Posts tagged ‘Baptists’

November 5, 2013

Hitting the Plazas of Nashville and Honolulu

These days the life plan of our household never extends beyond two months ahead– and this is if we are lucky.

Kevin and I take opportunities as they come. Kevin never knows when the next international crisis will hit that will need us to pick up and travel. I never know when an opportunity to help a friend or congregation out with preaching will come up either.

Though people often want to “know our schedule” I have to say we don’t really have one! Kevin and I look at life with the most broad strokes of openness, strokes I could have never imagined embracing even a year ago.

So with this said, the last two weeks, our travels have taken us to Tennessee and Hawaii (with Kevin having a stop back at FTC headquarters in Oklahoma City in between).

I am traveling more and more with Kevin because:

1) It is great to actually see my husband

2) Writing projects are something I can do anywhere

3) I’ve started working in the PR/ Communications department of FTC alongside the Director for Social Engagement (i.e. I help with social media posts like those you find on Facebook and even more exciting projects in the works).

So- Nashville was stop one on this two-week tour. In the course of four days on the ground, we visited with the staff at the NEW LaVergne, TN FTC distribution center, distributed books to inner city kids at a Nashville school, assisted with a food distribution to 800 needy families at a Nashville church and attended a FTC fundraiser in Franklin, TN with celebrity guest such as Evander Holifield and Naomi Judd.

I was tweeting up a storm and also had the chance to catch up with my Nashville family while I was in town as well.




Then the following Saturday, we make the trek across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. And no, it wasn’t for a vacation and it wasn’t a vacation.

I was invited to preach each day at the Hawaii Baptist Academy Christian Emphasis Week in the elementary school.


The theme for the week was “Sticky Faith.” Every day we look at Biblical characters who were known to have faith as described to us in Hebrews 11. Noah, Abraham and Moses were among the standouts. Each morning I lead in chapel and then had opportunities to roam around the campus and hang out with students participating in “sticky” activities that helped them make their faith their own.

By the end of the week I think most every student in the school could answer the question: “What is faith?” by saying, “Faith is believing in what we can’t see.”

I was delighted to work alongside such a great team including the Christian Minister of the school, Cindy Gaskins.


On the last day of chapel, I was able to share more about our work with Feed The Children– telling the Hawaiian children about other children in the world who are seeking to share God’s love where they are as well.


Meanwhile, Kevin spent time at this foundation— learning more about their work with homeless children and sustainable agriculture. All experiences that could help him and his team strengthen the work of the domestic programs in the Mainland of the US.

After two weeks of travel, I was so glad to be home (the Oklahoma home that is) and have spent the last two days doing laundry.

It is a joy to me to see so many of the different plazas of the world and be able to still stand on them as a preacher and minister.

December 12, 2012

Not Afraid Anymore

As you might imagine with my days in local church pastor land drawing to a close, I’ve had a lot of packing to do. I’ve been sorting through books, papers and sermon files over the past several days. And in doing so, I’ve discovered all sorts of treasures, as you usually do when you begin to pack. Books I forgot I had from seminary. Extra copies of book studies to send to friends who might enjoy them. A letter from my grandmother lodged in the jacket cover of a book (who has been deceased over 7 years!). And also several CD and DVDs of ministry related files and activities.

I’ve been tempted to stroll a bit down memory lane this afternoon as I’ve tried to figure out exactly what these DVDs, in particular are of. Who cared if I was behind schedule on the packing!

ordinationAnd, I’m glad I did. For, what I jewel I found in re-discovering my ordination service on DVD from November 2006. A shout out to Michelle Mesen for recording it! It took place at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington DC with important contributions from Amy Butler, the pastor, several seminary friends including Anna Kate Ellerman Shirley, Abby Thornton and Sarah Jobe as well as head of the DC Baptist convention at the time, Jeffrey Haggray, my colleague from my first church, Charlie Updike and my parents too.

As I watched this service (which I hadn’t viewed in many years), I couldn’t help but notice the look of terror in my eyes as words poured over my life and call to ministry.

