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Baptist Women of SC

Resting in the Not Yet and In-Between

by Rev. Judith Myers, Pastor, Emmanuel Baptist Fellowship

I love Advent, almost as much as I love Lent.  There’s something so beautiful and sacred about times of not yet and in-between. I give thanks that God presents me with seasons that allow me to slow down a little and reflect.  For those that know me, you know I’m not a very patient person. I’m working on it, but impatience runs deep in my family. So when Advent and Lent roll around, I force myself to wait.  It’s a spiritual discipline during these seasons.  I settle in the unknown. Impatiently, yes, but Advent and Lent have saved my spirit and my faith.  I love the moments that cause me to take a step or two back.  Maybe to reflect on the year behind me, hope for the year ahead, or just take time to sit in the valley of the dry bones.

At Emmanuel, we follow the Narrative Lectionary.  This past week’s sermon Scripture was Ezekiel and the valley of the dry bones.  Valley of the dry bones? During Advent? Weird.  AND YET.  It’s the perfect passage when you’re allowing yourself to rest in this not yet and in-between time.  The valley of the dry bones is a story where God’s presence comes alive, working to bring new life and to piece the bones together. God’s presence brings restoration to God’s people.  It’s a story where dry bones are given sustenance.  It’s a story where hope is found.  Many of us find ourselves in the valley of the dry bones during this season.  Divorces or strained relationships with loved ones leave us lonely and grieving for what used to be, for what should be.

On Sunday, my congregation reflected on their own not yet or in-between because this season is so, so hard.  And they heard a word of hope.  Maybe God is breathing new life into them, into all of us.  Maybe God is doing the same to you because this time of year is joyful.  Maybe you need Advent, a time of longing and waiting.  Maybe you’re approaching this season with dry bones, with no hope. Maybe you need time to reflect, to figure a few things out.  Take time this season to rest in the valley of the dry bones.  And then hear a word of hope.  Hear that God is working in you, piecing you back together, breathing new life in you.

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Advent: The Grace of God Gestating

I love the Christian calendar – that we can mark our days throughout the year according to the life of our Lord and his Church – and I love that each Christian year begins again with Advent. Waiting and watching for the Christ child to be born in and through us.

Being the mother of two children whom my husband and I adopted at birth has connected me in a profound new way to Mary’s experience of giving birth to a child that was and was not her own. This is the beauty of the Incarnation for us all! I stand in total awe of a God who still chooses to be born in me and in you in so many different ways. Meister Eckart wrote, “We are all called to be mothers of God.”

The angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Then, Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Like Mary, what happens to us when “the Holy Spirit comes upon us” and when we, in turn, say “let it be” is simply holy. That which is birthed is and is not our own. And it is Advent that has the power to teach us that birthing God comes not without waiting and watching.

My 5-year- old son is fascinated this year by the nativity set in our home. He couldn’t wait (not such a fan of Advent :)) to place each figure in place in and around the stable, so you can imagine how tough it was to convince him to wait until Christmas morning to place baby Jesus in the manger!

It was through watching and waiting that God wrote Malachi’s and Kamryn’s birth stories for Dave and me, as I carried them in the womb of my heart. It was through watching and waiting that God gave birth to Koinonia of Columbia in Dave and me.

When I began my days at the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in 2004, deep within my heart was a longing for inner-city community ministry. Looking back, I see now that this was God’s dream beginning to germinate in me. Much had to happen before God’s dream, Koinonia of Columbia found life in me in 2017. Seminary education, marriage, my first church call, motherhood and even a letting go of the dream.

I see now that this was the gestation. Birthing cannot happen without gestation. It was through much waiting and watching that Edwina Gateley discerned her call to open the Genesis House in Chicago. She writes in her spiritual memoir (In God’s Womb) of these months of solitude: “I began to think of a woman who conceives a seed of new life within her and of how she must undergo a period of gestation and waiting as that new life grows. And I realized that this is what God does with us. Although we cannot see, the invitation is to trust in the darkness and wait for the surfacing of God’s wisdom in our lives by allowing the gestation period to happen… Maybe what we need is simply to realize that God does not hide from us, ever, but that God gestates within us –the grace of God gestates within us – and we must be faithful to the spiritual process of birthing the presence of God into our world.

Like Mary as she awaited the birth of the Christ Child, may we, too, find ourselves singing as the grace of God gestates within us this Advent season! “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…” And when the waiting is over and the Christ child is born in each of us in so many different ways, may we, like Mary, “treasure up all of these things and ponder them in our hearts.”

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How Light Gets In

by Rev. Anna Burch, Children’s Minister, First Baptist Greenwood

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” – John 1:1-5 (NRSV)

As I enter into Advent season this year, I find myself in a much different place than last year- in a new job with a similar, but still very different vocation, with new roles in the church and in worship, and as a newly ordained minister. While all of these changes have brought about goodness and have shown evidence of God’s faithfulness and providence, they still are new and unfamiliar. As I move around in this new space of ministry, I find myself particularly drawn to the words I read as we hung our wreaths this past Sunday in our Hanging of the Greens service.

