Allyn and I will be sharing a two-month preaching gig starting January 1. The church is a First Baptist — a historical place that is apparently very proud of their conservative values. I suppose this means that this church will have quite a few differences from us. I’ve been told there may be some folks with strong opinions about women in ministry (in the “um, that shouldn’t happen” category). I’m honored to be perhaps the first regularly appearing woman preacher there. And I am floored at the opportunity to serve these people for a short time. I have wondered again and again if I have anything to share with a group of people who perhaps aren’t sure what they think about someone of my gender in a ministry role — and who may approach the Bible completely differently than I do, sometimes in ways that I find incredibly harmful.
Muriel, the area minister, said something incredibly wise, though. “We don’t get to choose who we minister to, we are just called to minister.” That is perhaps not an exact quote, but I think the idea is there. A person doesn’t have to look like me or think like me in order for me to minister to him/her. This church has been without a pastor a long time and, like any church in that position, bears some scars. I know how to love — and isn’t that what every minister is really called to? To love God’s people, wherever they may be found?
I’m finding that thinking about ministry during this holiday season is rough. People all around are hurting. At church on Sunday, I heard story after story of people facing all kinds of deeply painful things. This morning, I heard that a friend lost her father. At the same time, I’ve been meeting the newborn children of other friends. We spent a weekend of class with my dear friends Chad and Becki and their two-month-old Evie. This weekend, we met the not yet week-old baby of friends and Allyn’s coworkers Randy and Hannah. Joy and pain co-mingled in this season.
Pastor Samuel preached about that on Sunday. How Mary’s story wasn’t a fairy tale — in the midst of excitement over the coming child — God’s child — was an awful lot of pain. A not-yet-married woman pregnant? Scandalous! She couldn’t have been treated well — perhaps even by those who had been close friends. God came in the midst of loss, in the midst of pain. I trust that God will still do that today. That God will be among us not just in our joy, but in our pain. I trust that God can use two youngish seminarians to remind a conservative historical church that God is with them. And I trust that God can use that same church to remind me that God is often found in the most unexpected places. This season, may God’s peace abound in our hopes, our joys and our pains.