I was excited yes, about FINALLY being ordained. But, I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. I came from a ministry family. I knew the toil would take on my life, my schedule and any future family members I added to my household. I knew I wasn’t really as holy as everyone made me out to be that day. I wasn’t sure how to keep pace with this emotionally draining vocation. Yet in spite of myself, I knew, though, I wanted to be in a church more than anything.

I remember the morning of my ordination I had a long talk with several seminary friends about my concerns: “I’m afraid my life is now over. I’m getting married to God today,” I offered with tears in my eyes.

My friends were great, reminding me that indeed my life was not over. There’s still be time for fun and holidays and new adventures even though they agreed, ordination is sort of like getting married to God (though not like our Catholic priest colleagues thank goodness!).

And so for the past six years, I’ve dutifully labored. I’ve supported two churches in associate and solo pastorate roles. I’ve preached a lot of services. I’ve planned a lot of funerals and wedddings. In doing so, I’ve learned much about myself, people and the role of the church in the world. People have loved me and I’ve loved them too. My theology has shifted and shifted some more. I’ve been brought back to center time and time again through the gift of colleagues.

In all of this, I wouldn’t go back and change a thing. These first six years of ordination have been about serving the local church and the church has served me along the way too.

ordination3But, in January things will be different.

I hear folks commenting around me (when they find out I’m leaving my church), “I can’t believe YOU are giving up your church.” Or, “What a waste that you aren’t going to be in ministry.”

Such sentiments sting a little because they aren’t true– though of course my landscape of ministry is changing.

Hear this: I still am a big fan of the church. I still believe in its purpose in the world. I still will call myself a Rev. and seek to use my life in gospel pursuits.

Of course it is all going to look different soon. My calling has changed. I won’t wear a stole and rise to a pulpit every week now. I won’t plan worship for Lent this year. I may not make as many hospital calls.

But, I am going to still be a minister. I don’t know if I could ever stop.

Someone asked me the other day, “Are you afraid of the future?”

And the answer is no.

It took me a LONG time to get to this place. But with every book I pack today, I really feel ok. The details of the ins and outs of the future life I will be creating with Kevin are sparse (I can’t even tell you where I’m going to live in six months), but I realized today that I’m not afraid. I feel the gift of calling.

And in calling, I know we’ll figure it out (though of course I’ll have those days like everyone else when I’ll cry about it). In due time, I know the Spirit will make things plain. I know I’ll keep studying, learning and preaching somehow. And, most of all I will live into writing as a vocation in the upcoming season. In fact, what I get into next might just be more fitting of the person I was created to be– who knows?

Above all, I no longer have the fearful look in my eyes I projected at my ordination service six years ago– even though several in my life think I should be MORE scared now. God’s calling is messy. Yet, it is also one of peace. This I know.

I’m glad I stumbled upon the DVD of my ordination service today. What a gift to remember and gain perspective.

October 16, 2012

Writing In Other Places

For all of you faithful blog readers out there, I wanted to take this Tuesday morning to say thank you for reading! It means so much to me that you’d share some of your precious time with me and my musings. And second, I want to let you know that if you enjoy reading here, I also write in several other places on a regular basis.

It has been a gift over the past almost two years to write commentaries for the Associated Baptist Press and now also for the Associated Baptist Press blog.

I’ve recently published articles at each of these sources if you want to check them out. Since it’s Pastor Appreciation Month, I thought I’d share along the lines of this theme in both places:

On the Main Site: “Re-thinking pastor appreciation.”

On the blog: “Where pastors find support.”

I’ve love to hear your feedback on this topic, both from clergy and non-clergy alike. What should we be doing to encourage our ministers? Or is this topic too over promoted and thus needs no more conversation at all?

Blessings to you all!

June 20, 2012

Are Times Changing in the SBC?

Yesterday, I got the word via twitter that Fred Luter, pastor of Franklin Ave Baptist Church became President of the Southern Baptist Convention, elected at their annual meeting this week.

