Wednesday, October 27, 2010

"God is Still Working Miracles: Interview With Rev. Dr. Alicia J. Malone"

As a teenager having committed my life to Christ, I had a beloved mentor and friend from church named Betty. She knew that I had a calling upon my life and would frequently tell me about another young lady that she knew God called into the ministry. She was so proud of this young woman and spoke of her fondly and often. She eventually shared with me that her beloved “minister friend” name Alicia had a baby and afterwards suffered a debilitating stroke. Betty and I prayed often for this young women that I never met. However, I always remembered her story and it inspired me to keep going and being faithful in ministry.

Approximately thirty years later as I sat in a workshop in Chicago, Illinois, a beautiful woman walking with a cane entered the room. I listened in amazement as she introduced herself as “Rev. Dr. Alicia Malone from Akron, Ohio (my home town).” Could this be Betty’s “Alicia?” I couldn’t stand the suspense one minute longer. “Do you have a friend named Betty that lives in Akron, Ohio? Did you suffer a stroke after having a baby?” I asked. “Yes!” I told her that she did not know me, but I’d heard of her many years ago and her story helped to keep me going forward in ministry. Today I am privileged to share her courageous, miraculous and inspirational story on Shepastor. Praise God for His wonderful healing power, grace, mercy, peace and restoration!

Shepastor Interview with
The Reverend Dr. Alicia J. Malone
Founder and Executive Director
Bondage Breakers, Inc.
Akron, Ohio

When did you first “hear” a call to the ministry and how long was it before you were licensed?

I always loved the church and the work of the ministry. People frequently said that I had a call on my life, but I was not trying to go there! I ignored the call.

In July 1980 I had my son. Eight days later, I experienced a cranial aneurysm and four strokes. My family was told that I would only survive 24 hours. I lay comatose until September 2nd, 1980.

I remember waking up as they were transferring me to the rehabilitation center. The only thing I could remember about the place I was being transferred to was that it was a sanitarium. I thought my family was putting me away forever. At Edwin Shaw Rehabilitation Center, I had to learn how to walk, talk, and care for myself all over again, at age 27. The entire process took 2 years and 4 months. Even though I had graduated from Akron University in 1976 with an Associates Degree, I had to begin the learning process at the 4th grade level. This was very humiliating – being a college graduate and a professional. I had a wonderful job, flying all over the country as a Nuclear Component Correspondent. I was administrating contracts for the Untied States Navy. But God said, you have given man enough of your time and energy – I am going to get glory out of your life!

God “accosted me,” re-routed me and got my attention! He did not just get my attention in 1980 – He got my total allegiance forever!

I first heard the call to ministry in 1989 after attending an American Baptist Church Women’s Conference. On the way home the lady riding with me had fallen asleep. I was thinking about all that I had heard, which was very good. I was fully active in the missionary ministry at that time.

I heard a voice say, “I’m calling you to ministry.” I looked around and started calling the passenger. She was sleeping and indicated that “ she didn’t say anything.”

She advised me to go and talk to my Pastor. That was in June in 1989. It was the start of something beautiful and burdensome.

It was beautiful because God had called me. It was burdensome because women were not being accepted into ministry at that time. I was the first woman responding to the call at that church.

How did your pastor respond ?

I shared my call experience with him. He said, in an effort to discourage me, “If the Lord spoke, He also told you what kind of ministry. That was his way of responding without affirming my calling. He said, “Since you don’t know what the Lord is calling you to, go back and ask the Lord where is He calling you to serve.”

Since I was not trying to get up into the pastorate, I didn’t talk about the call for two years. I did not say another word. I continued doing the work of the ministry. I wasn’t discouraged, and continued singing in the choir, work in the missionary society, work in jail and prison ministry.

At the start of the Gulf war, pastor called an all out prayer vigil for men and women in the service. I went to support the men and women. As I entered, I heard God say, “Remind Pastor Kemp of My calling of you.” I said, “Lord, get off of my shoulder – It’s been two years – I’m not thinking about it (the call)!”

But I went to the pastor and asked him if he remembered our previous conversation. He said yes. He began the process of licensure. I had to sit before the deacons. All but one confirmed and affirmed my gifts and calling and wanted me to be licensed.

How long after that were you ordained?

I was licensed June, 1991 and was ordained in 1995.

You have a passion for Prison Ministry. How did you become so deeply involved in prison ministry?

