Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features a fabulous minister on this blog. Today, we are pleased to interview Molly Brummett Wudel. Molly IS what a minister looks like!
Molly, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.
I’m fortunate to be named after a trailblazing, Baptist minister and theologian, Molly T. Marshall, and to have grown up in a church that ordains and affirms women for all aspects of church leadership. I realize that is not the case for many. But even growing up in an affirming congregation at First Baptist Jefferson City, Tennessee, and attending Passport camps throughout my youth, where I experienced women preaching and teaching, I still observed stained-glass ceilings for women around me, as most positions for women limited them to a children’s minister or youth minister role.
It wasn’t until my junior year of college, when interning at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and attending Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC, where Amy Butler was the senior pastor and Leah Grundset Davis was the associate pastor, that I thought, “Hmm, maybe I really could follow this call that’s been welled up inside me. Maybe I could actually be a senior pastor of a congregation one day.” Thanks to Amy’s honest conversations with me over coffee, I decided to fully lean into my call. (I believe Amy’s exact words were, “You’re scared. I know you know deep down you’re called to the pastorate.”)
I attended Wake Forest University School of Divinity right after college and during that season found a church home at Green Street United Methocist Church. Green Street was the first church I experienced that truly embodied the diverse, abundant, vibrant, breadth, and depth of the gospel I had held and hold so dear. Green Street opened me to a deeper understanding that the church can still be relevant and be about the prophetic, justice-filled in-breaking Kindom of God.
My time away from a Baptist congregation also made me realize that I’m Baptist to the core, and upon graduation from Wake Div, I became the associate pastor of youth and community at Knollwood Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. After a little over two years at Knollwood, I was called to become the co-pastor of Emmaus Way, a funky, ecumenical, open and affirming congregation in Durham, North Carolina, where I now serve as the senior pastor.
What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry?
I love preaching and the creative art of preaching. It’s why I’m absolutely giddy every year when I get to be a teaching assistant at Duke Divinity in the homiletics department, helping divinity students find their preaching voice. But preaching every Sunday isn’t the greatest source of joy, even though I thought it might be. Don’t get me wrong, I do love preaching each week, but the greatest source of joy for me is the pure gift of getting to do life in beloved community with the congregations I have served.
At Emmaus Way we don’t have “membership,” but a shared minister’s liturgy believing that every person who calls Emmaus Way their community is an integral part and co-minister. One piece of our co-minister liturgy is, “To foster proximity and mutuality among our fellow ministers, seeking beauty and abundance in the diversity of God’s Kingdom in our midst.” It truly has been through fostering of proximity and mutuality among the community at Emmaus Way and our community intimately fostering proximity and mutuality within Durham through the good and the bad, the joy-filled and the agonizing pain, that I’ve more fully come to see and know a diverse God of abundance and a Kindom breaking forth of beauty, equity, and love. That’s what keeps me going and keeps me pastoring.
What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?
I’m somewhat into the enneagram and am an enneagram 3–the achiever, and for those that know anything about 3s, we really pride ourselves on competition, success, being “the best,” and doing “the most.” And if I’m being honest, I think my 3-ness for a long time fueled my drive and my ministry, but then I got sick.
Two months after being called to Emmaus Way in 2015, I became quite ill and was pretty quickly diagnosed with Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. Systemic Lupus Erythematosus is an auto-immune disorder that can attack at any given time any organ system of your body. It’s an unpredictable and quite debilitating chronic disease that forces you to put limits on what you can and can’t do. Things I used to take for granted–long, extended hour work days, being on different committees, saying yes to this and that engagement, flying to stay connected to Baptist life and simply for vacation, getting out of bed, sitting outside in the sun, having a keen memory and devouring books, even taking a walk around the block, became great challenges.
At twenty-seven years old, my “success” in ministry (or what I had perceived as success and toted on my resume) felt like it was pulled out from under me. My world and my ministry no longer felt like anything and everything was possible. I went from naively thinking the world was my oyster to being confronted with having to find life and meaning in the here and now, with each good day and even the bad. I was forced to slow down and rest. I was forced to say “no”–a lot. I was forced to be reminded that my worth as a Baptist minister, a partner, a daughter, a sister, a friend was not based on where I’d preached or been recognized or been published or even in what I’d “done” as a minister and person within Baptist life, but my worth came from simply being a reflection of Imago Dei. I had to learn how to glean in the darkness; how to live with uncertainty and lack of control; how to be vulnerable and rely on others; how to find joy in the depths; how to know I am called, even now, in this body.
Since my diagnosis, I’ve had to get real honest with this insecurity I have felt as a female Baptist minister for a long time, an insecurity rooted in a pressure to perform as female ministers, breaking down all the barriers and doing all the things to prove we are worthy and called and qualified for certain positions. Lupus forced me to confront what it means, though, when I physically can’t break down barriers and prove my “worth” for certain positions. No woman should have to “prove” herself for certain ministerial positions because women are just as qualified (if not more qualified) than any of our male counterparts. But after lupus, I had to come to, somewhat painfully, know that in the marrow of my bones for myself. I hope, even without a lupus diagnosis, fellow female and male clergy, congregations and our broader Baptist life will continue to know that truth more fully in their bones, too: Baptist women in ministry should not have to “prove” our worth.
What advice would you give a teenage girl discerning a call to ministry?
I’d encourage a teenage girl discerning a call to ministry to find people encouraging and cheering her on as she lives into and discerns this call to ministry. Surround yourself with people who remind you of your worth and your call, even when you can’t remember or have forgotten to see it within yourself. Find people to ask good questions and love you through the answers. Some of your people might be a family member or minister at your church, a youth mentor, teacher or friend. The road will not always be easy and it’s going to be full of people trying to tell you you aren’t called, but you are. Find those people to remind you on the best and the worst days that you aren’t walking the path of ministry alone.