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Behind the Scenes of Worship with an Infant

Recently Baptist News Global posted an insightful reflection of CBF’s General Assembly that challenged CBF to continue to push to include voices that haven’t been heard. While I appreciated the author’s reflection, there was a part of it as a woman pastor with a nursing infant that stuck out to me. The author reflected that there were baptist babies as a part of luncheons and lined up at the back of worship. She noted that this was a sign of growth and the advent of a new generation, which it is.

However, as a woman pastor with a nursing infant having attended CBF General Assembly being in the back of worship and trying to participate in meaningful professional development is difficult, to say the least. CBF General Assembly provides no childcare for children under preschool-aged. When I was nursing our now three-year-old son, I queried about the availability of a nursing room and was told there simply weren’t any rooms available. When I asked the hotel and conference personnel upon my arrival, they immediately showed me to a room that could be used for nursing, pumping, and safe storage of baby gear (something by law every business has to provide). What this means is that the conference organizers never even asked the hotel staff is this was available. They didn’t think about the number of woman pastors and young parents who would need quick access to a space to care for their infants that they would be caring for since there was no infant childcare available. Since I didn’t attend this year’s conference, I don’t know and can’t comment on whether this has changed or not. I hope so.

Preparing space for all kinds of pastors and ministers means attending to the needs of those pastors and ministers. When purposeful and intentional planning doesn’t take place, the default is to favor and include voices of a certain demographic and exclude or regulate to the back of the room new and different voices. When my partner and I attended General Assembly with an infant, we took turns attending worship (something that is not all that uncommon for young parents); one of us went to worship, one of stayed in the room to put our infant to bed. If the CBF truly wants more woman and young ministers in pastorates positions and truly wants these voices in worship and in breakout sessions, their practical needs must be met. Otherwise, young parents, men and women, will be confined to the back of worship trying to balance the responsibility of caring for their infants and participating in worship, something many pastors and ministers don’t get to do often enough.

By comparison, I was recently a part of an ecumenical worship experience where I was asked to preside over communion for a morning worship experience. I was asked to participate even though I had just had a baby. I was included and respected as a minister, not regulated to the back room. I led communion while wearing our daughter because morning worship aligned with her morning nap time (another scheduling consideration that reflects purposeful and intentional planning). As I presided over the table with my four-month-old nestled against my chest, I was able to be both fully minister and fully mom. I didn’t have to choose. I didn’t have to be one or the other. I was invited to be fully who I was in this season of my life and in this divine calling.

If we believe there is room enough for all, then we intentionally plan and create space for all kinds of people and their needs. When we don’t, we send a message and a picture about which voices are valued by being on stage and which voices are not as valued at the back of worship.

Behind the Scenes of Advocating for LGTBQIA+

As I sat in my ordination council, I knew that these were questions and conversations I would always remember. Although I hadn’t been given the questions before I met with my council, I wasn’t surprised when this question arose: “What would you say if a same-sex couple asked you to officiate their wedding?” I asked a clarifying question in response, “If they asked me to officiate their wedding in the church or outside of my role as pastor?” The committee person said, “In the church.” For me this question was one that was easy to answer, “I would bring it before the church because of our congregational polity, this is something the community would have to engage and discern.”

I knew that this was an important question. It was 2013 and many CBF churches and CBF ministers were wrestling with the same question as well as the impact of the answer to that question on their churches and the minister’s ministry. To officiate a same-sex wedding was to eliminate yourself from future positions in churches that were “just not ready” to engage the issue.

In 2015, I was asked by a same-sex couple if I would officiate their wedding. I explained that I would love to meet with them and talk to them as we journeyed together towards marriage. As we met, the conversation turned towards my officiating their wedding to getting married in our church. When they expressed their desire to be married in our community of faith, I knew I had to bring it before the community. We were a welcoming and affirming church. We had ordained women and LGBTQIA+ persons. I had been called as the first female pastor. In so many ways the church was on the progressive end of the CBF spectrum.  As we walked and discussed and prayed, I consulted mentors and denominational leaders as I facilitated these conversations hoping I was providing space for the safety of the couple and also the questions and struggles of the community.

When we decided as a community of faith that we would follow our welcoming and affirming words with the action of standing as a witness to this couple, I was overwhelmed with the power and love of being community together. I was 39 weeks pregnant with our first child and received special permission from my doctor to officiate the wedding.