Such is a fact that I normally would not pay any attention to (I’ve long left my SBC roots since the day I felt a call to pastor), but with the election of Luter making national news (as he became the first African-American president in a mostly European American convention), I paid attention. What a noteworthy day in Baptist life! If you know anything about the history of the northern Baptists (now known as the American Baptists) spilt from the southern Baptists in 1845 over the issue of slavery, you know that a denomination founded on the principal of slavery now has an African-American president. No small thing at all!

Are times changing in the SBC?

While yes, in many ways, they are. Luter’s election comes, though 17 years after SBC leaders finally apologized to their African-American brothers and sisters for the convention’s sins of blessing slavery. It seems that as far as racial issues are concerned the SBC wants to chart a new course. It’s a slow-moving train toward racial reconciliation, but at least the train is moving in the direction of equality. Luter seemed to be just the pastor to take the convention to this historic place.

But, all of this mean what?

From where I sit as a pastor of an American Baptist congregation of diverse membership in Northern Virginia, I applaud the SBC’s progress. My African-American members do too. But, I fear this is a small step, many years too late. SBC has such a public relations disaster on its hands with leaders like Richard Land spouting out racial comments in recent weeks, resolutions being passed that demean one half of its membership– saying that women are to submit to their husbands and not hold leadership positions in church in the past several years, and fundamentalist ideas about scripture which make no room for grace described every Sunday from pulpits.  (And this is not even to mention our gay brothers and sisters in Christ who in the eyes of the SBC are non people). Southern Baptists after all are often know more for what they are against than what they are for.

The future  leaders of the church whom I interact with on a weekly basis in my congregation really have little to no patience for such foolishness. They want to know that God loves them, even when they mess up. They want to know that all their friends are welcome at church. They want the creative wind of the Spirit to blow through their gathered community with fresh interpretation of the scriptures for their life. Even more so, it is almost always a distasteful comment to say you have any personal association to the SBC in the circles I run in. Church abuse of all kinds still wounds hearts and lives of the faithful from this family of the Baptist faith. These are the kind of people who show up on Washington Plaza Baptist’s door each week and we try to help them.

To Rev. Fred Luter, I say congratulations. May God bless your future ministry and leadership with the convention. May God guide you and make the light shine on your future work. But, I fear, my colleague that you are steering a ship that is already sinking– being the first African-American president or not. There are problems greater for even one man to fix, no matter how great you are Rev. Luter.

Will this history making election, will the SBC change? Only time will tell. We all hope for the best.

March 6, 2012

Preacher Goes to the White House

Tomorrow morning, I will be a part of a 65+ other Baptist pastors on a “Goodwill” delegation to the White House. Our group which includes such cool pastors as those from this church, and this church and this church among many others from all over the country. Together, we will meet with senior White House staffers to discuss issues we see facing the those we serve in our congregations and other ministries.

According to organizers, this is the agenda: “We will get to express concerns, ask questions, speak morally about the budget, taxation, immigration, health care, war, criminal justice, the environment and other issues. We will get to share what concerns us as congregational leaders, what’s on our hearts as moral leaders, what community needs are pressing, what our churches do that works to advance the common good. We will also get to hear how administration officials see issues, how they explain their purposes and goals of policies.”

So, on behalf of you, my blogosphere community, what would you want to ask the White House Staff if you could? I’ll be happy to take your questions with me and report back. What fun it is to live in Washington, D.C.!

February 12, 2012

This I Believe

This week on Monday and Tuesday, I gathered at a retreat for Baptist pastors in the Northern Virginia and DC region on the topic of narrative leadership. The center point of this retreat was stories and the idea that we only know who we are as leaders and as congregations is when we tell and understand our stories. So, over the course of three days, this small group of 15, shared a series of personal narratives with one another hoping to figure out how these stories spoke to the larger themes of our lives and ministry.

One of the pastors in my storytelling group was Rev. Kendrick Curry, the pastor of Pennsylvania Ave Baptist Church in DC, a colleague I have much respect for.  When we were asked to share a story about an ordaining moment in ministry– a time in our lives when we knew that we were in the right place and that God was using us for something greater than ourselves– this is the story that Kendrick told and gave me permission to share with you this morning:

Several years ago, the Curry family was preparing anxiously for the birth of their second child. Finding out that they were having a son, after already welcoming a baby girl in their home two years prior, he said they elated with joy. A name for his soon-to-be born son was already chosen: Kendrick, Jr. The only thing left was for the son to make his grand appearance in the world.