“For Christians, the Season of Advent is celebrated in the midst of great paradox. Advent is the beginning of the Christian story; it is the first season of the Christian calendar. Advent is a new beginning, a season of preparation and hope. And yet, we already know how this story will end. From Advent and Epiphany, we will journey through the wilderness of Lent into the dark shadows of Good Friday. And from the shadows of Golgotha and the cold, dark tomb, our journey will at last bring us to the glorious light of Easter and the eternal illumination of Pentecost. If we dare to follow Jesus on this journey, we will pass through dark valleys of deep shadow, only to emerge at last with Christ in final victory over death. The Christian journey invites us into holy cycle of keeping time with God. Our evergreen wreaths remind us that as we journey with God, we may pass through darkness only for a season; but we always return to where we started in Advent: waiting, hoping, and yearning for the gift of Christ. May our wreaths remind us of this journey where we are never too far from God’s loving presence and eternal light.”

My journey to ministry certainly held a great deal of time in the wilderness. In one of my courses in seminary, we read “How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice” by Pat Schneider. I loved her premise that our cracks, broken places, or times in the wilderness are how the light gets in. My journey and my newest season have shown me that if we are bold enough to journey with God and find ways to be in that “holy cycle of keeping time with God”, we will find that indeed darkness comes for only seasons. We will also find that God uses those times of darkness and wilderness to let love and light shine through the cracks. To see that light, though, we must be looking. We must be waiting and hoping and yearning.

Perhaps this Advent season your journey finds you wandering and waiting in the dark wilderness? Or maybe you are standing in the bright light filled with joy and peace? Wherever you find yourself on your journey this Advent season- whether in it be in the light or hoping that your cracks might be how God’s light one day gets in- may each wreath you see remind you that God is near. God’s love and light are traveling your road with you. How will you feel and how will you see God’s love and light this Advent season?

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Including Time to Lament in Advent

By Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Nance-Coker

During this season of waiting, listening and preparing, while we inhabit the now and the not yet, I invite you to lament. When we lament, we bring our experiences of pain, loss and broken- heartedness in protest to God. We voice complaint, anger, grief, and despair in prayer before God and we share these emotions in community. We hold onto hope on behalf of those who are barely holding on. Someday it may be their turn to hold onto hope for us.
The model for lament found in the Psalms of Lament shows us the ancient way of what feels like a praise song in a minor key. Acknowledging who God is by remembering what God has done, moving into complaint, then begging for help, and finally turning to hope in God with the vow to praise God yet again for what God will do: this is the way of lament. The Psalms found in the lectionary passages for our four Sundays of Advent are Psalms containing lament. “Restore us, O Lord God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved,” from Psalm 80. On the second Sunday, Psalm 85 asks, “Will you not revive us again, so that your people may rejoice in you?”

Then on the third Sunday of Advent, a time of joy, we hear, “May those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy.” On the final Advent Sunday, a portion of Psalm 89 asks, “How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever?” God’s Spirit works in us and through us to breathe prayers of lament for life situations of grief and despair. In these laments, we pray on behalf of the bereaved, hungry, oppressed, humiliated, refugees, homeless, inner-city poor, lonely, betrayed. We, the created ones, bring the groaning of creation to Creator God in whose image we are made. Lament carries the freight of protesting the
situations in life, and leads into hope. The Advent season gives us time to breathe these prayers, to have difficult conversations, and to inwardly digest the difficult passages of Scripture. The hopes and fears of all the years are met with hope in Emmanuel, God with us. Amen.

 

The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Nance-Coker holds a Doctorate in Worship Studies and travels to help plan and implement worship in churches. She leads a weekly chapel service at Transitions Homeless Shelter in Columbia, SC. She is also available to serve as guest pianist, worship leader, and pulpit supply for churches. 

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Love

by  Stacy N. Sergent is a hospital chaplain, and author of Being Called Chaplain: How I Lost My Name and Eventually Found My Faith. She blogs regularly at stacynsergent.com. On March 26, 2017, she will marry Will Lawton and become stepmom to Jackson and Beau. Hurley will also get a stepsister, Will’s dog Madison.

13 This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. 15 If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.

God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I John 4:13-18

I knew I loved the man who is now my fiancé when I started having nightmares about him dying. This is what happens when I begin to love someone. It happened when I adopted my dog, Hurley. I would wake up shaking after dreaming he was hit by a car or fell off a cliff or, in one creative nightmare, got electrocuted by power lines as we were tandem skydiving. It didn’t take long after I met the man of my dreams for the nightmares to come. My subconscious mind knew how risky it was to love Will, making myself vulnerable to the pain of loss.

It wasn’t that different when I began to consciously love God as a child. My longing to know and belong to God was strong. My prayers every night ended with, “I love you, God.” But that love was tied up with fear. I was afraid I’d mess up and God would stop loving me. Knowing my faults and capacity for failure, I feared there was no way I could be worthy of God’s love and so, sooner or later, I had to lose it.