To be honest, I didn’t think too much about the phone call I received asking me to keep our story and the journey we had taken from calling ourselves welcoming and affirming to truly being welcoming and affirming quiet. I knew the couple was both professionals and in South Carolina had to still be careful and I wasn’t going to share their story without them sharing it first. I was also very pregnant and was working out the details of negotiating a maternity leave policy that became an extended leave policy on the advice of several colleagues who had been diagnosed with cancer or autoimmune disorders hoping to lay the foundation for others who would need time to heal .

I didn’t think about that conversation until the six months after our son was born when I was at a CBF gathering. One of the session was about fostering the conversation about becoming a welcoming and affirming church. As I listened to the story of the people who were wrestling with the idea of maybe considering starting the conversation, I couldn’t help but think. We just did this. This is what just happened in our community of faith.

And that’s when I remembered that conversation where I was asked to keep our experience quiet because there were some churches that “just weren’t ready” to engage the conversation. Maybe it was because I was pregnant and a new mom that I didn’t recall or reflect on that conversation until much later. Maybe it was because having been raised Southern Baptist I was very used to being asked to stay quiet and to not talk or write about my experiences. Maybe it was because I was only two years into pastoring and cared very deeply about being accepted and belonging to the greater CBF community.

Now as I look back, I realize this silencing was what many others had experienced as pastors and as individuals. I began to wonder how many churches had asked pastors not to tell about their experience officiating a same-sex wedding? How many persons who were LGTBQIA+ had been asked to keep quiet about who they were? How many churches have kept quiet a request from a couple to bear witness to their love and their relationship?

I don’t know how many have been asked to keep their experiences, their identities, and their true selves quiet, but I know that I was asked to keep quiet.

And I know there are others.

Bread Enough for All

Yesterday, I was working at the church sorting generous donations we have received from church members. I was elbow-deep in little girls’ clothes when I heard the news of the father and 23-month-old daughter who drowned attempting to find sanctuary. As I sorted and folded and sorted and folded, I tried to understand the desperation of this family as they sought something better. What must they have been leaving and running from in order to risk everything?

As I continued the work of sorting donations to go to our partners who work with the homeless and our neighbors in need, I heard that the facility in Clint, Texas refused donations of diapers, soap, and clothes after the report that some children being detained has not changed clothes in three weeks. I was surrounded by clothes that were donated to our church in order to go to someone in need and yet those who most desperately are in need in our country can’t receive donations of any kind.

It is easy for us to make political claims about what is right and wrong. It easy for us to process these reports and these stories by claiming that we know what we would should we find ourselves in such desperation. Our privilege is clouding our view. Our political party affiliations are clouding our sight.

After feeding the 4,000 in the gospel of Mark 8, Jesus says to his disciples:

Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” 20 “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” 21 Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”

Jesus fed all. Jesus gave bread to all.

There is enough here in America and in our churches for all to have food, clean clothes, and a safe place to live. There is enough for us all.

May our eyes be opened and our ears hear the cries of the children.

For the first time in my life…

I am not a member of the Baptist church. On Pentecost, I celebrated with Garden of Grace UCC and officially transferred my letter of membership to this welcome and affirming community of faith. UCC operates through congregational polity just as the Baptist tradition does. The UCC celebrates Eucharist every time they gather. They are notably different from the Baptist tradition in their emphasis on social justice and taking a stand to include and welcome all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, or marital status.

Even when I was told by my home church that they didn’t believe women were called to preach, I still remained baptist. Even when I was told by denominational leaders that although they wished it were different, there just weren’t that many Baptist churches who were willing to call a woman as pastor, I still remained baptist. Even when I was told that I needed to wear my hair back while preacher and wear a black suit with pants rather than a skirt or a dress, I still remained baptist. Even when I introduced myself as a Baptist pastor and was met with shocked and confused expressions in the Bible Belt, I remained Baptist. I remained Baptist for thirty-four years believing and hoping that things would change and they have, but that change is so incremental and so slow that I found myself in the pastor search process in competition with some of the colleagues who I valued the most. More than once, I withdrew my name from the pastor search process because I found out there was another woman in the running and I knew both of us wouldn’t make to the top three. Again and again, one woman knocks out another one and I did not want to be in competition with other women. In the latest data, women still comprised less than 25% of senior pastors and co-pastors in the branches of the baptist church who even welcome and affirm women as pastors.