However, around 35 weeks of the pregnancy, Kendrick’s wife faced birth complications and was admitted to the hospital. The bed rest prescribed seemed to make everything better and Kendrick along with the rest of the family hoped that everything would be ok soon. 

And the day came finally: the day when the hospital scheduled the birth. The doctors induced labor and the cries of his newborn rang out throughout the delivery room. But,  Kendrick, Jr’s preemie size meant that he had to go straight to the NICU for observation and tests. Meanwhile, the post-delivery condition of the mother soon worsened.  Rushed to ICU with internal hemmoriging, things weren’t looking good for Mrs. Curry. Running back and forth from the NICU to the ICU, in his despair, Kendrick felt his heart torn between the bedside of his wife and his son. It just so happened that in between these two places, there sat a chapel. Kendrick would stop each time to pray.

During those moments in the chapel he cried in anger to God, “Why are you doing this to MY family?” He prayed as hard as could ever remembering praying in his life for the health of these two dear ones in his life. But, as he prayed, it became apparent to him through the still small voice of the Spirit that one of his beloved would not make it. And though he didn’t know with one– he still prayed for the health of both, hoping that this word he felt in his spirit was not true.

And in dramatic fashion that only a story that tells like this could offer, Kendrick relayed that hours later his wife died. Instantly he became a single father to a 2 year old girl and a newborn son.

Such a huge loss could have set Kendrick running to the hills for days– locking himself up in his house, taking care of his own, not coming out for nothing and no one would have blamed him. I know I wouldn’t have.

But, Kendrick relayed, that the following Sunday he was slated to preach at a special church service that he’d said yes to participate in months prior. As much as he could have said no, “I don’t feel like preaching this week,” Kendrick told us something in his spirit said to him again, “You need to preach. You need to preach” even though everyone in his life encouraged him to stay at home.

During that Sunday’s sermon, as Kendrick ascended to the pulpit, as he had done on countless occasions, he did so on different terms. Everything about his life had changed in those moments running between the NICU, the ICU and the chapel. His beloved was gone.

But, there was something huge that had not changed. God was with him. He felt God’s Spirit raping loving arms around him and his family. God still called him to bear witness to the good news, even in this dark, dark hour of his own story.

And, so there was a word he had to preach. This word was, “I believe what I preach. I believe what I preach.” He needed his congregation to know that he believed what he preached. The faith of the Jesus story was his own, even at this juncture of sorrow.

 There are a couple of things that you are taught in seminary about preaching that could go against the preaching plan of Kendrick did that day. First of all, in times of great personal crisis, we were encouraged to find someone else to fill the pulpit. “You don’t have to be superman or woman,” we heard over and over.  Furthermore, I can remember clearly the lecture when my preaching professor warned us not to bring too much of ourselves into the pulpit. “The sermon is not story time with the pastor,”  my classmates and I were told, “Each sermon you give is the proclamation of the word of God.  So, leave your cute stories at home. The word of God will be better for it.”

While in later reflection, I agreed with this, (as I have been in situations as listener of sermons, probably like you have too, where you feel abused by the preacher simply vomiting for you their stories on you about nothing helpful or anything found in the Biblical text), I also know there is something powerful about the connection between the preaching moment and personal testimony.

Because at heart, sermons that we feature prominently in the order of worship each week, are a product of the proclaimer wrestling with God in such a way through personal reflection and study so that the listeners are too encouraged to wrestle with the texts too.

When people ask me– often who are not familiar with all things church as to what I do on a weekly basis– I say I write and preach sermons that are product of my own spiritual journey with a word for the greater congregation in mind.

Though there are some pastors who do the alternative, I just don’t know any other way to preach than to have it overflow out of my own relationship with God as I seek to make sense of the joys, failures, and disappointments in my own life.  I do this all in the hope that you’ll see me model this publically and then be encouraged to enter in a similar process too.

