Ordinary Time VI – Sermon Checklist

DSC_2867Sermon Checklist 

Planning a sermon has a lot of moving parts. Especially for beginners, when you get caught up in the sermon itself, it’s easy to forget logistical details. Here’s a checklist that may help, so you don’t find yourself tripping into the pulpit, having a coughing fit, or discovering mid-sermon you are missing a page of notes. As I get closer to a day when I’m preaching, here are some things I pay attention to…

A few days or week ahead:

  • What do I want my sermon to say?
  • What do I want my sermon to do?
  • Can I see the major moves in my sermon?
  • Are there any missing pieces or things I don’t know how to pronounce?
  • Are there aspects I’m still not comfortable with… who can I talk to about that?
  • Breathe

The night before:

  • What am I wearing? Is it clean, comfortable, non-distracting? Can I attach a wireless mic?
  • Are my shoes clean and ready and comfortable?
  • Liturgical wear – robe, stole, cross or other symbols?
  • Are my notes or manuscript printed and readable? All pages are there?
  • Bible? Mark the text (post it or book marker)
  • Do I know who is reading my text? If it is me, have I read it aloud 5+ times?
  • Other things: tissue? Pen? Throat lozenges? Water bottle?
  • Breathe
  • Get to bed early!

The day I preach the sermon:

  • Time to pray/meditate first thing
  • Read through or rehearse the sermon in the quiet of the day – before others start needing my attention
  • Can I eat something healthy (depends on the time of the sermon)?
  • Drink some water
  • Go through check list of things (see above) – put them all in a bag
  • Breathe

At the venue/sanctuary:

  • Where will I put my Bible? Water? Notes?
  • Can I see and be seen? Hear and be heard?
  • Get an order of service – ask questions if someone else planned it.
  • Meet technicians – test sound equipment before the service (attach mics, etc.) by reading the scripture
  • Walk around the space
  • Breathe

 What else is on your must-have check-list item as you prepare to preach? 

Ordinary Time V – Prayers for Ferguson

Prayers for  #Ferguson – Tuesday 

Yesterday I posted a sweet message about my child’s back-to-school day. Today I’m posting a prayer for the children of #Ferguson who were scheduled to begin classes today, August 19, 2014. Schools will remain closed this week.

O God, this morning, we lift our prayers for every child in Ferguson, Missouri, who is ready for school, to start a new year, the ones with shining faces, and new backpacks, and lunchboxes, and a sharpened pencils. We pray for each child who wants to read more, learn math, study art and music and science! And we lament that all that readiness will have to wait.

We cry out, O God, for the families who fear for their child’s safety, not just today, not just this week, but everyday. We lament with mothers and fathers and grandparents who must teach their children what to do if approached by police, because it is a life-threatening situation for them. Lord, protect and guard those children with your loving care, your power and might. Like Jesus make them wise as serpents and gentle as doves. And O Lord, change our world so that peace and stability are the watchwords, and put an end to suffering and harm and injustice.

In Ferguson the schools will stay closed until public unrest subsides. And that unrest will not slow until the demand for justice is heard and met. We plead with you, O Lord, for justice that honors the life of one innocent young man, who died with six bullets in his body. We plead with you for justice that honors all the innocent young black men killed unfairly, unjustly in the streets of American cities.

Michael Brown will not finish his schooling, or earn a college degree, or learn any more. We ask mercy and peace for his family and friends in their grief. With them we lift our voices to demand justice.

May we all learn from your school of love and justice and mercy, O God. In your schoolhouse we seek to learn war no more. Instead we want lovingkindness that works steadfastly against systems of injustice. We want to learn peaceful disruption for over-militarized police departments, and we want to study and practice repentance for white privilege run amuck.

Give us courage to see. Give us words to name. Give us humility to repent. Give us presence to stand firm.

__________

Prayer for #Ferguson – Wednesday

O God, we lift broken hearts to you. We lift broken relationships – broken for generations by the evils of slavery and false ideals of white supremacy. And we ask your healing hand to rest on these broken places. 

In sanctuaries all over the world tonight, your people pray evening prayers of peace, rest and forgiveness. Yet there is no peace, little rest and more harm than forgiveness in ferguson tonight. 

