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On Leaving Emmanuel and Following My Call

Yesterday, I shared with Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship in Lexington, SC that we will be moving on after Easter.

After a tearful reception following the morning service, the questions began to come in. Many of them were about whether we were moving or staying in the Columbia area. Most of them had the central theme of “What’s next?” in a loving and compassionate tone. “What’s next” for Emmanuel and “What’s next” for me and our family.

When I was first realized and decided to “lean in” to my calling to pursue the ministry, I began to realize a still small voice that had always been there. As I made my way through seminary and internships and pulpit supplies, I heard that voice clearer but I wanted to know and see more. I wanted to know “what’s next” and be assured that when I graduated seminary I would have a position in church ministry (which was no easy assumption being a female baptist pastor in the Carolinas). When I was called by Emmanuel, I further realized clarity about my own calling and it became evident to me that my duty there was to help them heal and become more authentic about their missional identity in their already wonderful fellowship. I fell in love with them, and they have supported me in ways that I could have never had in another “first-church” experience.

My call was to help the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Global understand that there are small congregations who are flexible, active, and engaged in CBF life. My call was to reiterate that when you have people who are willing to serve, then God can do amazing work. For instance, our small church became the center for a number of disaster relief efforts focused on the Midlands after catastrophic flooding last Fall. We are still in the middle of a number of interfaith and CBF partnered initiatives, despite our diminutive budget and membership role compared to most of our partners. When you express your willingness to God to serve, you can change communities by offering a feeding program and a clothing program for your neighbor in need.

Stepping into the unknown and uncertainty has always been a part of my call. I was not sure if there are CBF churches that are ready to call a woman to the pastorate, but I knew that I was called to pastor. I don’t know if there are CBF churches that are ready to call a new mom to the pastorate, but I have hope there are some congregations that are ready to take risks and be brave enough to follow their congregational call to follow the great commission.

What I do know and fully realize is that my calling to the ministry will never allow me to follow a cozy and easy path of “working my way” up the career ladder. Churches are changing rapidly, in terms of their demographics and budgets (or even theologies), but especially in terms of their staff structuring. I am not naive enough to think that if I “put myself out there,” as coaches and colleagues have urged me to do, I will suddenly find a dream position that will reassure me that the sacrifices of following my call have been worth the scars and burden on my family. However, I do have faith that there are congregations out there who are looking ahead. A few of my younger female colleagues in the ministry have asked me how I landed such a wonderful pastorate at Emmanuel shortly after graduating seminary. I never know how to respond to them without smiles and tears, but I will continue to be a voice for them as I pursue my own calling.

We’ll see “what’s next” in the coming weeks, but my calling tells me it’s time to make the next journey as a pastor.  

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot. Nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.