This week and next week two branches of the baptist church will gather in Birmingham, AL. Both will be discussing the impact of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in their churches because the abuse has been so prevalent. These hidden issues have finally surfaced in a way that denominational leaders can no longer silently pretend it doesn’t exist.

This season of not being officially a baptist for me is an invitation. An invitation to rest, not having to fight, defend, or prove I am called. An invitation to be, simply be the person and the pastor I was created to be. Thanks be to God for the continual invitation to be a part of the holy and mysterious work of bringing the kingdom of God here on earth.

A Women’s Place in SC

This week 100 years ago, women earned the right to vote in the United States, but not every state was in favor of giving women this right. Matthew Isbell points out that there were noticeable patterns across the country. As I looked at the stark, glaring red of South Carolina, I wondered how much had changed over the past 100 years. Women have been elected to serve on the state and national level, but is there an undercurrent, a subtext that pervades our state and our culture here in South Carolina that continues to try to limit a women’s influence?

As a female clergy in the Bible Belt of South Carolina, there have been more times than not that I have been asked again what I do after I answer I am a pastor. This hasn’t changed in the five years since I have been pastoring in South Carolina. The number of women whose stories I read and hear who have been taught that their role is to raise children and to be a homemaker hasn’t decreased over the past five years and has actually increased.

Although South Carolina is no longer the deadliest state for women to live in due to domestic violence, we are still ranked number six in the nation and just this week faced the horrible realization that domestic violence doesn’t just impact women, but children too. There are still many, many women who live in fear of their lives and their children’s lives in our state but don’t have the financial means to create a life independent of an abusive partner, especially a life in which they can also support their children.

Living in the capital city of the first state to secede from the Union before the Civil War reminds us that history matters and that the voices that wanted to secede a protect slavery still exist in the descendants and power and money that came on the backs of other people. Living in the capital city where many people come to receive medical services from the Veteran’s hospital is a daily reminder that there is not enough affordable housing for people living on fixed incomes and that there are not lasting protections for those who fought to protect our country.  Even though South Carolina made a name for itself because of its ability to grow so many different cash crops, we are living in the reality of food deserts where there aren’t fresh fruits and produce available for miles and miles.

Our history matters and the voices that spoke out to support slavery and racism and to limit voices of women, African Americans and anyone considered other still impact the way our city and our state operate. We cannot move forward until we take a long look at our history as a state. We’ve already seen multiple presidential candidates visit South Carolina because we are a powerful player on the national political stage. I just hope we can move towards a future where we make a name for ourselves for something besides oppressing, silencing and enslaving other people.

Pastor Mom

Our church photographer captured this photo after service and I can’t imagine a better picture of what it looks like to be a Pastor Mom. I have so much help in an amazing partner and an amazing community who are so generous. With their help, I feel like I can truly step into both of these roles: inviting God’s people to dream and grow and inviting this little one who joined us four months ago to dream and grow.

At times, I catch my breath because as a young girl I never saw a woman pastor. I never saw a woman preach. I never dreamed that this picture could be possible.  At those moments, I am caught up in the holy mystery that calls to our deepest selves. The holy mystery that whispers possibilities of wholeness and newness in ways we never imagined. That holy mystery beckons to each of us inviting us to see parts of ourselves long hidden or oft silenced. That holy mystery comes powerfully into our lives, transforming and changing us into new creations.

No matter where we are on this journey, the holy mystery offers us communion with something so much greater than ourselves and I believe that the holy mystery cradles us and offers us milk, safety, and rest for the journey we are on.

Perhaps the holy mystery is whispering during this Eastertide season to lay back and drink deeply resting in the truth that death has been overcome and transformation and resurrection are all around us.

“Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice”

In the girls’ bathhouse at my grandparents’ pool, there was a sign that hung on the wall:

Sugar n’ Spice

and everything nice

That’s what little girls

are made of.

I remember thinking that was a cute saying, especially because it rhymed and painted a picture of a smiling, bow-wearing little girl. Actually, that may have been the image that was painted at the bottom of the sign. Although the saying brings back fond memories, it’s not one that is hanging in our house with three girls.

I don’t want my girls to see that hanging on the wall and think they have to be nice or sweet. This Tuesday one of the most important organizations in the Columbia area, Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands, received threats to the staff and organization because of the work they are doing to combat, educate, and provide healing for sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse.  Three out of four victims know their abuser before the abuse occurs, so when we teach our girls to be nice and sweet to people they know and fear strangers, we are not recognizing the percentage of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual abuse that is committed by family members, family friends, and other close acquaintances. When we teach our girls to be nice and sweet, are we inevitably telling them that they can’t talk to us about things that aren’t sweet and nice if they happen to them?