So we ask for quiet breathing, good judgment, and empathy. We ask that every sister and brother might see a neighbor when they look across the barrier. 

And justice. We plead your mercy, O God, for real and lasting justice. 

Amen

__________

Prayers for #Ferguson – Thursday 

[silence]

As the streets turn a bit quieter in Ferguson tonight, the restlessness and tension of the last two weeks flows into my heart. 

The streets may be quieter, but the systems are still broken, racism still infects our social fabric, too much military gear is still stockpiled in police precincts, too many men will be pulled over for driving tonight just because they are black.

These broken-hearted places and harmful realities are not somebody else’s problems. Oh Lord, they are my problems. They are your problems. They are problems that belong to us all.

May we sit in each other’s company this night, with these realities pressing on our hearts, and God will you show us the healing paths forward?

Amen.

__________

Prayers for #Ferguson – Saturday 

I’ve just returned home after spending the last four days in a monastery praying 3-4 times a day with Benedictine monks. They chant the psalms in each service, covering all 150 psalms in two weeks. 

Tonight, I offer a psalm from the lectionary coming this week, for the family and friends of Michael Brown and the people of Ferguson…. To pray it, simply read aloud or silently, making space for each word and image. It gives voice to hopes for God’s protection from enemies – within and all around. Naming this hope places trust in God to give support and presence through each moment of pain and challenge.

Psalm 18
1 I love you, Lord, my strength.
2 The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield[b] and the horn[c] of my salvation, my stronghold.
3 I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I have been saved from my enemies.
4 The cords of death entangled me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
5 The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From the temple God heard my voice;
my cry came before the Lord, into his ears.
7 The earth trembled and quaked,
and the foundations of the mountains shook;
they trembled because God was angry.
8 Smoke rose from God’s nostrils;
consuming fire came from God’s mouth,
burning coals blazed out of it.
9 The Lord parted the heavens and came down;
dark clouds were under God’s feet.
10 The Lord mounted the cherubim and flew;
and soared on the wings of the wind.
11 God made darkness into a covering, a canopy all around —
the dark rain clouds of the sky.
12 Out of the brightness of God’s presence clouds advanced,
with hailstones and bolts of lightning.
13 The Lord thundered from heaven;
the voice of the Most High resounded.[d]
14 The Lord shot arrows and scattered the enemy,
and with great bolts of lightning routed them.
15 The valleys of the sea were exposed
and the foundations of the earth laid bare
at your rebuke, Lord,
at the blast of breath from your nostrils.
16 You reached down from on high and took hold of me;
and drew me out of deep waters.
17 God rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
19 God brought me out into a spacious place;
and rescued me and delighted in me.

O Lord hear our prayers. Amen.

_________

Prayers for  #Ferguson - Sunday

It is Sunday night all across America. . .

Some of us went to church today and heard prayers and sermons for the people of Ferguson. Some of us went to church and heard nothing about Ferguson at all.

Some people gathered on a sidewalk in Ferguson where Michael Brown fell to his death, bearing six bullets in his body. They gathered to memorialize his life with pictures, flowers, balloons, candles. Things we wish he could be enjoying tonight with his family. But instead…

O Lord, how long?

How long will we go on killing our own children and then blaming them for being in the wrong place at the wrong time? How long will we go on refusing to see that we belong to each other? That every child is one of our own, and when one is harmed, all are harmed?

It is Sunday night all across America, and some Christians raised their hands, saying “don’t shoot.” Tonight we raise our hands in repentance for our complicity in systems that allow the innocent to die at the hands of those intended to protect. And And we raise our hands to plead with you, O Lord, that we might see justice and mercy for Michael Brown’s family and scores of other families who are suffering in grief this Sunday night.

Amen.

 

Ordinary Time IV – God is (Still) Waiting

Pam Durso | Dorisanne Cooper| Mary Beth Foust

Pam Durso | Dorisanne Cooper| Mary Beth Foust Panelists at the ABP-RH dinner, June 2014, Atlanta, Georgia

God Is (Still) Waiting

More Baptist churches are calling women as pastors, but the gender gap remains large.

This coming Sunday, Watts Street Baptist Church, Durham, N.C., will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first ordination of a woman in a Southern Baptist church. On Aug. 9, 1964, Watts Street ordained Addie Davis to the gospel ministry. A recent graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Davis was ready to begin her first pastoral call at First Baptist Church, Readsboro, Vt.

