Category Archives: BWIM-Missouri

Letter of hope

Dear Baptist Soon-to-be Women,
Dear Hope of a Women in Ministry Advocate,
Dear Daughters of the Church,

I write to you because you are what who I think about. You are in my thoughts when I talk to female colleagues. You are in my thoughts when I have conversations about a woman’s proper place. You are in my thoughts when I am sitting in class, representing you. You are in my thoughts when I urge my coworkers to be mindful of gender pronouns. You are in my thoughts when I plan the next steps of Baptist Women in Ministry-Missouri. You are in my thoughts when I am in tears mourning the lack of opportunities for gifted women of God.

You are in my thoughts because I hope and pray that your journey is easier than mine. I hope that your gifts are being encouraged, that people refer to you as “the future pastor.” I hope that no matter the gender of your pastor (though at this point, I have to assume male) that you have seen women in the pulpit, preaching and ministering and delivering the word of God. I hope that you know ministry is an option for you. I hope that you have church leaders who see your giftedness and give you opportunity to develop it.

I hope that you are in class with others who look like you – and, of course, those who don’t. I hope that being a pastor can be a “back-up” option for you if you decide the academic life isn’t what you want.

I hope that it is assumed that you are what a preacher looks like.  That you are seen as a valuable resource from the moment you step into the room. That you have a prominent role in local clergy groups.

I hope that you are addressed as Preacher and Minister and Proclaimer instead of speaker. I hope your classmates give you nicknames like “Rev” or “Doc” and ask for your insight on their projects. I hope that you can serve in the tradition of your choice and not have to think about whether your calling or denominational preference come first.

I hope Baptist Women in Ministry will be a group of women who enjoy hanging out and brainstorming together instead of a group advocating for a place at the table. I hope that your daughters wear heels and play church, preaching and serving communion and blessing the world.

I hope your voice is always compassionate and full of authority. I hope your voice speaks truth to power and seeks justice for all of God’s people.

And I hope that whatever you are called to be, that you see a way there. I hope that you don’t have to spend nights in tears wondering if there is a place for you.

I hope for you. I think of you. You are my prayer.

With love,
Jennifer

(photo credit)

thanks to David Cassady for inspiring this post!

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Practicing fearlessness

“Hi. I’m Jennifer. And I feel called to be a pastor.” Funny how ministry discernment can feel like the intro to an AA meeting (or at least how they are portrayed in movies and TV).

Last week I flew to Atlanta to meet with other Baptist Women in Ministry leaders. In order to fit the occasion, I put on my aqua “This is What a Preacher Looks Like” T-shirt. And I wore it to the airport. It wasn’t until I hit airport security that I realized I was practicing fearlessness. Who wants to be stuck on a plane with a self-proclaimed preacher? It was too warm for a jacket, so I had nothing to hide behind. I stepped up to the metal detectors with a smile, assuming I was a walking TSA target.

I passed through security with no issues, but ended up in several conversations at the gate. “So you are a preacher?” one woman asked. She was curious to hear about the sort of classes people take in seminary. The woman scanning tickets read my shirt aloud and seemed a bit perplexed – “interesting…” she said, pausing for a moment. “We’re glad to have you.”

On the plane, I ended up sitting next to a woman who was on her way to speak at a Christian conference. While her theology seemed rather different from mine, she encouraged me and even gave me a copy of a book she cowrote with her daughter.

In Atlanta, I had a fantastic time sharing stories with women who minister in a variety of wonderful ways. We all shared struggles of following our callings – from growing up in churches that taught God does not call women to death threats from communities who were afraid of women in leadership roles. There were also stories of great hope – from a church sharing hot food and company with folks stranded in an ice storm to helping college students explore their own sense of calling.

I returned home full of hope and encouragement for the church and for my own crazy ministry journey.

This weekend, I wore my “This is What a Preacher Looks Like” shirt again for the first day of preaching class (granted, covered by a sweatshirt – it was cold!). Allyn and I attended a lecture given by one of our heroes – Walter Brueggemann. Allyn convinced me to take off my sweatshirt and show off my T-shirt. I had a group of (non-Baptist) students ask where they could get their own.

While wearing a T-shirt hardly seems a great act of bravery, it has played a strangely significant role in my journey of calling. Growing up in a tradition where women are not allowed to preach, admitting that not only does God call women, but that God has called me is huge. And scary. Just today I admitted to a minister friend that I’m not sure I have what it takes. She was wise enough to remind me that none of us do. And isn’t that an amazing act of grace?

108. Opportunities to be around people who are not at all like me

109. A kind hotel desk worker

110. For safe travels during a winter weather weekend — even if things didn’t quite turn out as planned.

111. Dinner with friends from the new create cohort — and Kate!

112. Getting to see and meet Walter Brueggemann with Allyn.

113. Cookies and “Scrubs” with the Tankersleys

114. Road trip conversations

115. Hearing my friend Leslie preach on Sunday morning

116. Painting and discussing Bible stories with 4 sugar-filled kids who are creative as all get out.

117. A summer internship dream session

118. Lunch and a chat with a friend who followed me from Jeff City to St. Louis (even if I wasn’t part of the reason!)

(photo credit)

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Finding a voice

One hundred plus e-mails, many facebook group posts, and several conversations later, I am becoming a person to avoid. Baptist pastors see me coming and run. That’s apparently the life of an organization leader. On the plus side, at last check Missouri had more churches participating in Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching than any other state.