I knew my love for Will had matured when the nightmares stopped. This is what happens over time when I truly love someone. The fear goes away. “Perfect love casts out fear” according to the above passage in 1 John. And while my love is by no means perfect, it deepens to a place of trust. I trust that loving Will, his two boys, Hurley, my friends and family is worth the risk, because even if/when I lose them, I won’t lose the love we share. I trust that although I mess up, nothing can separate me from the love of God shown in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

God, thank you for taking the risk of loving us, even enough to live and die as one of us. In Jesus we see that love is never safe, but it is strong, stronger even than death. Help us to love you and those around us without fear. Amen.

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A Gift of Words

by Melinda McDonald, Interim pastor for Saluda/Columbus UMC in Polk County, NC[

The identity of “Writer” is something that we might not attribute to God, but when you think about it, next to “Creator” and “Nurturer,” this identity is definitely one of God’s. We know of God as the Author of all life. We acknowledge that God spoke the world into existence from Genesis. We read from the Old Testament prophets the many warnings for God’s people to get their act together. We know from Jeremiah that God has written God’s new covenant into our hearts rather than on stone tablets. The New Testament refers to this new covenant in the verses we use at Communion or The Eucharist. Indeed, God has been busy writing to us as well as deeply loving humankind throughout all time.

In contemporary times, words and writing are important for relationships even though our world seems now to be so picture-oriented. Movies are the sources for communal stories that used to be transmitted through the printed word. Now we have websites, Facebook, blogs, and texting – electronic means that still rely upon words to convey messages again! We humans cannot seem to leave printed words behind entirely.

I remember being a child and telling my mother that I might be a writer one day. And things have worked out that way although far beyond my wildest imaginings! I am a listener/chaplain/pastor-at-large currently and supply preacher vocationally.

For my family’s Thanksgiving gathering this year, I shared two things with them: a small origami box and a poem that I had written in 2012 to commemorate that year’s Christmas gathering at my dear sister’s. I offer this gift of words to you now – to exhort you to take the opportunity to record some special memories. None of my family could remember when this particular event took place, but luckily I had dated it.

A Gift of Words

Not so random words on tiny tads of paper

Placed within little origami boxes made

From old Christmas cards saved by Mary.

Sister turned these into a puzzle – an after Christmas treat this year.

In the box given to my husband and me:

Rejoice… Happen… Came…

Miracles… God…

Near… Everyday…

We arranged them: Everyday God came. Miracles happen near. Rejoice!

The puzzle author had composed them: God came near. Miracles happen every day. Rejoice!

Small boxes yielding delight and pleasure – A Christmas memory now to treasure.

The gift of my sister’s words and the gift of The Word Who Became Flesh are the true gifts of Christmas. It may be Advent while you are reading this, but it is my prayer that you have spent some time anticipating, preparing, discerning your purpose in participating in the Kingdom work Christ came to inaugurate. The world awaits hopefully for the love, joy, and peace that are God’s gifts to us. It is my prayer for all of us who serve God that we experience genuinely in our own lives the true gift of Christmas: shalom – wholeness and health and completeness.

 

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A Stronghold

by Bridget Kokolis, Minister to Families, Augusta Road Baptist Church

 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6

Growing up as a military chaplain’s child, Advent was always an exciting time filled with family traditions and meaningful candlelight services. We often worshipped with different denominations, and so we were able to learn and grow from that ecumenical spirit. I vividly remember sitting next to my dad on the pew during these special services feeling so excited as we learned about hope, peace, love, and joy. Our family traditions were plentiful because we added to them with each new location and community, soaking up the local favorites and making them our own. It was comforting and fed my soul.

When I became a parent, Advent morphed into a time that I wholeheartedly focused on passing on those traditions and creating new ones alongside my husband. Suddenly, my own son was taking part in worship and my heart was full. Watching him embrace the journey of this season was another beautiful tradition to add to this season.

Last year everything changed. The city I lived in had devastating flooding in early October. By the time advent rolled around, my heart was so heavy with guilt and the pain and destruction that I passed daily on the roads. I just couldn’t bring myself to feel remotely jolly. It was a difficult time. I pasted a smile on my face and went through the motions so that I could minister to others and help my son experience the joy of the season, but oh was I hurting. Have you ever found yourself depleted or stressed or grieving during Advent? Maybe that’s true for you this year.

On top of the destruction and devastation I was seeing, I was also struggling with the notion that God was calling me away from the church that I had poured myself into for ten years.  How could I say goodbye to the children and families that I loved so deeply? As I taught and led in worship, encouraging others to embrace each week’s theme; I felt like a fraud. Yet, despite all that, I grasped onto each week with all my heart. I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful, yet the verses comforted me. I was not at peace with the turmoil in my life, but well-timed words from friends and strangers alike brought me peace. Joy was not bubbling up from my heart, but I experienced it through my son and yes, throughout it all, I experienced great love. I was weary, yet, those four weeks kept my eyes lifted to the purpose of the season, something so much bigger than me, the birth of the Messiah.

