Word of the Week

One of the first question people ask when they learn I'm a preacher is, "What kind are you?"

Though there are a thousand ways to answer this question, I know what the person is really asking. They want to know who I am?

They want to know what denomination or faith group I associate with.

They want to know about my ordination.

The answer is simple. I say, "I am Baptist."

(And usually a collective gasp falls over the room).

Soon thereafter, I get questions like, "How is that possible?" "You aren't Southern Baptist are you?" "They don't allow for girl preachers do they?"

The answer is "Yes, it's possible, but no, I'm not Southern Baptist (though I grew up as one)."

And the longer explanation is that was ordained American Baptist. (You can read more about their story here).

The ABC is a group of Baptists that has ecumenical ties to groups like the Disciples of Christ and the Presbyterian Church USA.

And I also find theological kinship with the Alliance of Baptists (You can read more about what they believe here). The Alliance is a progressive group of Baptists closely aligned with the United Church of Christ.  (Oh, and I attended a United Methodist seminary!)

Sound complicated? Well, maybe. But, I love being the kind of Baptist that allows for connection to the larger Mainline church in the United States and around the world. I love connection to the historical traditions of the creeds and sacraments. And I love the freedom to not always work in a Baptist church. God's Spirit always is leading us out, I believe!

Recently, I was asked to be one of the columnists for the new Alliance of Baptist blog called Voices. Every couple of months, I submit a post that has as something to do with the conversations going on within progressive Christianity.

I invite you to check out this series here.  Some of my recent posts have included:

My fellow columnists have some insightful posts that I'd know you'd love too.

Growing up with a Baptist heritage and now forging a different way to be Baptist with an eye toward social justice, separation of church and state,  the priesthood of all believers and most of ecumenism is a delightful place to be!

See, all Baptists aren't what you imagined! And I'm glad to be one of them.

Editor's note: back by demand, here's a post I wrote several months ago on another site. I thought it would be a great conversation to begin again.

Several months ago, our church moderator came to me as I was trying to make a difficult decisions about whether or not to attend a normal church event or to take some needed time with my husband. I was struggling. I really thought I should be at church. It was really hard for me to embrace the fact that it was going to be ok if I was not there.

And then, the church moderator, came and boldly addressed me. She said the problem was that I had the "Baptist Women Syndrome."

I was quick to ask what in the world she was talking about? I'd never heard of such a thing.

"Wasn't I doing a good job? Didn't she see how hard I was working being attentive to the details around the church? Didn't she see that I was trying to keep all my responsibilities covered at work, home and in life?"

And her reply went something like this: "That's exactly the point. You are a Baptist woman what you've just described is exactly what you do."

She went on, "You've worked so hard to get where you are. You've had to perform 10x faster and higher than your male colleagues to even be considered for ordination. There are hundreds of women who would kill to have your job . . . . Your syndrome is that you think if you stop for a second or show weakness or humanity, it will all be taken from you."

Though these words were hard to hear, the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was completely right. I do have the Baptist woman syndrome. And, I know there are sisters of mine out there who have it too.

For it is true, being a Baptist woman in ministry means that you always have to have your act together. You always have to know your stuff. You always have to preach better. You always have to present yourself well.  You always have to be thinking of how to get a higher education degree. You always have to be ready to be the token female at any Baptist association meeting. You always have to be ready to talk about I Timothy. You always, always.

Though we trust our congregations called and choose us because they believed in what we could offer them as a leaders, there is something in the back of our head that says, "Beware: this can all be taken away very soon."

The problem with all of this nonsense is that it leads us in patterns of behavior that are less human. We work longer hours even when we are part-time staff. We work for less money with a smile on our face because we have a job. We take on extra denominational responsibilities that our male colleagues don't want. We take the youth on one more outing even with the weekend away from our children.  We don't ask for help when we are on the edge of burnt out, sick or overwhelmed.  We don't complain. We show up, we do, and we keep going until we have to take drastic measures to change things because we've been doing it so long that we don't know how to stop.

A colleague shared this quote with me today from Barbara Brown Taylor's Leaving Church, "The call to serve God is first and the last call to be fully human."

I fear my colleagues and I have kept putting serving God and the church so high up on the priority list that we might just be becoming less and less human every day.

If we are going to have to get over our syndrome, my ministry sisters, then we are going to have to keep taking courageous steps to keep remembering we are more than our jobs. We have to take vacations and turn our cell phones off. We have to audaciously trust God to bring us ministry opportunities to us that help us to be who we need to be in all areas of our lives. We have to trust our moderator when she says, 'Chillax and take the Sunday off."  And, I'm learning to say: "Thanks be to God."

Today, the Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM) came out with its annual report on the state of women in Baptist life at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship meeting in Tampa.

In it, they reported that there have been some positive changes of women accepted into Baptist pastorates in the last year, yet the numbers are still staggering. While Baptist churches are willing to call women to second chair positions (not that there is anything wrong with associate positions as long as the woman is called to this job), few are still willing to accept women into solo pastorates or even co-pastor positions.

The recent study found that in 2010, there are only 135 women across the country who are leading Baptist churches. I feel blessed to be one of them and upset that it has to be such a big deal. There are so many sisters of mine who are willing, able and ready to be in positions like mine.

I'm not one who is normally on the "women in ministry train" because my thoughts are that when women work hard and just do a really good job at what they are called to do, the right doors will open themselves in due time. Our preaching and leadership abilities will speak for themselves. And, talking about the difficulty  just makes "us" seem bitter, and no one is served well by this.

But hearing this report today reminded me again, that the conversation of women in ministry is one that needs to continue to occur. There is much progress still to be made and many churches who have the power to make greater strides in letting there be no distance between what they believe and what they do. 

I look forward to the day when no young woman feels any discouragement toward entering ministry based solely on her gender.

I look forward to the day when young female seminarians aren't told the only way they can be pastors is to "start their own churches."

I look forward to the day when women in pastorates don't serve churches in fear-- believing that if this doesn't work out, no other church will ever consider them-- for there aren't second chances for them.

I look forward to the day when organizations like BWIM don't have to write annual reports about how amazing it is that a couple of more women got pastorates in the past year.

Though it is the ridiculous conversation that I can't believe we are still having within the Baptist family of faith, I believe it is one that we MUST keep having if we want to be open to the voice of God in our pulpits-- not just the male voice but the female voice of God too. This collective voice is what our ongoing becoming needs if it desires to speak a prophetic word to the faith seekers of today and tomorrow.