Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a fabulous minister, and this week we are thrilled to introduce Lanta Carroll.
Lanta, tell us about your ministry journey, the places and ways you have been serving and are serving.
I’ve spent too many Sundays in the church to count, and the church isn’t done with me yet. I grew up as the granddaughter of a pastor with a strong family tradition of church on Sunday mornings. During college, I realized my first call to ministry. Children have always brought me deep joy, perhaps because my earliest images of God and the simple joys of my childhood grounded my own faith. With an awareness of the wide range of needs that family ministry would bring, I also had a deep feeling that I couldn’t do effective ministry without more knowledge of mental health. I enrolled in the dual degree program at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta, Georgia and earned a Master of Divinity and a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health. After two counseling internships, two units of Clinical Pastoral Education, and four years of developing a children’s ministry program at Park Avenue Baptist Church, I stepped into bi-vocational ministry as a licensed therapist and pastor of families. I currently have a private counseling practice in partnership with The Brookhaven Center for Counseling and Wellness, and I am one of the pastors in a non-hierarchical pastoral team at Park Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.
This intentional dance of bi-vocational ministry isn’t crazy to me—faith and mental health inform one another and need to be in partnership with one another in healthy, transformative ways. There need to be safe counseling spaces where faith and doubt can sit together in the same room without judgment or any imposition of one’s faith onto a client. In the same way, there also need to be safe churches that aren’t silent on issues of mental health and that work tirelessly to heal the spiritual harm that has been caused by years of neglect or harmful practices.
I feel honored to journey with people of all ages during significant life transitions and to join children and families and the young at heart in building healthy and lasting images of God that can ground their faith for years to come. I also do not take for granted that I am a woman who is regularly given the opportunity to preach alongside a congregation that requires I speak freely and boldly in the pursuit of God’s justice in the world.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
That one’s easy—the children! I have many moments forever engrained in my memory of children during different seasons of ministry—laughing and learning and sharing with one another in and outside of the church walls. I treasure those moments of children asking hard questions as they lean into the mystery of God, moments of children wearing crooked angel halos on the stage on Christmas Eve, moments of children chanting in protest at the women’s march with their parents by their side, teaching them to stand up and raise their voices, to add to the chorus of God’s justice and peace. The children give me hope, they inspire me to speak with more boldness and courage, and remind me of my eight-yea-old self who climbed to the tip top of magnolia trees and walked on top of monkey bars and dared to do things differently.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
One great challenge was being tasked with developing an effective children and family ministry that was both theologically healthy and met the unique needs of a diverse congregation in my first ministry placement.
Another challenge has been regulating my disappointment in the church at large for the ways it has not confronted issues of race, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, classism, and too many other injustices to name.
Finally, one of the hardest moments was holding a six-year-old boy in my arms days after he’d witnessed his father’s murder. We cried together, we prayed for God’s peace, we cried some more. I realized then and there that I didn’t have to try to hold myself together for him, that he didn’t need me to be composed; God’s presence was in our shared tears.
How do you stay healthy, physically and spiritually?
Like many others, I think I’ll always be figuring this out! Three years ago, I reconnected with my hand-lettering hobby. It’s my mindfulness, my praying in color. I reflect on words that have meaning to me, and it calms my mind and renews my spirit. I letter on wood signs and paper, draw pictures of homes and churches, and letter words that help people celebrate significant moments in their lives. It gives me a deep sense of peace and roots me in a mindful practice that helps me unwind, breathe in and find gratitude in the present moment.
What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
My husband, Matt, provided me with the best advice years ago in three simple words: “Go be you.” His encouragement holds me in seasons when I need to remember who God has called me to be, when I’ve felt my ministry is misunderstood, when I’ve been faced with the choice to leave or stay put, or when I’ve questioned if I’m making a difference. These words encourage me to stay creative and allow my unique perspective and voice to be heard. They remind me to stand firmly on the ground that is beneath my feet and trust that God is there, too.