The prophet Isaiah wrote, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Powerful words that I found myself reading daily. I held fast to them, and they strengthened me.

And here we are at Advent once again. Over the past year my heart has healed and I’ve come to realize that for me, Advent has taken on a new meaning once again. Yes, it’s still a time filled with special traditions, but now I see it as stronghold. In times of goodness and light and in times of hurt and despair, Advent still comes. Its constant, no matter our mess, Jesus is still born; we celebrate the coming of the Messiah. What comfort and strength can be found in the knowledge that no matter the season of life and ministry that we find ourselves in, each and every year we have a chance to refocus and let true hope, peace, joy, and love resonate within us.

Praise be to God.

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Treasuring the Stillness

by Jennifer McClung Rygg – Associate Pastor, FBC Pendleton
But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.
Luke 2:19

This Advent is a different one for our family. Our second son was born mid-November. On the first Sunday of Advent, he was 11 days old. As the Christian church is preparing to celebrate the birth of the Christ child, we are adjusting to the birth of our own child.  Rather than spending the weeks of Advent planning worship, attending a multitude of special events, and trying to squeeze in a few more visits to homebound church members, I am spending a great deal of time this Advent being still.

As I spend hours each day nursing and holding the baby, I sometimes think of Mary, caring for her newborn on that first Christmas without so many of the luxuries I take for granted. We have at least 5 different devices where our baby can sleep (pack and play, rock and play, car seat, etc.) Mary had only a manger, a feeding trough for the animals, in which to place her baby. We complain about our 3 bedroom house being too small to hold all the equipment we “need” for our children, while Jesus was born in an overcrowded inn, without even one room for his parents to call their own. We are spending most of our time at home, avoiding crowds to keep the baby healthy during flu season. Mary and Joseph didn’t have that option. Having a new baby this time of year has helped me reflect on the nativity story in a new way.

But the truth is, the different routines of a new baby have also been a bit disorienting. While I am so thankful for this time at home to focus on our family, there is a part of me that misses the “busyness” of Advent at church. The planning, organizing, leading, and preaching that come with being a minister during Advent have become such an integral part of my preparation for Christmas, that it feels odd to prepare for Christmas without those activities.

My hope is that I will be able to treasure this time and experience, as Mary did. I want to use the stillness of this season to reflect on Advent and Christmas not as church events that require my preparation, but as cosmic events that invite my celebration. It is a bit humbling to accept that the Christmas season at church goes on without me. Others will plan what I would have planned; others will do what I would have done. And Christmas will still come. Like many overachieving ministers, sometimes I forget that my leadership, preparation, and involvement is not required for Christ to enter into our world. This Advent season, I am reminded that my work is to be still, to treasure these things in my heart, and to let Jesus be the one and only Savior of the world.

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O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

by  Rev. Kelly Dickerson Strum, Member of Eau Claire Baptist Church in Columbia

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel,

That mourns in lonely exile here

Until the Son of God appear…

Do the words of this cherished carol resonate with you even more deeply this year as they do with me? Every year, Advent begins for me with this song. This year, the wrestling with all that is and the yearning for the Son of God to come I can feel deep in my bones. I really need Advent this year – to remember that waiting is always a part of the God story and that often, we mourn in lonely exile as we wait for the Son of God to be born again among us.

The haunting and mysterious sounds of Enya’s version of “Oh, Come Emmanuel” speak to me this year as I try to process so much. The sounds quiet me and show me that Advent has arrived just in time. In the midst of my raw grief, confusion and fear after this campaign year and election, I find Advent whispering…still. In the midst of the deeply painful news coverage of the trial of the one responsible for the Emmanuel AME massacre, I find Advent whispering …still. In the midst of noisy advertisements, overflowing stores of stuff, endless to-do lists and schedules seeking to rob us of the truth of Christmas, I find Advent whispering …still.

Last week, there was such a tearful heaviness in a mothers’ support group of which I am a part. Mothers came bearing burdens for our children, our communities and our world. Tangible pain was expressed and there was a tangible quiet in which no one was offering answers or advice.

Instead, we were moved to meditatively listen to “Oh, Come, Emmanuel” and to pray together. There really was no other way. We lifted up each situation and the names of each of our children to God. As we prayed and pleaded with Emmanuel to “Come”, a moment of stillness came over me and I was sharply aware that God had come … that God Was With Us in our bonding together as mothers.

I, too, am aware that God Is With Us in our bonding together as women ministers and I am so grateful. I need Advent this year and it has arrived just in time. Thanks be to the Christ Child.

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“The waiting is the hardest part”

by Carrie Nettles,  mom, minister, advocate, reader, teacher, and perennial student, Associate at LeAnn Gardner Counseling and Training

“The waiting is the hardest part.”1

Or so says St. Tom of the Heartbreakers

This lyric pops into my mind when my preschooler melts down after I defer her desire for every Disney/Calico Critter/Shopkin, shiny, blinky, twirly thing we walk past on my (supposed-to-be) short trip to buy new candles for the Advent wreath.

