On this weekend of remembering Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we invite you to focus on questions for discernment about your vocation. Dr. King invited people to think deeply and transformatively about their work. About justice. About being part of the change the world so desperately needs. He invited us to take risks for the sake of love. When we do that, a new light falls on our work and life purpose.
I want to share three quotes from Dr. King. And I’m also happy to share three short stories (along with two videos) today. Each one includes questions for discernment. I hope these stories and insights will draw you into considering, yet again, how to discern renewal of purpose and vocation in your life. This invitation is not just for ministers. Certainly, clergy in many different ministry settings are asking vocational questions. However, people of faith doing all kinds of work, living into many different vocations, can ask themselves these questions. As Dr. King said, “no work is insignificant.”
“No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Jamaica, 1965
Tending the Fires: Questions for Discernment
This is our final share from the “Tending the Fires” event a few weeks ago. At the New Year, we shared Episode 180: “Ten Things that Matter” as a meaningful way to honor the ways you spend your time and energy. And last week we shared Episode 181: “Discerning Vocation” with four questions, that help you see what your current situation offers you.
During “Tending the Fires” event, I posed several questions about discernment to my friends Kadia Edwards and Duane Bidwell. Both of them made big vocational shifts in 2022. An excerpt of our conversation is in the 10-minute video below.
Rev. Dr. Kadia Edwards answered her call to ministry in 2002 while serving as a Chapel Assistant at Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Dr. Edwards is licensed and ordained to public ministry in the American Baptist Churches denomination. She is a cultural competency and storytelling practitioner. Kadia contributed a chapter with LeDayne McLeese Polaski to Trouble the Water: A Christian Resource for the Work of Racial Justice. Their chapter is “Be Not Afraid: Conflict Transformation in the Work of Racial Justice”
Rev. Dr. Duane Bidwell is a pastoral theologian working in medical education, writing and conducting qualitative research on health-professions education. He directs a collaborative project between a military university and the US Veterans Administration to develop a leadership curriculum for educational executives at VA medical centers. His most recent book is When One Religion Isn’t Enough.
You can find books with contributions by Kadia and Duane on the Three Minute Ministry Mentor bookshelf over at bookshop.org — a great way to support indie bookstores.
Women of Faith Reflect on MLK Weekend in Nashville
Life’s most persistent
and urgent question is,
“What are you doing for others?”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, 1957
My in-person MLK event for this weekend was to attend a wonderful panel of faith leaders. Event host, Rev. Kelli X asked four Nashville faith leaders questions of discernment. Gathered at Scarritt Bennett Center these women considered and responded to the theme: “Protecting the Dream | Confronting the Assaults.”
Each of these women of faith have influenced my life and ministry either directly or indirectly. I’m so grateful for each of them and their powerful meaningful vocations.
Certainly in the 55 years since Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed in Memphis, Tennessee, some changes and even transformations have come to pass. (See the final part of this post below!) Yet with many of the steps forward there are setbacks and backlash. Each faith leader spoke of her vocation, her strategies for making change, and how she maintains hope in a world riddled with frustrations.
King’s Vision and Our Vocation
The following are quotes and paraphrases from my notes. You can watch a stream of the event here on Instagram.
Rev. Kelli X: How do you confront sexism?
Rev. Jen Bailey: We need to confront ‘internalized sexism’ and guard against becoming agents of the patriarchy. When we finally make it into the room, hold open the door for at least three more women to come in after us.
Councilwoman Zulfat Suara: I am who I am because of my religion, not in spite of it. The problem for women is not religion. It is men (misusing power).
+++ other gems in response to different questions +++
Rev. Lisa Hammonds: The problem with injustice related to food is not that we live in a food desert (which sounds natural and unfixable) it is that we live in a food apartheid in Nashville Zip 37208.
Rev. Ingrid McIntyre: When I feel burdened by hopelessness, I try to do ‘micro practices of justice” like standing as a witness or setting a bigger table. When we do the small things together, we don’t each have to do the grande gesture.
Scarritt Bennett Center director, Rev. Sondrea Tolbert read from Dr. King’s speech at Scarritt Bennett Center in 1957. It was a conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Southern Churchmen, who focused on “vocational discernment toward careers in religion and social justice.” She quoted Dr. King from his speech at Scarritt: “It is injustice we seek to defeat, not people who may be acting unjustly.”
A Vocation Blessed
“The time is always right
to do what is right.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Stanford University, 1967
Sunday was a full day. It began with a visit to a church for the ordination of a recent seminary graduate, Felicia Sims Smith. It has been a joy to watch her vocation unfold over the last 4+ years. Dr. Sally Holt and I have been blessed to accompany many women and men over the last decade and more as completed seminary, received ordination, and began serving this broken and beautiful world.
After the ministers in her congregation laid hands on her to bless her and anointed her with oil, Rev. Felicia was given a few moments to speak. She spoke about how her vocation has evolved. It is curious how saying ‘never’ sometimes leads to a surprise …
Rev. Felicia: I went to seminary to become a retreat leader. Not a pastor. Never. But today while I was kneeling down, it came to me the moment at [Conception Abbey during seminary orientation] when we were asked to sign our seminary agreement. At first I thought it was like signing any other contract. But then I became very emotional. Unusual for me. And today while I was kneeling down, I see how that moment brought me to this moment.
A Blessing for YOU
May your moments unfold in grace. May you serve others for the sake of love and justice. And may you know that it is always time to do what is right. May you trust the questions as you lean into your vocation. May you know you are beloved and pass it on each day.
Do you need a blessing for someone being ordained? Here is a blessing for impossible times.