On Sunday of this week, the preacher at Watts Street is Dorisanne Cooper, who began her ministry earlier this summer and is the first woman called as pastor by the congregation. After half a century of ordaining women, Baptists have come a long way in welcoming women’s pastoral leadership, but the gender gap remains woefully large.

A new book of sermons by Baptist women, The World is Waiting for You, published in June, celebrates the 50-year anniversary of Davis’s ordination. It includes two sermons by Davis and 25 sermons by winners of the Addie Davis Award for preaching and pastoral leadership, granted to Baptist seminarians over the last 16 years.

In a 1988 sermon Davis issued a gospel call to action still needed on this day 50 years after her ordination: “If you dedicate yourself to following God and allow yourself to be guided by the Spirit, you will be amazed what you can do. What takes place in the church, what is done for missions, what is accomplished in our world, I believe, is up to us. The choices we make help determine the outcome. God is waiting for us.”

As a practical theologian who studies ministry, and pays special attention to the roles played and contributions made by women in the church, I think churches need first to recall the changes brought by women in ministry. Then I think churches need to ask themselves: Are we the ones God and the world are waiting for?

Half a century

A lot has happened in the five decades since the ink dried on Davis’s ordination certificate. She served out her career in American Baptist and ecumenical congregations, but she hardly set a trend. Baptist historian Leon McBeth, in his 1979 book Women in Baptist Life, lists 58 women ordained between 1964 and 1978 by Southern Baptist churches, mostly after 1973.

Between 1979 and 2000, the Southern Baptist Convention fractured into multiple groups over various biblical and theological differences, including a disagreement over women’s ordination. Despite the schism in the nation’s largest Protestant group, individual churches continued sending women to seminary, ordaining them for ministry and calling them to serve as ministers and pastors.

In 1995, sociologist Sarah Frances Anders, who collected names and data about Southern Baptist women in ministry, estimated a total of 1,130 Southern Baptist clergywomen. Groups formed out of the schism in the SBC, like the Alliance of Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, attracted churches which support women in ministry, and the number of ordained women rose sharply through the 1990s and into the new century.

In 2006, Pamela Durso and I estimated over 1,800 ordained Baptist women. Today a modest estimate sets that number at more than 2,200 women ordained by Baptist churches currently or formerly affiliated with the SBC.

In marking this anniversary of women’s ordination, it is clear that Baptists have made measurable changes in welcoming the gifts and graces of women. However, Baptist churches are still a long way from a full embrace. Women pastor 5 percent of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s 1,800 churches, less than 10 percent of the 5,200 congregations of the American Baptist Churches and nearly 30 percent of the 150 Alliance of Baptists churches.

Davis preached in her 1988 sermon: “There is much work God still needs us to do. Not everything that has been done that needs to be accomplished in order to right the wrongs in our churches and in ourselves.” God is still waiting for Baptist churches to right the wrong of barring women from ordination and to embrace fully women’s pastoral leadership.

Still waiting

Women already make up more than half the membership of nearly all churches in America. They supply far more than half the volunteer labor force, which carries out the day-to-day ministries of those churches. In many moderate Baptist seminaries women make up between one third and one half of the student bodies, yet they remain less than 20 percent of the faculties.

What would it be like to imagine half the paid leadership roles, half the pastors, half the ordinations each year, half the endorsed chaplains and counselors, half the seminary faculty and presidents, half the elected boards as women? Are you the one for whom God is waiting to make this vision a reality?

I hear this concern regularly: “But our church may not be ready for a woman pastor.” Over the years I’ve made a consistent response: I think churches are ready for women to be their pastors. But it takes someone in the congregation with the courage to lead, the willingness to take a risk, the vision to see God’s call. Is your congregation the one that God and world are waiting for?

On this day, Davis deserves the final word: “Remember you are unique; God has made no two of you alike. And remember this is your day. Now is your turn. The world waits to see what you will do, and God waits expectantly for you.”

This article appeared originally as a commentary at the ABPnews/Herald.