She comes by it honestly. When the spiritual gifts were doled out, I must have passed on by the patience. It’s okay; God works even greater miracles than transforming my great impatience. I trust it will come. “You take it on faith.”2 I’m doing my part, but as I look at her tear-stained cheeks I think, yeah, kid, I get it. The waiting is the hardest part.

I know a little something about waiting. Serving as a chaplain in a level one trauma center means waiting with people in some of the most agonizing moments of their lives. They wait what feels like eternity to learn their loved one is tragically dead/mercifully fine. I learned even more about waiting as I sat beside them in the uncertainty and fear.

I was serving as a hospital chaplain when Mom’s diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer came. I knew. I walked in two worlds that year: one, the daughter championing her mother’s unfailing fortitude, her fight for her life; the other, the chaplain who knew in the deep knowing place that we were already very close to the end. So while I fought for Mom and with Mom, I was also insubordinately waiting for her to die.

The waiting was the hardest part: both knowing it was impending, even closer than the doctors and family acknowledged, and being utterly at its mercy.

The waiting now is for the deep morass of grief to relent a bit. Just as the Hebrew for forty days and nights or years is best understood as “it takes as long as it takes,” this season of grief will take as long as it takes. The waiting is the hardest part.

And whether I can feel joy at Christmas or not, it does come again in the morning.3 Or so says the Psalmist.

And…

And, it comes in the mourning.

“And” is a holy conjunction yoking together what seems impossible.

 

Joy? In mourning?

Mom is dead. And Christ has defeated death.

Death wins every day, and we say again and again, I believe in the Resurrection and the life everlasting.

I have seen the effects of the evil we visit upon one another in recovery rooms, hospital rooms, ER waiting rooms, and rape crisis boardrooms. People are brutally murdering and injuring one another and themselves all day, day after day. And we sing carols of “Rejoice” and “Glad Tidings.”

We are all suffering and rejoicing, dying and being born. We are stuck in the muck of sin that is killing us. Wars rage. Tyrants rule. We massacre innocents. We turn away sojourners. Nothing has changed.

And,

Everything has changed.

The story Matthew tells of the world into which Jesus was born is also our story even now.

And as I have waited, I came to know that holy conjunction AND as that which brings us close to knowing a mystery.

In this midst of the darkness, we have seen a great light.

We are waiting on a miracle, and the miracle is happening even now.

We are waiting for the Christ child to be born, and God is already with us working in the dead places, giving birth to new life.

The waiting is the hardest part, especially for impatient ones like me and B, AND the miracle has already happened. Wait just a moment more, you’ll see.


1 The Waiting by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

2 ibid

3 Psalm 30

 

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Christmas Will Come

by Kendra Plating, Pastoral Care Minister at First Baptist Greenville

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.   Titus 3:3-7

Does anybody else out there feel like the holidays just bring out the worst in us? Like we’re all walking around with a fuse burning dangerously close to a bomb that’s about to explode. No, just me?

Especially working in the ministry, it’s a very busy season. We work, we do, we move fast. We visit. We hold the grief of many that seems to overwhelm us during this season. We decorate, we plan services, plan music, corral children, corral adults. We try to please many and give up in the process. We prepare, and plan, and move, and work, and do, and do, and do. 

Do you know what we need to do to make sure Christmas comes? Not a darn thing. Not a single darn thing.

Christmas will come. The Christ-child will come. The world will be in chaos and the savior will still arrive, just as he did 2,000 years ago: into the same crazy world, in a non-descript location, with unimportant people around him. Christ will be born and it will be something that we cannot alter, or rush, or screw up.

And then think of what that means—the Christ-child will take on this human body, in all its brokenness and splendor. Our God will walk among us, and know us. Let’s not miss it. 

So, perhaps I should clarify my earlier statement. There is actually one “darn” thing we need to do: look.

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Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room

by Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Nance-Coker, an ecumenical historical/ liturgical theologian currently serving as Minister of Music at Northeast United Methodist Church in Columbia, SC

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.

Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  Luke 1:46-55 (NRSV)

During Advent, our hearts are given time to look and listen for God at work in the world. We are busier than ever, yet we make time to reflect, sometimes lamenting the circumstances of days which seem dark and uncertain. It is helpful to my heart to consider the heart of Mary. I see in Mary the looking and listening heart of one who praises, ponders and proclaims the holy work of the Mighty One.

Mary praises. Having just heard the incredible news foretelling the birth of her son Jesus, Mary goes hastily to visit her cousin Elizabeth – the Holy Spirit leads the hearts of Mary and Elizabeth in praise of God. I want to be like Mary, noticing and celebrating the things God is doing – and praising God with my people.