The threats to an organization that does such important work prove that there are people who want girls and indeed adults to be sweet and nice rather than fight for safety for our children and against injustices in our society. We live in a world where sexual abuse, rape, and sexual violence occurs every 92 seconds. And I’m going to keep talking about the things that are not nice and sweet until we know that our world is a better place for our children.

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands had to cancel one of their major fundraisers because of these threats. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could show our support financially?

On Serving Side by Side

Last week, I had the privielge of serving in worship and on a panel discussion with a group of ecunemnical clergy in celebration of Reconciling in Christ designation that Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary received two years ago. I have participated in similar conversations throughout my six years of ministry, but this is the first time I was representing a denomination who as a whole was welcoming and affirming.

The United Church of Christ ordained its first woman over 150 years ago and its first openly gay clergy in 1972 over thirty years ago. Again and again the United Church of Christ has been the first denomination to express extravagant welcome to all people. As I was sitting on the panel, I felt no angst in representing that I believe in wholly and completely affirming members of the LGTBQIA+ community. I felt the burden of my colleagues for whom this is a touchy issue and a difficult subject.

I also felt freedom because in my short tenure in the UCC, I can honestly say this isn’t an issue. It is who we are and because we aren’t spending our time and energy debating and discussing and defending, we can be about the work of offering hope and healing to all people.

I’m incredibly greatful for those who have gone before me who have established a foundation of extravagant welcome and a church of extravangant welcome who called me as their pastor.

The End is the Beginning

We’ve been waiting and hoping for this day to come. The day that we celebrate the Divine Incarnate in the form of the Christ Child. The end of Advent is the beginning of the Christmas Season. The twelve days of Christmas: a holy number for a holy journey to Epiphany. This stands in stark contrast to our culture that teaches us to count down to presents and today is what we have been waiting for.

12 days to wonder and awe at what the meaning of the Divine here on earth is. 12 days to look for signs in the sky that promise new life and transformation. 12 days to hold onto hope, peace, joy, and love and carry them close to the heart. 12 days.

And as I think of what these next 12 days will bring, I believe that they will bring assurance that God is with us. I believe that they will bring the promise that God loves us. I believe that they will whisper an invitation to you to join this great journey.

For Christmas is not over, it is just beginning.

‘member that, Mommy?

As our son nears three, he is beginning to understand the passing of time. Terms like tomorrow and yesterday are starting to enter his vocabulary. Tomorrow usually pops up as the time when he doesn’t want to do something like clip his fingernails or go to the doctor. Yesterday usually appears when he is certain there is something we are about to do that we have already done like go to the store or going to school.

With these terms comes the question, “‘member that, Mommy?” especially when there was a particularly fun adventure like going to a baseball game. And every time I hear the question, I can’t help but smile and answer, “I do buddy, that was really fun, wasn’t it?” We are entering the stage where his memories are beginning to make lasting impressions. He understands what it means to be scared and he remembers when he found that spider on the ground. He understands what it means to hurt and he remembers when he got that splinter in his toe. He understands what it means to be happy and he remembers that time we all piled into the daddy’s truck and drove to the beach. He understands what it means to be loved and he remembers the times we turn the music up and dance around the living room.

As I watch this all unfold within him, I wonder if we remember. Do we remember what it feels like to be scared, to hurt, to be happy, to be loved? The words I overhear and the words I read are so often filled with emptiness, filling space with nothingness at best and hurt and pain at worst. Because we don’t want to remember.

We don’t want to remember the times we were scared and so we inflict fear on other people. We don’t want to remember that times we were in pain and so we inflict hurt on other people. We don’t want to remember the times we were happy because what if something happens and that disappears. We don’t want to remember the times we were truly and completely loved because that would ask us to truly and deeply love other people.

Remembering causes us to reflection, compassion, and empathy. Remembering asks us to recognize within us what is within all humans: fear, hurt, loneliness, joy, and love. Remembering asks us to recall the story of God who sent God’s only son to the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved. Remembering is a radical spiritual discipline that recalls that we are ash and to ash we shall return. Remembering is a revolutionary call to honor the Divine breath that dwells in each and every human being.

Do this in remembrance of me.