One of my preaching mentors, though we’ve never met, is Lillian Daniel. Lillian is the pastor of First Congregational Church of Glen Ellyn in Illinois. In response to her own experiences of pastoring, encouraging her people to have real experiences of God and then do the crazy thing called “share them” with the community Lillian writes the book, Tell it Like it Is: Reclaiming the Practice of Testimony.  

And this is her basic challenge to pastors: make sure your people know that you wrestle with God, just as you ask them to do every Sunday.

 Lillian hypotheses that while pastors are often eager to talk about themselves– which my seminary professors warned against– they are not so eager to talk about their own relationship with God. Why?

Because she writes, many either don’t have one that they’ve touched on in years (sobering truth) or our fear and/or lack of practice gets the best of us.  

So, here we arrive at the reason for this different kind of sermon for this morning. Though I assume that you know about your pastor, just as Kendrick’s story illustrated, that I “believe what I preach” this morning I feel called to make it explicit for you. That I too believe what preach and never bring you any less than something that I have wrestled within, struggled through, shouted to God about– because this is what the gospel is all about.  And, though I had a sermon all outlined for our lectionary readings for today on the topic of “God Calls Us to Be Well” I just couldn’t preach it. I felt the tug on my heart to preach to you my own story of “God Calls me to Be Well.”

And, this is my journey of being made well:

There is a misconception, I believe, that if you go into ministry as a pastoral leader, you like being a professional Christian. That getting paid to pastor means that you always are eager to read your Bible every morning, that you are always eager to pray when people ask, and that living a life guided by the spiritual disciplines is what you just adore.

But, while, yes, most pastor types, myself included are wired to be more spiritually sensitive than most, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t human. It doesn’t mean that we don’t go through our own spiritually high and spiritual low moments. It doesn’t mean that we don’t struggle to care for our peeps when the burdens of our own hearts seek to keep us paralyzed in a space of “it’s all about me.” It doesn’t mean that pastors never feel abandoned by God when our prayers for ourselves and on behalf of our congregation just aren’t answered in the way we like.

Furthermore, there are times in every pastor’s life when reading the Bible is really the last thing we want to do. And, though I heard in an interview recently that Joel Osteen, the famed tv preacher, said he never doubted his faith– I’d be worried to be part of any congregation where the pastor hasn’t doubted his or her faith from time to time because I think doubt is just a part of what it means to believe.

And, so what is it that I believe about God as I seek to live out my Christian journey and calling in such a public way in front of you all?

I believe that resurrection is real. Yes, resurrection, the concept, the action and the moment in Jesus’ life that our Christian faith is based upon– is real. Why? Because I’ve experienced it in my own life. And in particular, I received a fresh experience of it this week.

The past two weeks for me have been a time of lots of personal reflection. It’s been a time that a set of outside circumstances orchestrated outside of any control has caused me to pause and put some puzzle pieces in my own life story back into different places. It’s been a time when I’ve come to realize that as dark and as lonely as certain seasons in my life felt, I was not as alone or unseen as I thought. And, most of all, I’ve experienced a work in me I know could have only come from God.

And this is what is important for you to know: there was a desire, a hope and a characteristic in me that I thought was long dead, that I thought was long past, that I thought I had moved on from and was simply over only to have God’s presence through tangible examples show this:, “No it is not dead. No, you don’t have to settle for less. No, you don’t have to be afraid of seeking out more. Yes, ask for more.”

This movement has left me surprised, amazed and thankful. What an adventure it is to be on your journey of faith, going along, all is going just fine, only to realize that there’s this whole other beautiful horizon just waiting for you to jump into. This horizon called abundant living, even as the trials of daily life come and go and seek to knock us down. In Christ, there’s really more! This is what resurrection is all about.

Such a breathe of resurrection for me has meant I can’t help but throw my hands up in gratitude to God and say thank you to the Lord like I’ve never said before. It’s a joy that I know that could not come from any other place than the Lord because many to an unspiritual outsider it really doesn’t look like much if anything has changed. But, it has. It really has. Resurrection found me.