Mary ponders. Mary prepared her heart by pondering. We are told that the angels departed to heaven after they sang “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” The shepherds then made their way to Bethlehem, and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby, sharing with the family those angelic words of the one born in the city of David – a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.   I want to be like Mary, taking time to work into my heart the timely messages God sends my way.

Mary proclaims.  When Mary is praising God with Elizabeth, her words echo the proclamation of Psalm 146, prophesying the earthly ministry of Messiah Jesus, “who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry . . . The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow.” I want to be like Mary, with a heart to proclaim boldly.

“Lord Jesus, Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas. We who have so much to do seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day. We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us. We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom. We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence. We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light. To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!” – Henri J.M. Nouwen

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The Light Has Come

by Marjorie Avent, Owner-operator at M.Avent Coaching, LLCand Co-Founder and Program Coordinator at Center for Enrichment + Renewal

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.Jn 1:1-5

This year, in particular, I’m really grateful for Advent. The past 18 months have been challenging on so many levels for me, as I’m sure for many – the experience of personal loss and intense grief, a heinously contentious presidential campaign and election season, increased violence and threat thereof both locally and globally. Seriously, it’s been an emotionally exhausting, and in many ways rather devastating, year and a half.

There have been times recently when I’ve been tempted to just give up – on faith, on politics, on church, on family. Then I read a passage like the first verses of John. It certainly puts things into some perspective when I’m overwhelmed by what’s happening around me. But, honestly, honestly it’s the last verse that I’m holding tightly to this year: The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

Even in this moment, the words bring tears and a throat lump. My world, our world, has felt like utter darkness to me since last August when I lost my dad. Compound that loss by the vitriol and utter hatred being spewed back and forth between political parties, the oftentimes harsh banter on social media between so called “friends.” Then add in another mass shooting or two. Throw in a few church disagreements and some panic around decreased giving, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for the darkest darkness.

I remember a few years ago on retreat at Camp St Christopher trying to make my way down a “path” to the beach fire pit. I don’t know that I’d ever felt the dark quite like I did that night. It was totally unnerving. I remember trying to coach myself one step at a time until I could see the light of the fire. I’ve used the analogy a number of times about not needing to see the entire path – just enough to put my foot down for the next step. Well, I’m not going to lie, the analogy has rung hollow for me during the last 18 months. I’m ready to see the light.

And, now, it is Advent. We’re reminded every Sunday of the Light. And, we share the Light with our people, we announce its in-breaking boldly and with as much faith as we can muster.

The light shines in the darkness (in the grief, the overwhelm, the terror, the emptiness, the disbelief), and the darkness (the pain, the fear, the anger, the ______) has not overcome it.  Welcome, Advent. I, for one, am glad you’re upon us.

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For Everything There Is a Season

by Anna Burch, 2016 BWIM SC Scholar

3For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 7a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes is not your typical piece of scripture for Advent. However, this book captivated me earlier this year and it has continued to do so throughout the year. I find it drawing me in again this Advent season.

As we draw close the end of a sad, violent, angry, and tumultuous year in our country and as we move happily, hopefully into the season of Advent, I find myself needing a reminder that life moves according to God’s seasons and timing. I also find myself needing to be reminded that God still draws near to us today, as he did 2,000 years ago in a tiny manager in Bethlehem. God came near in a stable through a tiny baby and if we look around us, we can still see God drawing near today.

As we look for God this Advent season, we can find and feel God’s nearness. May we feel God bringing a season of healing, of planting, of laughing, of dancing, of embracing, of loving, and of peace. And oh how we need that peace- or at least I do.

As we journey through the Advent season, what do you find yourself in need of? What do you need this to be a season of? What is God bringing near to you?

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We Don’t Belive in That 

My story of answering a call to ministry is also a story about being able to imagine and dream of a God and a religion that welcomes and includes all people. When I voiced a call to preach to my home church, the minister I shared with responded, “We don’t believe in that.” 

What he meant is that as a Southern Baptist Church, the leadership did not believe that women were called to be ministers, preachers, or pastors. Instead, women were called to be support staff, preachers’ wives, and mothers. 

What I heard as he clung to a closed theology was, “We don’t believe in you.” I had grown up in this closed theology, but somehow as I found the courage to answer a call to preach and pastor, there was a ray of hope that the community of faith who had nurtured and supported me, the community of faith I had spent countless hours serving, would somehow release their tight grip on dogma and embrace me instead.

They didn’t. 

It was heartbreaking and disappointing. It made me doubt whether I had heard my call correctly. It made me doubt whether I was full of pride or ambition. It made me doubt myself. 

But then I found other women, many who shared a similar story, who were living into their call, yes even in Baptist congregations and that ray of hope returned. I clung to that hope even when people told me to look into becoming Methodist; even when people told me that communities of faith just weren’t ready to call a woman as pastor of their church quite yet. 

Still I clung to that ray of hope, which led me to pastor a church start in Lexington, SC, which led me to pastor New Hope Christian Fellowship. 

That ray of hope that led me and stayed me in the midst of doubt and uncertainty has become a new hope to pastor and lead a community of faith where truly all are welcome and included. 