I’ve had several ask why having such a month is important — especially for churches who are already very supportive of women. My own experience is certainly the most meaningful for me. Last year’s MSM Month was my first preaching opportunity. Preparing and delivering a sermon completely changed my view of ministry.

I attend a church that is VERY supportive of women ministers. I’d heard several women preach there (and deliver WONDERFUL sermons!) but was absolutely certain that I would not want to be a preaching sort of pastor.

Standing in the pulpit changed that. Experiencing the work of the Spirit going beyond my words and ability, watching people make connections to the text I delievered caused me to reexamine. Taking time for sermon prep didn’t get in the way of practical ministry — preaching was a very REAL part of practical ministry. And while I’d certainly heard plenty of sermons that helped form me and considered a number of preachers wonderful pastors, I hadn’t ever considered how the two could work together in my own ministry.

Martha Stearns Marshall Month is important to all. It gives women a chance to explore their own giftedness. It gives congregations a change to hear how God can speak through a variety of voices. It allows male pastors an opportunity to share in the ministry of their female colleagues.

Martha Stearns Marshall is a way to declare publicly that a church believes in the priesthood of ALL believers. It allows all of God’s people to dream differently, to find new possibility. Hmmm… sounds like good news to me.

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Making a fashion statement

“Your husband should be the one wearing that shirt.”

I blink and look down. “This is what a preacher looks like.” I pause, wondering how to respond. The woman speaking to me is a friend, complimenting my husband’s recent sermon. The thing is, I agree with all of her praise – Allyn is wonderful and a fantastic preacher. Is that all she was saying, or was this statement implying something deeper – “only men can preach…” or maybe more cutting, “you just don’t have the giftedness, sweetheart?” I assumed the best. “Wasn’t he great? But this is a Baptist Women in Ministry shirt.”

A recent Associated Baptist Press opinion piece pointed out that we don’t have time to worry about the opinions of others when it comes to women in ministry. As much as I agree and want to follow, I’m just not there. It hurts to know that a significant number of Christians think I’m not qualified to be a pastor simply because I am a woman.

And I wonder about my job options. I don’t know of a single Baptist church in Missouri that has a female lead pastor. Yesterday, I was contacted by a woman moving to Missouri who wants to attend a Baptist church that is friendly to women in leadership. I had to admit that there just isn’t one in her area. I keep hearing about how far women ministers have come, and I am truly thankful for women and men who have fought for the opportunities that exist today… but as I look at the job market, I get discouraged at how far there still is to go.

My husband asked yesterday, “what is plan B?” I sighed and stated I’d turn to a different denomination. I admitted that my involvement in BWIM-Missouri – that my desires there – are an attempt to fight for my place in the denomination that raised me. If I have to turn elsewhere, I want to make sure that the next generation of women called to ministry has a place. I want theirs to be an easy battle. So I continue proudly wearing my “This is What a Preacher Looks Like” T-shirt. Maybe next time I’ll be a bit braver in conversation.

(photo credit)

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I just can’t hide it

I am so excited. A project I’ve been dreaming about, praying about and worrying about has officially launched. Baptist Women in Ministry – Missouri is a reality. It has actually been official for a few weeks now, but the website went live today, which makes it all feel far more official. The website was designed by our partner and friend — FaithLab.

My hope and prayer is that this organization works itself out of a job. I would love to see the day where women have no need to justify their positions in ministry. Until then, I’m so glad women ministers in my state have an organization to serve as an advocate.

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Let’s do lunch

Lunch is a spiritual practice. My friend Linda Milan taught me that years ago. She would say that providing food is a physical form of love. Based on the meal she made for our ethics class, I’d agree. Sharing a meal binds people together, creates community. Perhaps that is why I enjoy lunch meetings. It is hard to be “all business” when you have pesto on your chin.

I recently had a lunch meeting for the purpose of creating community. I met with Robin Sandbothe and Molly Marshall to discuss my newest project – starting a Baptist Women in Ministry-Missouri group. The group is in its beginning stages, but women from across the state have declared their interest and started discussing what such a community could look like. At this particular lunch, we pondered the low numbers of Baptist women in ministry positions and ways we could help churches consider calling a qualified woman to fill their open positions. We talked about encouraging young ladies as they begin to consider where God is calling them. We shared stories of other groups — like a Kansas City peer learning group — who are already doing great things to help support women ministers.

I’m hoping this is the first of many lunches with women and men across the state as we discover how to encourage women who feel called into ministry. You interested? Let’s do lunch.

(photo credit)

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