ABHMS conference affirms, inspires women in ministry

Women in ministry from all corners of the United States prayed, laughed, praised, cried and sang together at American Baptist Home Mission Societies-sponsored "Women Together: Lifting and Serving One Another"—a conference at New Prospect Missionary Baptist Church, Detroit, in August 2010.

Multiculturalism was an appreciated part of the event. "I loved being at a conference that was truly focused on lifting up and serving one another without politics of one stripe or another being interjected," says the Rev. Carlene Appel, chaplain with Family Centered Hospice, Addison, Ill. "I felt safe, recharged, filled and at peace."

A workshop led by the Rev. Dr. Liliana Da Valle, executive minister, American Baptist Churches (ABC) of Rhode Island, explored the dynamics of vibrant prayer life as an indispensable tool for healthy and successful ministry. "It's about time somebody had the guts to say that God doesn't require everyone to have devotions at 5 a.m. Some of us, like me, are just not wired to be morning people," says Appel.

Host pastor the Rev. Dr. Wilma R. Johnson led "Giving Away My Joy: Navigating the Waters of Pastoral Leadership" to reinforce God's intent for ministry leaders to reach God-sized visions and goals. "The joy of the Lord is my strength. The power of this truth hit home in Dr. Johnson's workshop," says the Rev. Marilyn Parker-Jeffries, founding pastor of New Creation Baptist Church, Lorain, Ohio. "We must never permit ourselves to allow the enemy to steal our joy as a result of the work of ministry. Ministry can often become burdensome. We become ineffective as ambassadors of the Good News when we permit joy stealers to have power in our lives."

The Rev. Dr. DeeDee M. Coleman, pastor of Russell Street Missionary Baptist Church, Detroit, discussed the tendency toward trying to be superwoman as she led a workshop exploring ways that ministers can remain focused on a task, while continuing to offer encouragement to others. "One of the things I learned from Dr. Coleman's workshop was the importance of defining your ministry to prevent yourself from drifting into too many ministry areas and ultimately not being truly effective in any," says Parker-Jeffries. "As Dr. Coleman put it: 'Stay in your lane.' "

A panel discussion identified, explored and offered suggestions for overcoming the historic, theological and cultural factors and issues that influence female roles and relationships. Panelists shared perspectives about truly supporting other women in Christian love. "As an egalitarian, I so appreciated the Rev. Dr. Judy Allbee [executive minister, ABC of Connecticut] reminding all that women and men serving in ministry share common traits and shortcomings," says Appel. "When we come together and let the focus become our gender, rather than our calling and vocation, we're no better than the still-existing 'Good Old Boys Club.' "

Simply being at New Prospect was inspiring. As participants toured the church's campus, they were encouraged to learn that God had chosen and used a woman to shepherd a multi-staff congregation that had grown from a few hundred to a few thousand members with multiple ministries and community outreach efforts. "It was refreshing to see how God has used a woman to build a large church of 2,000, including designing the new buildings," says Appel. "Both churches I pastored were under 100 in membership, and that is the case for a lot of us. Experiencing New Prospect provided encouragement to the women serving as pastors and serves as a witness to the world that God has not relegated all of us to serving only in little country churches out in the middle of nowhere that can't get a man to come."

In a time of tearful celebration, the conference honored several women pioneers in ministry with a ceremonial draping and verbal anointing. Honorees were as follows: the Rev. Veronica Lanier, pastor emeritus, First Baptist Church of Lynn, Mass.; the Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray, executive director of the Center for Calling and Engagement, Milwaukee; the Rev. Dr. Joan Friesen, executive minister, ABC of Greater Indianapolis; the Rev. Peg Nowling, pastor of First Baptist Church, Lafayette, Ind.; the Rev. Valentine Royal-Thomas, former executive director, American Baptist Women in Ministry, Valley Forge; the Rev. Carolyn Piper, retired ABCUSA clergy and pastoral counselor, Wothington, Ohio; ABC Connecticut's Allbee; and ABC Rhode Island's Da Valle.

The conference came together under the leadership of the Rev. Marilyn P. Turner, associate executive director of ABHMS' Center for Missional Life and Leadership; the Rev. Yvonne B. Carter, ABHMS' managing director, Event Development; and planning team members, the Rev. Christine A. Smith, pastor of Covenant Baptist Church, Wickliffe, Ohio, and host pastor Johnson.

As the conference drew to a close, attendees asked, "When can we do this again?"


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