A Story of Ordination

By Brenda Lynn Kneece

After graduating from seminary in 1978, I was called to be the Chaplain of Oxford Orphanage, a children’s home with 250 children and youth and 50-60 adult staff. When I told a professor– whom I knew to be an encourager of female seminarians– he said, “That’s great. Just remember, if you are successful you will open a door for one other woman in ministry; but if you fail you will close seven.”

In college and seminary, I served as a Youth and Children’s Minister for three congregations. Opportunities open to female students were more limited than those of our male peers. Men were asked to preach, I was asked to speak. Men were expected to state their opinions, I had to guard against appearing uppity. Men could preach, teach, evangelize, serve in missions, and whatever– the full-range of ministry. Women were expected to work with children, youth, music, counsel, teach, or serve in missions. Men were allowed to speak from the pulpit, women were often consigned to a lectern. Men had many role-models in many ministry fields. There were only one or two for me, and not one was a “preacher” or a “pastor.”

A male peer in my CPE cohort group confessed to the group that he had thought of me as an “uppity female” during a class in seminary simply because my work had been acknowledged as being well done. Once, the Director of the Field Service office at seminary called me on a Wednesday afternoon to ask if I was available to preach for a little church on Sunday. His ask included this disclaimer, “I’ve already asked all the men.”

The congregation I served during seminary asked me to “speak” in worship because the pastor had been sick and they had depleted their pulpit supply funds. Since I was going to be there leading youth and children activities, would I speak on Sunday without extra compensation? One Sunday became six. The first two Sundays the sermon was described in the order of worship as “Morning Speaker.” The next two Sundays that same part of worship was titled “Morning Message.” The fifth and sixth Sundays, the worship order said “Sermon.” For six weeks, I preached, visited, and served in other ways while taking a full load of classes and working 20 hours in the seminary cafeteria. It was an exhilarating time and wonderful opportunity. I think the church gave me a love gift. More importantly it gave me an opportunity of inestimable value.

The first Sunday, I hummed “God of Grace and God of Glory” as I dressed. I had preached a few times before, but this was my first time to preach without the pastor present and I was nervous. Imagine my surprise to see in the bulletin that “God of Grace. . .” was the opening hymn. Imagine my wonder when I picked up the hymnal– on the front pew where I was to sit until time for the sermon– and folded at that hymn were two Kleenexes. The nervous tension I had felt early that morning disappeared as we sang the hymn. God was gracious, God was glorious, I felt God’s power in that hour.

The sixth Sunday we had a remarkable worship experience. I can remember the sermon and its title “Stretcher Bearers.” I had lunch with a church family and made a visit. Then, I went back to the church to be sure it was locked up. Leaving, I met two Deacons in the hallway.

They asked if we could talk and opened the door to the toddler room of the nursery. I sat in one of the child-sized chairs, they sat on a table towering over me. They told me the Deacons had met with the Pastor after worship, and had decided to ask me if I would let the church ordain me.

Only once before had I thought about being ordained. It was several months earlier. My seminary suitemates and I had all preached on the same Sunday morning in the churches we served as children, youth, or music ministries. I suspect this was one of the first Sundays that four female Southern Baptist seminarian suitemates had all preached in Sunday morning worship on the same day.

That evening during our regular Sunday night game of Spades we shared our experiences and the conversation drifted to ordination. One told us that her home church had recently voted to ordain her. Then, just two weeks later one of her family’s dearest friends, a Deacon in the church, had led the congregation to reverse that decision. She was deeply hurt, yet asserted that she would eventually be ordained. Another told about an experience which affirmed to her that she would be ordained to pastoral ministry. The third said she probably would be ordained, but she wasn’t going to push it. I flippantly said, “I’ll be ordained when a church asks me.”

Now, in the fall of 1977, the Deacons of Providence Baptist Church, Oxford, North Carolina, asked if that congregation could ordain me. The thought was new and unrehearsed in my heart and mind. I asked for time to think and pray before I answered. I was fearful and exhilarated at the same time.

That night I called my parents. Mom answered. I said, “Mom, Providence wants to ordain me. What do you think about that?” After a pause she said, “I don’t know.” Dad wasn’t at home, so I asked, “What do you think Dad would say?” She said, “I cannot speak for your father.” She assured me they would talk and pray about it and call me back. It was a brief conversation.

In fairness to all my family and friends, I had talked about serving as a Missionary, becoming a counselor or chaplain, serving in Youth Ministry, or being a Minister of Education. Ordination had never been mentioned.

As a college student I had dated a man somewhat seriously. We participated in both BSU and Wesley Foundation activities, we played in the college band. When we talked about our future work, where we might live, and how many children we would have. One evening we were in one of the dating rooms—no door, I told him that I was thinking about going to seminary to get an MRE Degree while he finished college. We had a two-year gap between graduations because he had served in the military after High School and we had agreed not to marry until he graduated. I thought I could teach and serve a small church as its Education Director. He looked at me as if I had confessed to some deep betrayal. After what seemed to be a long time, he said, “I can’t be married to a minister.” I immediately said that’s okay I will just teach. But he knew me better than I knew myself. We never dated again. I was hurt, but my tears were quickly shed. I did not look back, so strong was the Spirit’s leading.

