Word of the Week

Why I Never Left

This week, for a couple short days, I was with several of my seminary classmates during our annuaduke girls at the beachl beach retreat in Hilton Head, SC. Not everyone could come due to changing family situations and recent moves, but the five of us enjoyed some great time catching up and of course swapping stories about our churches.

During the course of one of our conversations, we discovered that four out of the five of us present had roots in the Southern Baptist Church. Though now, one of the four is Episcopal and teaches school, one is an ordained United Methodist pastor and the other two of us were ordained in "flavors" of the Baptist faith which were more moderate to liberal (thus little to no connection to the SBC).

None of us saw female pastors until we were well into our 20s. The other one of us whose roots were in the Methodist church who is now ordained in her tradition, also grew up never seeing women in the pulpit. She said "I was the first woman I ever saw preach!"

This particular conversation led our group to have a discussion about why we entered the ministry and why we stayed or didn't stay in the traditions we'd be first introduced to faith in as a child. And, this was actually one of the first times I really began to think about the question: "Why did I not leave the Baptist church especially after all the discouragement the Baptists gave me during my early days of feeling called to the ministry?" (Baptist churches, especially in the South, really aren't the friendliest to women-- to put it nicely).

The reason why I'd thought I stuck around was because I was a Baptist at heart. I loved the theology of the priesthood of all believers. I affirmed believer's baptism. I loved the Bible. I grew to be proud of our stance on the separation of church and state.

But, really I think none of these convictions would have mattered much to me if I had not discovered a progressive community of faith that challenged me, welcomed me, and called out my gifts for ministry-- that just happened to be Baptist too.

This congregation for me was Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham, AL.

I found it through some friends during the last week of my last semester in college. And, upon first visiting, I was so blown away by its divchurchersity, inclusiveness, and character that I quickly changed my post-graduation plans so to spend more than a couple Sundays there.

I stuck around for nine months until seminary called. For the first time in my life, not only did I see a woman in the pulpit EVERY Sunday, but I made dear friends with persons who were gay, lesbian, straight, married, single, black, white, poor, and wealthy. I was accepted in these friendships simply on the basis of who I was. I laughed a lot. I shared meals a lot. I was encouraged to be of service both in and outside of the church walls. And, I came to know the best of what church is all about.

When I entered seminary in 2006, I declared myself to be a student in the Baptist tradition because of the kind of Christian community I'd come to love at BCOC. There was no wavering. It was who I was and what I hoped to continue to be.

So, why did I not leave the Baptist church even with all the hardship?

BCOC showed me the way. They gave me the hope. They gave me courage to know that churches like the one I now pastor existed in the world, and would want me!

To all my BCOC friends out there, you are a major reason why I am the pastor of a church today.

I'm glad I remembered this all again this week, so to give thanks.