Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces a remarkable minister. This Friday we are pleased to introduce Mimi Walker. Mimi IS what a minister looks like!
Mimi, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I grew up in the Presbyterian church, and I took my eighth grade confirmation very seriously. In high school I was a deacon in my Presbyterian church, while also singing with the youth choir at a Baptist church. Also in high school I felt called to ministry to my parent’s dismay. They loved the church but didn’t see it as a viable career for a woman. I persevered and studied religion at Florida State University with the intention of going to seminary. While there, I met and married a Baptist missionary kid from Singapore who wanted to go back to Singapore.
We both graduated from Southern Seminary in 1982. He went on to get a doctorate, and I gave birth to a boy and a girl while working at an emergency children’s shelter. In 1987, we packed everything we had in a crate and moved to the Philippines. My formal ministry career began teaching education and pastoral care courses at the Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary. We each worked in support positions with local congregations while there. The cultural transition to the Philippines was difficult, but the transition back was much more painful. We returned to the United States in 1998, knowing that we would no longer be able to work for the Southern Baptist International Mission Board.
My ministerial identity had been as a missionary educator. Suddenly living in Georgia with no work and a few angry, disoriented teenagers, I found myself starting over. I took an interim pastorate in a small Southern Baptist church in 2000. They weren’t ready to stand up to the Southern Baptist Convention’s resolution not to ordain women, so they hired a man to take the permanent position. Then I began teaching religion courses at Mercer University and spiritual formation classes for McAfee School of Theology. Two years later the male minister moved on, and I returned to Candler Park Baptist Church. I was ordained there and pastored that small congregation until 2005. For the next two years I co-pastored Northwoods Baptist Church with my husband, Dr. Graham Walker, Jr, while also serving as pastor to the McAfee community. We assisted the Northwoods congregation as they merged with North East Baptist Church. After turning that work over to their pastor, Graham and I took an interim co-pastorate at Druid Hills Baptist Church. After three years of co-pastoring, Graham returned his full focus to his teaching position at McAfee, and I became the senior pastor. Our church has since taken on a new name: The Church at Ponce and Highland.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I have found joy in the many different ministry opportunities that have come my way. Learning to understand and minister in a new culture was transformative to say the least. Peeling away the layers of American Christianity to discover and share what is essential to a life of faith was a gift for me. Getting to watch the young people we taught become ministers, parents, and leaders continues to bring me joy. Now, having the privilege of staying with a congregation for ten years, performing weddings, watching children grow and mature, saying good-by to long-time members, and getting to know new people as they find their place in the congregation is a blessing I cherish.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
My greatest ongoing challenges have been being an introvert and being a woman, pretty much in that order. I love to study, write, and teach in small groups, but learning to be the person who stands in front of a congregation or a classroom full of students was terrifying. I write out my sermons, Bible studies, or lesson plans. Only in my later years have I really become comfortable veering from my well-thought-out and prepared plans. The advantage of being an introvert is that we are good at listening, adept at intuiting the needs of a group, and strong in facilitating the work that needs to be done.
In my Presbyterian church, being female was not a hindrance to ministry, and I attended seminary in the good years before the fundamentalist takeover reversed the progress that had been made for women in ministry. In the Philippines I was treated with the same respect as other faculty. It was in coming back to the US in the late 1990s that being a woman in ministry proved to be a problem. I know that recommendations from McAfee helped me get a “foot in the door” with my first pastorate and being able to co-pastor with my husband opened further opportunities that would not have been there otherwise. Even with churches that theoretically believe in women pastors, getting a congregation to break out of their comfort zone is difficult.
What advice would you give to a young seminarian who is preparing for ministry?
My advice to young women beginning their ministry is to take time to get to know your congregation. You need to build trust before attempting to make changes. Pastoral visits will cover a multitude of sins, mistakes, or missteps. When people know that you are there for them in their times of need and joy, they will trust you to guide them where the congregation needs to go. Also, you can’t be “thin skinned” in ministry. Don’t take everything personally. People bring their frustrations, backgrounds, and baggage with them to church. You need a few people you can trust to let you know how you are doing and where you need to grow, and then don’t let the negative people wear you down. It is helpful to have friends, colleagues, or counselors who have no connection to your congregation where you can be yourself and maybe vent a little without worrying about who knows who. Finally, if you are going to be a pastor be prepared to learn finance, real estate, city planning, and community organizing.