In 1982 I started Moody Bible Institute. From Moody, I began working in the Summit County jail for the GED program. I believe that it was pre-ordained. I have an older brother who spent 95% of his life incarcerated beginning at age 7.

I asked myself, what kind of God would take a broken vessel like me and put me back together again? My search has always been, “who is this God?” At the prompting of my Pastor, I went to the McCreary Theological Center for Black church studies. This was uncomfortable because I spent most of my life around white folks.

Tell me about your ministry – Bondage Breakers Inc.

Bondage Breaker’s, Inc. is borne out of my love for God and the broken in our midst. Its purpose and goal has always been to provide a “safety net” for those coming out of incarceration and/or confinement. BBI is in it’s 20th year, as of November 1st and has not lost it’s desire or compulsion to minister to “the least of these my brethren…Mt. 25:36ff.” It began in my basement, moved to Mt. Olive in 1996, three years later we moved to our current location. The movement represents God’s constant approval of His servant and the charge laid before her. (in my opinion)

What words of advice would you give to female clergy desiring to enter the prison ministry?

Be certain that “God is calling you!” Lay before the Lord and like Eli told Samuel to do, “Speak LORD, thy servant is listening.” I’d admonish women to not give up their femininity, by emulating the male pastors or persona, but “be who God has called you to be.” If God has called you to a specific arena, “occupy till he comes.” When discouragement, criticisms, doubt and fears arise, “Look unto the hills from which cometh all your help…Ps. 121:1.” God sees you, us, and he knows what he desires to do with each of us. “Let God have his way!”

How can interested individuals contact you?

They can reach me by calling 330-867-2325 home/330-701-0576 cell or contact the office of Bondage Breakers, Inc. at 330-376-6245. If all else fails send an email to: I would love to hear from you all! Blessings and peace be upon you all!

Thanks Pastor Chris! Love abides and abounds!

What a powerful story! God “got the attention” of Dr. Alicia and she has dedicated her life to serving the Lord with gladness, “forever more!” She now gives unselfishly of herself on a daily basis, seeking to encourage, lift, support and advocate for individuals who have entered the prison system, providing during and aftercare ministry. What is your life’s calling? Has God “gotten your attention?” We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send us an email at

Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"God Has Another Plan: Interview with The Reverend Peg Nowling"

“My life is but a weaving
Between my Lord and me.
I cannot choose the colors
He works so steadily.

Oft times He weaves in sorrow
And I, in foolish pride,
Forget He sees the upper
And I, the underside…”

The above poem speaks to the surprising beauty that God weaves with the various “threads” of our lives, creating our “tapestry” of ministry. Our featured clergywoman today, The Reverend Peg Nowling, Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church of Lafayette, Indiana describes her journey which was full of surprises - filled with joy, tempered with reality, peppered with pain and strengthened with God’s grace. We are especially grateful for Rev. Peg’s willingness to share her journey even as she prepares to get married this week! Her words of encouragement and caution are filled with wisdom and maturity. Be blessed by her testimony below…

Shepastor Interview with
The Reverend Peg Nowling
Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church
Lafayette, Indiana

At what age did you first “hear” a call to the ministry?

Not until I was in my late 30s. Before that I felt the call to be a wife and mother. Then divorce changed my life. My story is that I was helping our pastor and his wife move from the parsonage in a difficult ending to his ministry. Standing in their garage I heard this: “Someday you will go through this.”

I was not unaccustomed to hearing God, but I had no plans to marry a pastor so this wasn’t going to happen to me. I saw the pain my pastor and his wife were going through and thought, “NO WAY!” I forgot about that until I was sitting in orientation at seminary.

My call came gradually, I think. God often does that with me, gives it to me in pieces so I can chew on it and swallow. In 1987 I went back to college to be a teacher but soon discovered that wasn’t my thing. My boss encouraged me to do what I had always wanted to do so I decided to head to law school, a dream since high school.

As I got closer to taking the LSAT I was overcome with a sense of wrongness. By then I knew my law career would be my ministry and I was captivated by separation of church and state law. I sought some counseling and applied to seminary instead.

Did you share your call experience with anyone? If so, how did they respond?

Yes, I did but it was more about helping me understand my call as opposed to “this is it!” I didn’t have many role models for being a woman pastor.
My parents didn’t know what to do with me. Another relative said I was going to hell for going into ministry. But overall, I remember affirmations.