Ordinary Time III – Closing the Mentoring Gap

Closing the Mentoring Gap

A major key to closing the gender gap in ministry is mentoring to help women improve skills and knowledge and introduce them to networks that lead to jobs.
BWIM Breakfast 6-27-2014

Baptist Women in Ministry Breakfast 6-27-2014

This week more than 2,000 Baptists, who openly support the call of women to pastoral ministry, will gather in Atlanta for worship, learning and networking. The General Assembly of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and annual meeting of Baptist Women in Ministry will feature and celebrate women’s preaching voices, gifts for ministry and leadership. Yet the percentage of women employed as pastors in CBF churches remains under 6 percent. One key to closing the gender gapis mentoring that helps women improve their skills and knowledge for ministry and puts them fully into the networks that lead to jobs.

Mentorship can include both peers and more experienced ministers. Multiplying the number and quality of mentoring relationships for Baptist women can help them to sustain their vocations, increase the number of women in the pastorate, and empower the ministries of more congregations. Closing the mentoring gap requires letting down one’s defenses, creating space to learn from failure and networking so that ecologies of support for women grow.
Barriers to good mentoring relationships include failing to learn from failure, feeling overwhelmed as a new minister, reluctance to embrace the mentoring role and defensive behaviors that undercut support. The following analysis suggests how to close the mentoring gap, empower both mentors and mentees, expand networks for women in ministry, and in the process strengthen the faith communities that women serve.
Learning from failure
Learning from failure is key to advancing in any professional practice, but failure without adequate feedback loops rarely results in growth or improved practice. Good feedback includes both an exploration of mistakes, and also constructive and supportive suggestions for improving on the next try. The role of senior and peer mentors is to make space for exploring the missteps rather than simply pointing out problems. The lasting gift of good feedback is how the learning sticks.
Failures are a normal part of learning to lead. For example, when I started out in ministry, I preached sermons that were less than stellar. Sometimes I attempted to lead groups into new ideas too quickly. And occasionally I did things pretty well, yet in the process received a lot of push back. My responses to that push back could sometimes be overly defensive, hurting my relationships with the very people I was trying to lead. I needed mentoring in many areas.
Even the most experienced leaders continue to learn from failures and missteps. The goal is never failure, per se. Yet learning from mistakes on the way to effective leadership is essential for growth by women (and men) called to that responsibility. Good mentors build relationships that allow ministers to learn from their failures.
Failures in mentoring
Mentoring itself fails to be effective when it breaks down on either side of the relationship. Often new female ministers experience a lack of support or belief in their own abilities. This can lead to a search for a mentor who will help with everything. Reliable advice on mentoring suggests, however, that a better approach seeks advice or guidance for specific tasks. For example a new minister might ask for consultation on a difficult ethical situation, working with lay leaders or preaching. This approach avoids the problematic “guru” mentoring model that expects all needs to be met by one mentor.
Failure on the side of senior ministers comes when they hold back rather than leaning in to meet their younger colleagues. Experienced religious leaders are tempted to watch new ministers from a distance. When the newcomer makes mistakes, rather than reaching out to begin a relationship, which makes space for feedback, the experienced leader leans back in judgment, wondering if the newbie will never make it. This kind of “sink or swim” thinking, unfortunately reinforces the likelihood that the new minister will indeed not make it.
Defenses
On both sides, for mentors and mentees, psychological defenses can play a significant role in keeping people apart and keeping them from actually helping each other. New learners in ministry, for example, feel both the external expectation that they are supposed to know everything already, and the internal anxiety that they do not know anything. Neither feeling is accurate, yet those feelings can remain unchecked.
On the mentor side, defensiveness comes when experienced ministers wonder if anyone even notices their expertise or wisdom. They wait for someone younger to ask for help. In their own struggles for survival and self-preservation, they had to overcome isolation and lack of support. As one woman says, “I grew up in a ‘role-model-free’ environment.” Relational patterns of isolation are hard to change.
Networking
In June I taught a seminary class, and I took my students (all women) to five ministry sites around Kentucky to practice their observation and interviewing skills. In several congregations we sought permission for each student to speak briefly from the pulpit. These small steps contribute to helping seminary students normalize ministry tasks and reduce the beginner’s anxiety over preaching.
At our final site visit, our time was nearly over, when I decided to do some intentional networking. I said to the pastor as we prepared to leave, “You know, Laura is a great preacher. She doesn’t really need to practice standing in your pulpit today. But you could invite her here to preach the next time you are away.” When I listed other nearby churches where Laura preached in the past year, I could see the pastor’s interest grow.
While other professions have similar mentoring and employment gaps, ministry continues to be among the largest. To close these gaps for female pastors, expanding networks of connection and support is essential. Closing the mentoring gap requires counter-intuitive action from both mentors and mentees. It means taking small risks, making connections to larger networks, and letting down one’s defenses, to make safe space for processing learning, failures and all.
This week if you are attending the CBF General Assembly or BWIM gatherings, I hope you’ll make a point to hear a young women preach. Then reach out and get to know her personally. Ask yourself: who in my network needs to meet this woman? When can we invite her to preach at our church? What might be keeping me from cultivating the ecology of support?
This article appeared originally as a commentary at the ABPnews/Herald.

