Baptist Women of SC

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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Waiting to be Seen 

By Merianna Harrelson, Interim Pastor New Hope Christian Fellowship 

Matthew 11:2-11
2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent word by his disciples 3and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” 4Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

As I started to set up the communion elements, there was something in the large group room at Transitions Homesless Shelter that made me stop. I looked into faces that were downcast and heavy-laden. This was Advent a season of hope, wasn’t it?

I asked the same question I ask each week trying to gauge what was different, “How are you doing?” 

“It’s just hard this time of year being away from family,” and then she paused for a minute. “And being here,” she continued with slight wave of her hand that encircled the homeless shelter. 

Once again I was confronted with my own privilege. The privilege of waiting with excitement to celebrate with friends and family. The privilege to be able to cling to hope because I had reasons every day to believe hope was real. The privilege to believe in the miraculous, divine mystery of the birth of the Christ Child. 

As I looked around the table, I saw in the faces of this congregation a deep sense of waiting. A waiting to be seen. A waiting to be included. A waiting to have a reason to hope. A waiting to experience the divine mystery of the season. 

As we sang, prayed, and heard the word of God, slowly their countenances began to change. “This is the body of Christ broken for you and Christ’s blood shed for you,” I said again and again as I walked around the room. I returned to the table and took a small piece of bread and dipped it in the cup.

“The body of Christ broken for you and Christ blood shed for you,” I heard a voice whispered as I took the elements. I had to pause for a minute. Without any prompting, she had included and served me. 

“Amen,” I whispered. She smiled. 

Maybe this is hope: gathering around the table partaking in the great gift of sacrifice in the midst of so much consumption. Maybe this is love: worshiping together as the children of God in a room in a homeless shelter on a Wednesday morning in the season of Advent with a congregation waiting to be seen.

“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, 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.


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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