How long did it take after acknowledging your call to becoming licensed and or ordained?

Not long really. I was licensed during my first year of seminary and ordained five months after graduation from seminary.

How would you describe your journey into the ministry?

Lovely and challenging. Inner city ministry is rewarding work but when I arrived I had no idea what I was doing. But they were patient and taught me. Changing from an active lay person in the region to a seminary student/minister was full of affirmations too. Indianapolis is a great region for women to be affirmed so I was lucky there.

I was blessed by doing my field education in a United Methodist inner city parish where I got into the trenches quickly. I remember that not everything was perfect or easy but my memories seem to be in the “Go get ‘em” category as opposed to “NOOOOO.”

What role models impacted your perception of ministry (male and female)?

Mary Day Miller, now in Fredricktown, OH, may have been the first solo/senior pastor I met and she became a friend and mentor. She came out of the Southern Baptist tradition so my entrance into ministry was much easier than her.

One of my senior pastors at the UMC parish was Jim Mulholland, one of my best friends still today. Jim’s passion for city ministry was infectious and determined. He taught, guided, prodded, pushed and loved me into the person I am today. He is truly one of the best advocates for women in ministry around and without his influence I am not sure where I’d be today.

Judy Fackenthal, pastor of Garfield Park Baptist Church in Indianapolis, has also been my dear friend and role model. She is another city pastor who understands the challenges of the people we are serving. She is of great support in dealing with churches in difficult situations. She also understands how to love people and there have been times I’ve desperately needed help in doing that!

My soon-to-be husband has been a role model for 15 years and more so all the time. He is a good pastor and a wonderful human being. I have learned from him about ministry and life. We read each other’s sermons each week for critique and affirmation. He is one of my biggest encouragers.

Over the years, my role models have changed to meet the needs of the time. I have leaned on people who manage conflict well at certain times, or people who preach well…..etc. I have a great number of role models!

What is your current area of ministry? How did you become who you are (multifaceted question I know!)

As I write this I am winding down my 9 ½ year ministry as the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Lafayette, Indiana. I am getting married on October 22 to the Rev. Dr. W. Kenneth Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church of Rochester, NY where I will move. There I will be learning how to be married after 28 years of singleness, easing into the role of pastor’s spouse, and redecorating his home to make it ours. I will teach the Baptist polity class at Colgate Rochester Crozier Divinity School in the spring semester and I expect to take training to become an intentional interim minister. And I will write! God has said “Write!” It remains to be seen if God has said, “PUBLISH!”

Getting to who I am today is a long and winding road. By the third year of seminary I knew I was called to pastor but I also had a strong sense of wanting to teach so I thought I’d pastor a few years, then pursue a Ph.D. in ethics. But I never did.

I am a work in progress. This new adventure on which I find myself is a fascinating one. I never wanted to be a pastor’s spouse and yet here I am. I’ll learn but I will also carve out my own niche in Rochester.

Is it your experience that female pastors are strong advocates for other female clergy? Why or why not?

I think most are superficial advocates. By that I mean they believe that women should be in ministry if the call is there. I also think we don’t rally around each other enough. (The same can be said of men here.)
It is often hard to get women pastors to make time for each other. We pastors get so caught up in doing ministry we do not make ourselves a priority nor do we make supporting each other a priority.

What challenges have you faced in your role as a clergywoman?

Every time I think that the battle may be won, something happens to remind me how far we still have to go. In the past year I was fired from a wedding because grandpa wouldn’t come if a woman pastor was involved; I was not asked to participate in the funeral of a member I knew well because of gender. Sometimes I stand up in worship and see people get up and leave. They didn’t read my name on the sign, I guess.
It never ends but it doesn’t define me either. I’ve grown tougher skin over time. Ministry is hard work. If you can’t handle conflict, find another profession.

Churches are frightened these days about their future and they want us to make it better when, in reality, we need to change to get better. Many don’t want to change. They want to turn back the clock and bring back the people who left the church over the last squabble. It is hard to be all things to all people and read their minds. It is tough work, really tough, but so rewarding.

What suggestions do you have to help create greater opportunities for females desiring to become pastors (what can others do to help open doors for female clergy)?

I would love to see each area/region have someone in leadership of a WIM group. It can come out of Minister’s Council, but it needs to be present. We can do so much more together than we can on our own.

What words of wisdom or advice would you share with women who feel called to the ministry (pastorate or other ministries)?