Ordinary Time II – Celebrating Pam Durso

Pamela R. DursoCelebrating Pam Durso*

The world of Baptist Women in Ministry was waiting for you.

And you, my dear friend, you have been a gift. You continue to be a gift to Baptists, to historians, to women in ministry, and to me. Your genius for making friends and offering encouragement really can’t be over-estimated. Your knack for counting things, and keeping up with them (like ordinations and pastors), and writing about them with grace and clarity, means you are contributing to a legacy of change and renewal for Baptists in the twenty-first century.

Your capacity to network and bring resources, ideas and people into the right place and time for positive change made you the absolute best choice for leading BWIM at this juncture in its life. I cannot think of a better person, more qualified or more passionate about supporting and advocating for women in ministry, than you.

Your leadership brings BWIM into its most stable, most innovative, and most expansive stage in its history. Every founder of BWIM should be proud to see where you and the Leadership Team have taken the organization in five years. BWIM’s state of thriving is a sign that reflects the good news about the ongoing growth in leadership by women in Baptist life.

Personally, Pam, you have been such a good and gracious friend to me. I’m grateful for the years of work together, for being a co-author with you, and for taking part in schemes, projects and some mischief that has contributed to the betterment of Baptist life. I hope there are many long years of friendship ahead, adventures to be explored, and parties still to be hosted that celebrate the Spirit’s movement among us.

With my warmest congratulations on your five-year anniversary as Executive Director of BWIM, I bow deeply to you my friend. You are one who collaborates with God’s Spirit to mend the world.  Thank you for saying yes.

_______________
* Today the BWIM Leadership Team celebrated five years of Pam Durso’s leadership as Executive Director. They invited friends to send letters of appreciation. This one is mine. It seemed worth a public thanks.

 

Ordinary Time I – Deep Peace

Deep Peace To YouDeep Peace 

This prayer has wound its way in and through my life for at least 15 years now. I saw it in print, prayed it in a steady breath prayer, and offered it as a blessing many times before I heard it sung.

I first heard the musical setting by John Rutter in worship at the church I now attend. I am drawn to the haunting beauty of it.

I will be paying attention to the world around me in the coming days as I work to capture something of each line of the Gaelic Blessing with my camera.

Gaelic Blessing

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ the light of the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you

deep peace of the running wave

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

+++++++++++

Eastertide XI

Learning Pastoral Imagination ProjectLearning Pastoral Imagination Project

My work and vocation take me in a lot of directions: writing, teaching, coaching, and consulting. Topping my list of responsibilities, however, is my research as co-director of the first ever, national, ecumenical and longitudinal study of ministry. The Learning Pastoral Imagination Project, now in its fifth year, is following 50 women and men over time as they become pastoral leaders. We first met these ministers when they were seminary students. Earlier in May we began a third round of interviewing them and learning from their lives.*

As co-directors of the LPI Project, Chris Scharen and I are committed to the goal of offering greater understanding and articulation of ministry as a practice learned over time. To that end the LPI study: 1) follows pastoral leaders over the long arc of learning from seminary through their lives in ministry; 2) focuses on how, in a variety of congregations and contexts, ministers learn and embody pastoral imagination, an integrative spiritual and practical wisdom inhabiting multiple tasks of ministry; and 3) responds to cultural complexity and fragmentation in theological education and religious life in the United States.

