which were so formational for me.
After earning my Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Sociology, I pursued a Master of Education in Elementary School Guidance Counseling and was an elementary school guidance counselor from 1999-2006. It was during these days that I felt such a strong pull to seminary. As I listened to my life, I was learning that my deepest, truest self was found in direct ministry settings. I began seminary at the Lutheran Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina (Baptist Studies Program) in 2004, was ordained in 2007, and graduated with my Master of Divinity in 2008. From 2010 until 2012, I served as co-pastor of Eau Claire Baptist Church (ECBC), which was the church that had provided me such a rich contextual education and internship experience for me as well!
As my husband, Dave and I were awaiting the birth of our first child through adoption, I felt God calling me to be at home. From late 2012 until 2016, with the birth of our son and daughter, home and motherhood became and remain my greatest teachers and callings in life.
After years of wrestling, prayer, and discernment, Dave and I joined God in establishing an asset-based community development non-profit, Koinonia of Columbia, Inc. in March 2017, of which I am the board chair.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
My greatest joy as a minister has been, through God’s grace and by God’s Spirit, to give birth to Koinonia of Columbia! I fell in love with the Eau Claire community in Columbia, South Carolina during my days in seminary. I learned of this community’s painful history rooted in racial injustice and the effects of white/capital flight. Yet, I encountered its often-hidden but very real assets on a daily basis! What a JOY it is for Koinonia to shine the light on these assets.
We are a movement of people who seek to be a racially-reconciling, healing presence in the Eau Claire neighborhood who are anchored in our steadfast dependence on God and one another. We aspire to build community together through Christ by tapping into the skills, talents, and resources of the people of Eau Claire and through partnerships. It gives me inexpressible joy to facilitate experiences in which one knows not who is the giver and who is the receiver, and beloved community is cultivated!
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
I believe the greatest challenge for me is to remember that time with God spent preparing for a lesson or a board meeting and doing ministry is uniquely different from time spent with God purely for the sake of loving and being loved by God. I am learning, still, that not only is this time with God necessary, it is the only way to be sustained and filled with the love and light needed for each day. We are not meant to do this in our own wisdom and strength, for it is not our mission but God’s. It is not our dream, but God’s. The image for me is from John 15. God is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from the vine, there is simply no fruit to bear. There are times when I can feel overwhelmed by the pain and suffering in the community and I become worried and afraid. This has become a signal for me that I am bearing the burden without the yoke of Christ. I am so grateful that God gently leads me back, as often as I need it.
How do you stay healthy, physically and spiritually?
As a mother of two very active and energetic preschoolers, I have a built-in exercise regimen! Not only do they keep me on-the-go physically, but also in remembering that I am first their mother and then, a pastoral presence to others helps to keep me emotionally grounded. I also try to spend as much time as I can outdoors, surrounded by nature as that is a healer and connector to God for me. A bird’s song, a sunrise, the smell of magnolia blossoms – all of these daily miracles remind me of just how big God is, that God is enough and that opportunities for worship surround us.
I am sustained most deeply by my soulmate and husband, whose love makes my heart soar, and by my mother, who is just always there. God encourages me daily with kindred spirit friends, people, and communities of faith who, too, are walking by faith and not by sight. One of the greatest spiritual disciplines I have found that works for me is spiritual direction. My spiritual director has walked with me through so many mountains and valleys over these last nine years. Interestingly though, some who I consider kindred spirits I’ve actually never met, like Barbara Brown Taylor, Henri Nouwen, Edwina Gateley, and Richard Rohr. Their books resonate and give meaning to life for me.
What is the best ministry advice you have received?
The most profound ministry advice that has shaped by daily life came from Mother Teresa’s writings. She wrote that she was sustained in ministry by picturing the face of Christ in each person she served. I will also never forget the words of my college campus minister and life coach who told me how very important it would always be to differentiate my identity from outcomes in ministry. I have learned the importance of self-care from so many but that even more deeply, “letting God love me” (Edwina Gateley) is the best self-care there could ever be.