Even then I did not equate being a “minister” as being ordained. The thoughts of that last conversation and those lost dreams remind me that giftedness is often called out by those around us, by those who know us even better than we know ourselves. He saw a future for me that I had yet to envision.

Now in the early fall of 1977, Providence Baptist under the guidance of Dr. Bill Farrar, its pastor, had affirmed my giftedness for ministry and wanted to ordain me. I waited for my parents to call. I waited and waited. I thought and prayed and I sought the counsel of a few trusted friends, a professor, and one other family member, my sister, Cindy—with whom I had shared my thoughts and who had always been supportive.

Mid-week, I got a call from Roger Lovette, pastor of Clemson Baptist Church. Cindy, had talked with her in-laws, Sookie and Lewis Malphrus, members of Clemson Baptist, about my being ordained. Even though I had transferred to Winthrop for my junior and senior years, the Malphruses, the Clemson congregation, and I remained close. Clemson Baptist had even given me a large scholarship, the Arrington Scholarship, when I entered seminary because I had been active while a student at Clemson. Dr. Lovette said, “Brenda, if you want to be ordained, Clemson Baptist will ordain you.” I stammered a thank you for the offer and the affirmation.

The next Sunday, Bill Farrar was strong enough to preach, and I led worship. After worship, he and I talked. He asked if I had made a decision. I said I was waiting to hear from my parents. He asked, “Do you need their permission?” “No,” I said, “not their permission, I want their blessing.” Either way, I assured him, either way, the Spirit had led me to be ordained.

Late that Sunday evening, I was called to the pay phone in the hall of the dorm, I did not know who was calling. I answered, “This is Brenda.” My dad, who had never called me before, said, “Brenda doll, if you’re going to be ordained we want you to be ordained at Bethel.”

The Reverend Dr. Lon Knight, whom I did not know, was serving as the interim pastor of my home church, Bethel Baptist, in Monetta, South Carolina. Mom and Dad had sought his guidance. He had led them through scriptures and Baptist polity so that they came to see that a woman Called by God should be ordained. He did the same with the Deacons. When my parents called me, the Deacons had already agreed to recommend me for questioning by the Associational Ordination Council.

Just months before I had said, “I’ll be ordained when a church asks me” without thought. Now in eight days, three congregations had offered. It took a hymn and two Kleenexes to assure me that God’s grace, glory, and power could and would be present in my preaching. The Spirit led three congregations who had witnessed my giftedness for ministry to ask or offer to ordain me. I was certain that if I refused, I would have as Jonah ended up in a place as uncomfortable as the belly of a whale.

The Associational Ordination Council met during my Thanksgiving break in November 1977. None of these men had ever been my pastor. Most of them I did not know. I knew Rev. Marion Webb because he served congregations near to my home. I had met Rev. Marion Aldridge several years before when my sister, Cindy, and her finance took me with them to visit Marion, Dan’s college roommate, in Augusta. I did not know any of the other five. The Ordination Council questioned and talked with me for about two hours. I was dismissed and asked to wait for them to make a decision. The first room I came to was the toddler room in the nursery. I sat in a rocking chair and waited.

While waiting I remembered having been examined before at Bethel in that same toddler room. Mrs. Sallie Sims and Miss Ela Asbill, leaders of Woman’s Missionary Union, had sat in the rockers and listened as I recited scriptures and other materials I had learned for GA Forward Steps (Girl’s Auxiliary of Women’s Missionary Union). The toddler room was once again associated with an important step in my life. Three times it was the same room: when I was a GA at Bethel, as I talked with those two Deacons at Providence Baptist Church, and as I waited for the Ordination Council’s decision.

The Council unanimously recommended me to Bethel Baptist Church for ordination. The service was Sunday, December 4, 1977. Clergy and friends important to my development as a person of faith and a minister participated. My parents stood behind me and prayed the Ordination Prayer, Mom first and then Dad.

People are gifted for ministry. For decades women have been prepared for ministry. The greater struggle is for congregations. God Called me to a relationship. I have struggled at times to know and understand my role in that relationship, God has been faithful. Congregations have called me (or not) to ministry positions. The roles have been many: youth and children’s ministry, orphanage chaplaincy, seminary staff, volunteer police chaplain, nursing home chaplain, pastoral ministries, missions education, and ecumenical advocacy ministry.

During the laying on of hands in my ordination service, a beloved former pastor whispered in my ear, “Remember: if you know where you’re going, you may not be following.”  I certainly did not know the way ahead when I said in late 1976, “I’ll be ordained when a congregation asks me to be.” Yet, the assurance that God’s call is clear has given me more than enough grace in the journey.

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