The following are links to four articles about the LPI Project written by co-directors, Eileen R. Campbell-Reed & Christian A. B. Scharen. Two of the articles require individual or institutional journal subscriptions for full access. The other two are open access. Enjoy!

“‘Holy Cow! This Stuff is Real!’ From Imagining Ministry to Pastoral Imagination”
Teaching Theology and Religion Volume 14Issue 4, pages 323–342October 2011.

Abstract: How do seminarians move from imagining ministry to embodying pastoral imagination? Stories gathered from seminarians in their final year of study show the complexity of shifting from classroom work, which foregrounds theory and intellectual imagination, to more embodied, relational, and emotionally intense engagements of ministry. Stories about learning ministry articulate a process we call the birth of pastoral imagination. New ministers test their use of knowledge acquired in classroom and books within the limits of actual ministry situations. They become overwhelmed by multiple variables in situations where they must make choices and act. These moments of action are fraught with risk and responsibility for the outcomes. Articulation and theological reflection are formative for students learning the practice of ministry. Implications for theological education include making greater “use of knowledge” in ministry practice and “use of practice” in classrooms. Points of crisis in the student stories raise additional questions about how some complications and interruptions to the “birth process” may present tragic consequences.

“The Unfolding of Pastoral Imagination: Prudence as Key to Learning Ministry” in Reflective Practice (Vol. 32), 2012.

Abstract: Over the last decade “pastoral imagination” has served as a provocative center for discussions about what makes for faithful and wise pastoral leadership. This essay is organized around two stories of ministry: a student in clinical pastoral training and a senior pastor of a large congregation. Their stories instantiate and characterize the use of pastoral imagination as prudence, unfolding over the long arc of learning the practice of ministry. The stories are case studies drawn from the Learning Pastoral Imagination (LPI) Project, a national study of learning ministry seeking to understand instances of pastoral imagination, articulate how it is learned, and say why it matters for the complex context of ministry in the twenty-first century.

“Ethnography on Holy Ground: How Qualitative Interviewing is Practical Theological Work” in International Journal of Practical Theology 2013: 17(2):1-28.

Abstract: How is ethnographic interviewing experienced as “holy ground”? Since the early 1990s, “empirical” or “descriptive” theology has been understood as an indispensable moment in practical theology. However, descriptive and empirical work in practical theology has remained remarkably dependent upon social science models. Even when practical theologians expanded ways of knowing in practical theological work, making space for relationality, dynamics of power, and embodied knowing, the theological character of lived research practice has remained largely unexamined. This paper proposes a more fully theological “descriptive moment” for practical theology by showing how ethnographic interviewing is practical theological work. Going beyond “description” or “empirical data gathering”, we argue practical theology needs theologically reimagined research practices. By presenting the case of our qualitative interviews with pastors and seminarians, we describe the theological character of an interview day, and we offer a rationale for making use of silence as a key aspect of theological ethnography. We conclude with reflections on the complex impact of the practice including: creating safe space for coming to voice; articulating woundedness, grief and joy; fostering good pastoral ministry; and experiencing God’s presence in creative and redemptive ways.

“Ministry as Spiritual Practice: How Pastors Learn to See and Respond to the ‘More’ of a Situation” in Journal of Religious Leadership 2013: 12(2), page 125.

Abstract: Christian ministry in a changing and challenging context requires “pastoral imagination,” a capacity to perceive the “more” in a situation and act wisely in response. Case studies from the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project show how ministers learn—through everyday pastoral practice and particular moments of ministry—to engage the “more” in situations by 1) seeing what is actually there, 2) recognizing the theological stakes, 3) knowing how to respond, and 4) responding in ways deeply connected to the community of faith and its participation in God. The dynamic of learning over time is key to understanding ministry as spiritual practice.

To learn more about the LPI Project, and what we are discovering, you can follow us on facebook or twitter. Or you can subscribe to our occasional mail-list.

* We are assisted in our work by the incomparable Rev. Catrina Ciccone. She keeps the machines all humming.

Eastertide X

GAs Gone Bad 

GAs Gone Bad

Over the next few days a group of women who study Baptists and gender will gather. It will be our second gathering. The actual group is about three times the number of these pictured. Six of us will be presenting at the National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion later in the week. And on Monday night four of these women will present Baptist Preacher Girl.