This, my friends, is part of what I wanted to exhort you to if I spent the whole time with our gospel lection this morning– that when the leper, the outsider, the one who didn’t believe that anything about his community repelling skin condition was ever going to change– Jesus shows up and chooses to do a new work in his life.  And, resurrection came to him to– in the most untame of ways.

And, such a journey of discipleship is waiting for you and me too– a calling if we choose as well to accept it.

So while we all walk through seasons of deep loss, of deep pain, of the bewilderment of having the most joyous days of our lives then morph into our worst, as happened to my colleague Kendrick, I believe we are never a people without hope. We are not without hope because we are a people of resurrection. We are a people where no story is ever finished, no dream is ever dead and gone, and no horror story is ever without redemption.

This is what I believe and it is what I try hard to believe during my most defeated moments too. This is what I believe about God’s calling for us to be well. This is what I believe is happening in my life right now. And this is what I believe God wants to do in your life too– whatever your fill in the blank circumstances might be too. 

I believe that it is so sweet to trust in Jesus and just to take him at his word and just to rest upon God’s promises and just to know thus saith the Lord. Sure, there are moments of doubt of this promise for all of us– but thank goodness, we worship a God who is always in a relentless pursuit of us: a God who loves us so much that he wants us to be well.

What about you? Do you believe what you are about to sing? If not, don’t sing it. And, I pray, one day you will. But, if you do, sing out my friends, sing loud, for we have some praising of our Lord to get to. This is what I believe.


October 25, 2011

And ‘They’ Say the Church is Dying. . . I Wonder Why?

How many more wake up calls do denominational leaders need before they realized that what they are doing is not working and dying a slow (and painful for the rest of us) death?

I was attending this afternoon the “Senior Pastors Only” breakout session at the DC Baptist Convention annual meeting which Washington Plaza is a member and I found myself insulted, discouraged and wanting to throw up my hands and saying, “What’s the point?” once again.

Our church is a member of this ABC-USA regional body for several reasons– we want to be connected to our larger family of Baptists, we want to be known as an American Baptist church, and we want to partner in missions. Personally, I am indebted to the DC Baptist Convention for its recognition of my ordination, vocational placement service when I was a new seminary graduate, and for the friendship with other local pastors that I have made through attending activities supported by the convention.  As a church, we are personally grateful for the way in which the DC Baptist Foundation came alongside us and helped us with our loan to repair our building last year and for its celebration of diversity, especially racially in its composition of churches. I pray for a really bright future for DCBC as I think there are some good things going for us that could be even better.

But, if this current Annual meeting held this week at the Mt. Jezreel Baptist Church in Silver Spring, MD is any indication of the new direction its leadership is taking, I fear convention life in DC is a sinking ship for progressive churches like Washington Plaza.  We need sessions where we stop playing around with pleasantries and simply say more often what is actually going on.  There is division among us. We don’t know each other. We aren’t really doing anything new or exciting just going through the motions of the same old things. The church is speaking a langauge that no one “unchurched” understands or cares for anymore and denominations seem to pushing its pastors toward more of the same.

During the session I attended, the presenter addressed the room as if it was 1950 in Alabama. We were told about how to take care of our “wives and children” on repeated occasions. And the word “he” was always used as the pronoun to address who a pastor was. Even though there were at least 6 or more women in the room who were senior pastors of churches like myself, all of the examples the presenter gave related to men. For example, he goes to a men’s breakfast every month with other men just like him. He started small groups for other men. It was as if the presenter assumed that the women in the room were pastors’ wives. Gross. Really, really gross. And, this is not mention the fact there was no senstivity to those who are single.

I’m all for theological diversity. But, a celebration of diversity always begins with attention to context and respect for those who are different from you. Diversity always encourages out of the box thinking because no assumptions are made that individual thinking is better than that of a group.

For those who think the church and denominational life is out of touch, out of touch and dying, then I say today that I sadly agree with you.  Thank goodness, I’m a Baptist after all and tomorrow I can get back to the work of my local congregation, an autonomous body of believers who isn’t afraid to try new things.

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