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First Day of School

As we count down the days to our three-year-old’s first day of school, I find myself digging through drawers trying to make sure that we have enough shirt/short combos for the five day week. Next, we look for shoes that fit and stay on his feet and water bottles that don’t leak.

In the midst of the preparation, there is one thing that never crosses my mind: that I would take my child to school and not pick him up.

That’s what happened to families yesterday in Mississippi. The first big raid was organized and implemented on the first day of school, which led children to being left at school alone. Again parents and children being separated. Again fear falling on the shoulders of children. These children ranged in ages from 4 to age 15. Thankfully community members stepped up to provide food and shelter to these children.

Political banter and rhetoric are swirling in the air creating a cloud of confusion about what is real and what is not. Let us not be confused. Let our vision not be clouded to what is happening to children in our country. Let us not forget that while this is happening, we all are playing a part as we continue to separate parents and children.

Behind the Scenes A Theology of Scarcity

I have this voice in my head that whispers a repeating line, “It’s not enough. It’s not enough.” Most of this time this repeating line enters my consciousness on Wednesday mornings as I am walking back to my car after leading the chapel service at Transitions Homeless Shelter. I have walked with the homeless community in Columbia since our son was born almost four years ago.

This ever-changing, diverse congregation is the congregation that has challenged and taught me the most. In the midst of some of the most difficult circumstances, they hold onto hope. In the midst of what most people would consider scarcity, they are incredibly generous. Their faith has asked me to look deeply at some of my foundational, theological views. As I have reflected, I realize I have clung tightly to a theology of scarcity.

When I was growing up, I often heard that I was not good enough or generous enough to make it to God. Not only was I not good enough, I was born not good enough. The very essence of who I was, was sinful. This is why accepting Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior was so essential. In seminary, I learned that this theological concept was called total depravity of the soul. I also learned that while I was raised baptist this theological concept was most often found in reformed theology.

What I hadn’t put together until now is that this theological concept actually crept into my very being and bloomed into a theology of scarcity. It starts by believing that you can’t be good enough and turns into you are not enough and that leads to you are not good. It starts by believing there is nothing we can do to reach God and turns into there is nothing we can do to change unjust systems and unfair treatment of God’s people. It starts by believing there’s a limited amount of money and blessings for a chosen few and turns into making and keeping money and resources away from other people.

I heard this all the time as I entered into the process of pastor search as a woman preacher.

“We wish there were more churches, but there just aren’t that many who will even consider a woman pastor and even fewer who will actually call a woman pastor.”

“We wish we could offer you more money, but there just isn’t enough right now.”

“We wish that we could offer you benefits, but that just isn’t in the budget.”

“We wish that we could offer you a raise, but we have to grow first.”

All of this speaks from a theology of scarcity. A theology of scarcity allows us to limit what God can do to what we can imagine. If there is anything I have learned from my journey into ministry, it’s that God is much, much bigger than anything we can imagine.

A theology of scarcity limits the kingdom of God to a capitalistic market that profits off the back of the underpaid and undervalued workers rather than working together towards a greater good. A theology of scarcity purports that the meaning of life is gaining more through rapid and vapid consumerism rather than giving generously every time we have more than we need. A theology of scarcity excludes people because of their sexual identity, gender, or race believing that God’s people are limited rather than believing that ALL humans are created in the image of God and hold the Divine breath within their very beings.

Most importantly, a theology of scarcity allows churches, denominations, and minister the excuse that this is “just the way it is” thereby never having to change their beliefs or their actions.

Slowly, but surely, I am operating from a theology of abundance.

There is more than enough room at the table for everyone. There is more than enough food, clothing, and shoes for everyone. We have more than enough and so we share with those who do have enough so they too know the right and abundant life the Spirit of God is offering.

This theology of abundance opens the heart and mind to welcome and include everyone. A theology of abundance gives without thinking or wondering if there will be enough because there is always enough. A theology of abundance worries not about what I am going to put on my plate, but whether there are enough plates for all who are gathered at the table to fellowship and commune together.

As I am renewing my mental patterns, I find my words and my actions changing each week at Transitions. Rather than worrying about whether I am doing enough or trying hard enough, I find myself whispering the words, “You are enough. You are enough. You are enough.” to God’s people gathered around the table to encounter a God who always offers more and more and more.

 

Behind the Scenes Preparing for Worship

As a young pastor, one of my favorite aspects of the week was preparing for worship. This took the form of reading and studying God’s word and preparing a sermon. It also took collaborating with our music team to choose hymns and songs that would bring God’s people to a place of reflection and engagement. But there was another aspect of preparing for the physical place of worship that became a part of my week.

Since I was raised Southern Baptist, I was never introduced to paraments and the liturgical seasons in their fullness until I became a pastor. Preparing for worship often was changing out paraments on the pulpit and altar table, finding the same colored stole to drape over my robe in preparation for Sunday worship, and walking the sanctuary looking for spare coffee cups, Bibles or pens that had been accidentally left behind. All of this was preparing the physical space as well as preparing myself by praying for those who would enter and what they would bring with them: their concerns, their joys, and their griefs. As I moved around the sanctuary I learned I was actually preparing the space to hold sanctuary for all that would enter in on Sunday morning. In each of the churches I’ve served, I’ve had some form of this practice as part of my preparation for Sunday worship. It’s something I’ve done since my first days of teaching where I would do the same straightening the desks and recentering the reading rug. Preparing the physical space often opened room in my heart and mind for whatever came that day.

I can remember in my first official church job when I was a new preacher, I would sneak into the sanctuary in the dark and quiet to practice my sermon. I would walk up the stairs and into the holy desk trying to overcome all the voices in my head that told me I didn’t belong there, that this wasn’t a space as a woman I was supposed to take up. I needed this time to stand and be in the space of the pulpit. I needed to look up and look out. I needed to read the words the Spirit and I had prepared and feel how those words felt in the space. This preparation allowed me time to reflect and ponder whether the words were my own or were a message from God for God’s people.

This behind the scenes preparation was one of the aspects of being called that I fell in love with. There was something so sacred and so mystical about the experience that whispered to deep really important work. I knew in those first few days that this work of preparing space would be one of the most important things I did as a minister.

In the course of my ministry, I have preached,  taught, and been present in so many different places: hospital rooms, apartments, houses, churches, churches that don’t look like churches, a salon that is slowly being renovated to be a church, retreat centers, beaches, mountains, porches, pool decks, docks, grocery stores, coffee shops, fellowship halls, and every week in the homeless shelter here in Columbia, SC. I don’t always get to do a walkthrough of the space. I don’t always get a week of preparation or any preparation before I am called on to be God’s presence to one of God’s people.

Whatever space I find myself in I know that part of my calling is preparing the place where God will encounter God’s people. Perhaps this groundwork is the most important work we do as ministers and pastors. In the midst of all that is going on in our culture and in the lives of God’s people, perhaps this preparation in silence and solitude is the work God’s people need the most. Perhaps the message that God’s people are craving is not the answers to theological conundrums or political debates, but rather that there is a place and space for you to come and be with God.

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?