Nearly all of us grew up in Baptist churches or the children of Baptist missionaries. And we earned our badges and capes and crowns in Girls Auxiliary or Girls in Action or Acteens (depending on our age). We’ve adopted from Baptist pastor and activist, Nancy Sehested, her hilarious moniker, GAs Gone Bad. The ideas we learned in GA? Well mostly they stuck, and we became the leaders and thinkers they urged us to be… to the consternation of many a Southern Baptist preacher.

Some of us are ordained. All of us are funny. You’ve never heard so much laughter! We teach and write, and educate a new generation of women and men about history and culture at the intersections of gender and religion, which means we also pay attention to race, class and sexuality. We take our work seriously and hope to make a difference with what we do. We are planning two books (if you want to know more, email me). And we are excited to expand our group and our influence.

Karen Seat pulled four of us together three years ago. Betsy, Susan, and I presented our work first at the American Society of Church History, and later at the National Association of Women’s Studies. People are usually first stunned, then fascinated by the study of Baptists and gender. Stay tuned. More to come…

Eastertide IX

Hats - Baptist Preacher Girl

Hats – Baptist Preacher Girl

“Baptist Preacher Girl”
An Evening of Entertainment
National Association of Baptist Professors of Religion
May 19, 2014

Readers’ Theatre
By Kryn Freehling-Burton with Susan Shaw

In a denomination that historically has centered on soul competency, what happens when women hear a call to ministry?  Out of more than 200 interviews with Southern Baptist women, professor Susan Shaw talked with 50 who responded to a call to preach and/or to ministry. Their conversations are rich and lively accounts of hearing the call and subsequent experiences at seminary, on the mission field, and in churches.  These narratives inspired Dr. Shaw’s research assistant, Kryn Freehling-Burton to create a play that would give voice to the stories. The first dramatization of the research, Baptist Preacher Girl, premiered at Oregon State University Theatre’s One-Act Festival in 2007 and was performed at the National Women’s Studies Association the following year.

Presented in Reader’s Theatre format, four women become various characters who tell their stories in connection with other women’s stories allowing for nearly 20 individual women’s experiences to be documented in performance. From Girls in Action to baptism, seminary to pastoring a church, the thirty-minute play includes depictions of specific moments in their lives as well as reflections on the ways that encouragement of or resistance to women in church leadership affected individuals’ options and ministry trajectories.  Some moments included in the play are a Bible verse Sword Drill, altar call songs, and ordination memories.  The play was most recently performed for a group of scholars researching women in Southern Baptist and related denominations, some of whom will join the playwrights on the cast for a performance at NABPR.

Four scholars, Susan Shaw, Kryn Freehling-Burton, Courtney Pace Lyons, and Karen Seat, will present Baptist Preacher Girl. The performance will be enriched by an invitation to the audience to join the hymn singing during the play and by a discussion with the actors/scholars following the performance, moderated by yours truly.

 

Eastertide VIII

Closing the Gap

Despite progress, the gender gap among Baptist pastors remains persistent.

In recent weeks two prominent progressive Baptist churches moved to call well-known Baptist pastors. Notably in both calls the pastors are women. Riverside Church in New York City is set to call Amy Butler, and Watts Street Baptist, Durham, N.C., called Dorisanne Cooper.

Calling women to larger, more prominent congregations signals another shift in the 50-year history of women’s growth in pastoral leadership in the United States. Baptists have lagged behind the trend, yet Baptists are also slowly closing the gender gap.

Dorisanne Cooper - Alliance Convocation 2013

Rev. Dorisanne Cooper preaches at the Alliance of Baptists Convocation (2013)

Among the most significant changes to religion in America in the past 50 years is growing leadership of women as pastors, priests, rabbis, CEOs of religious nonprofits, theological educators and denominational heads. Fifty years ago virtually no women were pastors of congregations in America.

In 1964, Addie Davis became the first Southern Baptist woman to be ordained to ministry. Her ordination came from Watts Street church, where Cooper is set to begin as pastor this summer. Davis served most of her career among American Baptists, who ordained women earlier, but did not begin calling women as pastors in any substantial numbers until the 1960s. That trend is similar across other mainline churches. Today the number of female pastors in mainline denominations stands between 20 percent and 30 percent.

