Every Friday, Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing woman minister, and today, we are pleased to introduce Rachel Gunter Shapard.
Rachel, tell us where and how are you currently serving in ministry? And where you served in the past?
I served as the associate coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Florida since June of 2012. I am also the mother of Drew (9), Kate (5) and Mac (4), which is equally a part of calling. Prior to working for CBF Florida I worked at Baptist Health in Jacksonville, Florida as an eldercare advocate from 2009 to 2012, as a hospice chaplain in Lubbock, Texas from 2005 to 2008 and as associate pastor of discipleship and outreach at First Baptist Church, Gainesville, Georgia from 2000 to 2005. I also had the joy of serving alongside some amazing women as BWIM’s coordinator from 2005 to 2007 and as president of BWIM of Georgia from 2004 to 2005.
What do you love best about your current ministry role?
I am a native Floridian: I was born in Orlando, Florida, and grew up in Tallahassee. One of the main reasons I love my job is that it gives me the opportunity to give back to those who gave so much to me. The very beginnings of my faith formation occurred at First Baptist Church in Tallahassee. Alongside the efforts of my family, it was the people of First Baptist who loved and nurtured me. My church family encouraged me to use my gifts by giving me leadership responsibilities, offering me my very first job in ministry, supporting my seminary education through scholarship funding, and licensing me. It is truly a gift that my position with CBF Florida allows me to give back to all of the churches throughout the state that are similar to the one that nurtured me in my faith beginnings.
Who was the first woman minister you ever met?
Christine McCauley worked with the children’s ministry at First Baptist Church in Tallahassee when I was a child. I honestly don’t recall if her title was “children’s minister” or “director of children’s ministries,” but regardless of her title, she lived out her calling in ministry with such strength, creativity, and heart. She put me to work in my first volunteer position in the church by enlisting me to help her in Children’s Church (and it wasn’t simply a way to skip “big church!”) Mrs. Chris had me teaching bible stories and leading arts and crafts sessions when I was only a fourth grader. She had a way of seeing past our young ages and realizing our potential for service and leadership. When our turn to lead didn’t go quite as we’d planned, she was there to encourage us and help us learn something valuable. Mrs. Chris has always been tenacious in her love for God and all of God’s children and she embodied a spirit of humility and authenticity in her role as minister and in every area of her life. I am so thankful that Christine McCauley was the first woman minister I encountered. I couldn’t have asked for a better example!
What is the best ministry advice you have ever received?
I have received a lot of great ministry advice through the years, but at this particular moment, two things stand out. The first piece of advice is a bit of wisdom that my friend, Joy Green, member of First Baptist, Gainesville, Georgia, shared with me over ten years ago. We were having a discussion about parenting and the choices that parents have to make regarding whether they will stay at home or continue to work after having children. Joy said, “I believe that each parent should do exactly what they feel called to do . . . there is no right or wrong way, only what is right for you.” She went on to say, “what is right for the parent is usually what is right for the child. Children absorb everything, and if we force ourselves to work when we feel called to stay at home or we stay at home when we feel pulled to continue our career, the stress that is generated in either circumstance can have a profound impact on the life of a child.” Her comments have stayed with me and have proved helpful as I have approached my own sense of calling both as a minister and as a mom. Joy’s wisdom, shared so many years ago, has led me to listen to my own inner voice and the promptings of the Spirit, quiet though they might be, rather than the noisy and sometimes overwhelming external voices that have the power to crush and do harm.
The second piece of advice is something that Loyd Allen, professor of Church History and Spiritual Formation at McAfee School of Theology, said on my first day of seminary: “Always remember that you could be wrong.” As simple as it is, I have never forgotten that statement. What Dr. Allen taught me that I am still reminded of today is that I am will always be in the process of becoming. I do not and will not have all the answers. There will always be new concepts to discover, fresh perspectives to grasp and many more ways in which I can grow throughout my journey. I hope to remain attentive to my own process of becoming for the rest of my life, and maybe, in being honest about my own limitations, it will create the space for the formation of authentic relationships.