Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry features an interview with a fabulous minister on this blog. Today, we are excited to interview Nikki Finkelstein-Blair. Nikki IS what a minister looks like!

Nikki, tell us about your ministry journey and the places and ways you have served and are serving.

First–I feel like I’m a very strange choice for this blog series! I’ve had lots of “journey,” but certainly not the “ministry” I ever expected. In fact, the ministry journey I thought I was going to have was sidelined almost before it started. My husband joined the Navy as a chaplain during my last year in seminary, just as I was sensing a call to church ministry and finding my preaching voice. I was fortunate in our first duty station to be called as an associate pastor working with children and youth, doing some adult ed, and helping to lead worship weekly and preach occasionally. But I was naive about military life and didn’t realize we would be moving every two or three years! So for the past almost-twenty years my “hands on” ministry has changed with every new hometown (seven, and counting). We’ve been part of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Presbyterian Church, USA, and United Methodist congregations (I like to say we are the MOST “cooperative” Baptists I know!), as well as serving in an interdenominational base chapel overseas, and connecting with local churches near our base outside London. Folks in all these locations and churches have loved our family and welcomed my gifts, and it has been wonderful to share in the body of Christ with them, even as an occasional pulpit supplier. Over the past several years I’ve been able to use my “original” education as a writer to contribute devotional series to d365.org and BWIM (yay!), and in some curricula for Smyth & Helwys. 

Most recently I’m pondering how the monastic practice of “ora at labora,” prayer and work, relates to me. I’ve always loved making things by hand, but I never considered how that might be a “real” vocation or ministry. A little over a year ago I stepped WAY outside my comfort zone and started selling clergy stoles online. Last fall I added a collection of devotional items for Advent. It has only been in the past month or two that I’ve had a glimmer that this work may be more than just “using these random skills I’ve picked up,” and may actually be serving people.

What have been your greatest sources of joy in ministry? 

One great joy is the flip side of the challenge I mention below (no spoilers!): I will always be grateful for the many churches across denominations who have loved us! I have very specific memories of preaching occasions–the pulpits and people in churches from coast-to-coast and even overseas–where I was welcomed as a minister and a friend, and where my family was embraced without reserve. The little British church where I preached first so pregnant that my robe barely fit . . . and then a few months later, preached about Jesus welcoming the children while my first child slept in his stroller in the front row. The Presbyterians in Chicago who put up with my singing as I taught the kids “The Welcome Table” during the children’s sermon, and later wrapped up my homily by making the grownups join in. Preaching on parables and Pat Conroy in the writer’s own hometown, and folks who knew him shaking my hand and telling me their Pat Conroy stories at the church door. As I look at these, at first glance it seems like they’re all warm-fuzzy memories about me-me-me. But what they have in common is that in each case there was an experience of connecting with people, and of connecting faith life and everyday life in a very particular way, a creative way, that was unique to that place and that moment.

Recently I’ve had the unexpected great joy of learning that things I’ve made by hand have contributed meaningfully to someone’s ministry or to their faith and family lives. I’ve made stoles that were worn in weddings and for first sermons, gifted for ordinations, and specially chosen to honor a loss. Because of the notes I’ve received about how my “little hobby” has contributed to someone’s own ministry, or to their observance of a season of faith, I’m excited to explore how I can deepen this work as a true vocation.

What have been the greatest challenges you have encountered in ministry?

Ever since I graduated from seminary, was ordained, and went straight into Navy-spouse-life, I have been pondering and puzzling over how my sense of call might play out, and I’ve struggled with letting go of the “what might have beens”: the churches I might have served, the mentors and networks I might have had, the further education I might have pursued, if only we weren’t in a lifestyle where EVERYTHING is short-term, and where the “needs of the Navy” must always come first. We are always short-timers. Just about the time we finally find our footing someplace, it’s time to get ready for the next move. It’s funny to say this as an introvert, but personally my biggest challenge–or maybe “regret” is the better word–is missing the deep connections of long-term, growing relationships with ministry partners, teachers, mentors, and congregations.

It’s hard for me to reflect on this without seeming to throw my husband under the proverbial bus; I think he would admit that joining the Navy was a unilateral decision and that its restrictions have had the most impact on me. Thankfully, we were (eventually) 🙂 able to work through the challenge that this presented to our marriage. But I still struggle with what my call looks like in this context. I’ve always had a sense of myself as being “outside the box”–but not fitting in the expected and available roles means you have to do the hard work of making your own space. I need to be able to pack up my vocation and carry it with me on a moving truck.

4. What is the best ministry advice you have been given?
One of my seminary professors once said, “God never wastes resources.” I’ve held on to that over these years–sometimes as reassurance to myself, and sometimes as a challenge to myself! For a long time I think I had a limited idea of what constitutes “resources” (my education, my ordination, my job experience). I’m slowly–finally!–learning to expand that definition. Can moving around all the time be a resource that God can use? What about introversion? Being outside the box? Being the MOST “cooperative” Baptist? Yarn?

I hope so. 🙂