The impact of women’s religious leadership in America has not yet been sufficiently analyzed. Several studies are currently underway, including an ecumenical and longitudinal study of ministry that is tracking 25 women (and 25 men) from seminary through first-call and beyond. To understand the impact of women’s leadership in American churches, however, a good first step is to understand more about the gender gaps and why they are so persistent.

Gender gap

A survey of women’s leadership, pay and advancement in business and the professions today reveals an ongoing “gender gap.” The gap remains significantly larger in religious leadership than other professions. Reasons for the gap are numerous and interlinked with other subtle and overt forms of discrimination based on race, class and sexuality. Digging into two persistent factors will help illuminate why closing the gap is so challenging.

Likeability

The gender gap is fueled by what Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg calls the “ambition gap” and results in lower pay and slower (or no) advancement for women. This ambition gap is not merely the lack of desire by women to accomplish, succeed or lead, however. The gap is also connected to the often-studied (and contested) social difference in likeability between successful men and successful women.

Several studies find that the more powerful and successful men are, the more they are liked. Conversely, the more powerful and successful women are, the more they are disliked. Successful women work against this bias in a variety of ways, building likability by building trust and showing genuine concern. Successful women also navigate the inevitable resistance to their leadership. Men face similar challenges, yet they are penalized less for their success. Often the likeability gap leads to fewer promotions or career advancements for women. In churches, this means moving to a second church assignment or moving from associate to senior pastor are steeper challenges for women than men.

Promise vs. accomplishment

Women are hired and promoted based on their accomplishments. Men are hired and promoted more often based on their promise or potential for accomplishment. An often-heard argument in pastor search processes: women are not “ready” (experienced enough) to be hired by big churches. Yet those same churches will hire a man in his early 30s with less experience because he shows promise of good leadership.

Women overcome large social and psychological barriers — jumping the likeability gap and the accomplishment gap — when they move successfully into leadership. In ministry settings the move is even more daunting because the gender gaps are more deeply entrenched. Gender bias is bolstered by scriptural interpretations, the long history of women’s roles as supporters (rather than leaders) and the inertia of institutions. Churches and religious institutions are designed to resist innovation, and women’s pastoral leadership remains an innovation in many churches, even progressive ones like Riverside and Watts Street.

Closing the gap

Many of the social and psychological barriers that create the gender gap remain hidden, unconscious or implicit. In other words, such barriers are not easy to see or correct. This point was driven home to me recently when I took a short quiz at Project Implicit, an ongoing Harvard study of hidden biases. Despite years of working on issues of women’s leadership in religion and my conscious belief in equality, I still came up “moderately associating” women with family and men with work. I demonstrated gender bias. The online test highlights how implicit bias rests outside our observable awareness by measuring in milliseconds how we react and make associations.

The only known pathway to change implicit gender bias is to see and experience more women in leadership, allowing visualization and normalization of women’s leadership as pastors. The power of visualizing and normalizing successful or effective women leaders challenges bias across all professions. Failing to see women’s work of ministry keeps the gender gaps in ambition, pay and advancement in place for churches. In other words, news coverage of stories like Cooper’s and Butler’s are essential for changing implicit gender bias in ministry.

Among moderate and progressive Baptists, Cooper and Butler, and others, are already leaders, widely-known and well-networked, preaching at Baptist meetings, blogging and serving in denominational roles. A growing ecology of networked connections is also key to advancing beyond a first pastoral call for women in Baptist life.

For nearly a decade Pam Durso and I have continued to track trends in women’s leadership in moderate and progressive Baptist circles. Durso’s list of pastors stands at 160, expanding more than 10-fold since 1986, when there were 14. Women currently pastor just over 5 percent of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregations, nearly 30 percent of Alliance of Baptist congregations, and almost 10 percent of American Baptist churches.

To be sure, Butler likes to tell a story of an early defining moment in her ministry when she was advised that she could either make her work about women’s advancement in the pastorate, or she could just do her work as pastor. She says, “I try not to be defined by my gender.” Although she prefers to defocus on concerns over women’s progress, she, Cooper and scores of others are the inheritors of women’s advocacy in the last five decades. They are also the leaders, who by their very presence, are closing the gender gap and changing the way we see the pastorate.

This article appeared originally as a commentary at the ABPnews/Herald.