One of the things we noticed in field education was that we were getting students coming to seminary to be healed rather than to be healers. (Not the majority but increasing numbers.) We understood that students don’t always know what they were being called to, but they should come to the M.Div. program grasping that they were called to be healers in a hurting world.

If you are not really clear that pastoral ministry is where you are being called, audit a few classes at a seminary instead of jumping headlong into a time-consuming and costly degree program.

You can be a minister without being ordained and the world definitely needs more and more people willing to be lay ministers. Churches cannot afford to pay everyone to do everything.

Having said that, if you are called, surround yourself with men and women who will encourage, affirm and challenge you. You will do yourself no favors by having people around you who only say nice things. Find people you trust to be discerning and honest.

Each year I gave this Fredrick Buechner quote to my students:
“Vocation” comes from the Latin vocare (to call) and means the work a [person] is called to by God.

“There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of society, say, or the superego, or self interest.
“The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need to do and (b) that the world needs to have done. If you find your work rewarding, you have presumably met requirement (a), but if your work does not benefit others, the chances are you have missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work does benefit others, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you are unhappy with it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your customers much either.”

“… The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Frederick Buechner,
Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC

You can be called to ministry and serve well without going to seminary or quitting your day job. But if you do feel called to professional ministry, know that it will be the hardest and yet most rewarding experience.

What words of encouragement and caution would you give to those who are currently serving in a ministerial role?

When “she” talks about the ‘good old days,’ it is much more than a filled church. It may be when her husband was still alive and coming home each evening at 5:30 p.m. from work, when the kids came home for lunch and she ironed all their clothes….that sort of thing….life with meaning and purpose. She didn’t expect to be widowed at 55, live to be 90 with her children scattered all over the country and they seldom come home.

We can’t change their worlds but we can listen and try to understand. We must continually work to not own their pain and try to fix it. Follow your heart and God’s guidance and be the pastor YOU are called to be instead of what your congregation thinks they want. You can’t give them what they want but you can give them what you have to bring. Bring it with love, understanding and good conflict mediation skills and forge ahead!

Have a life. Your own life, not the church’s. You cannot constantly be pouring yourself out without putting something good in. We cannot be pastors to healthy churches if we are not emotionally and physically healthy. Take care of yourself!!!!!

Is there anything else you’d like to share that you believe would help other clergywomen along the journey?

If I have learned anything from my own experiences, as well as the experiences of those I interviewed on my sabbatical, it is this: Don’t whine. Find a trustworthy outlet in a friend or therapist to vent, yell or scream but little is achieved by whining about the hard knocks you are enduring. I’ve done it and it doesn’t work!

I interviewed a college president, seminary president, two state legislators, pastors and business women and while they had all been through hard times, they didn’t whine about them. Life hurts and it isn’t fair. Sometimes the problems we endure are problems all clergy endure and we shouldn’t make every hardship about gender. Some of our best advocates are men and our harshest critics women, but men go through “crap” too.

I suggest everyone have a pastoral counselor or therapist. I discovered this during one of those hard times and began driving 2 hours each way, once a month to see her. She continues to be part of my support system even though I haven’t seen her monthly for almost two years. I check in every few months and she did our premarital counseling. She is my friend and confidante for life! She makes me look at myself honestly and warmly. She has helped me find my good qualities when I couldn’t see and the ones to work on when I was in denial. You can’t do ministry alone.

Has God surprised you by changing the course of your life for ministry? Have you experienced God’s “weaving a tapestry” of joy and sorrow as you serve in the ministry? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at

Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"The Angels Watchin O'er Me My Lord!" Interview with The Rev. Dr. Alice Greene

The journeys of the clergywomen shared on this blog are many and varied. Some had a very difficult time on the road towards licensure and ordination, some chose other avenues of ministry and some were embraced and encouraged by their pastors, leaders and mentors. Our featured clergywoman for today was blessed to be among those who were readily encouraged and embraced. Senior Pastor, advocate, leader, scholar and author, The Reverend Dr. Alice Greene provides for us a beautiful picture of faith, obedience and perseverance. Trusting the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit, she surrendered her life as an attorney, went to seminary and became a pastor. She has served as President of the American Baptist National Ministers Council and currently serves on the Steering Committee for the American Baptist Women In Ministry. Rev. Alice recently published a book, Angels All Around (highlights discussed in today’s blog). Read her story below…

Shepastor Blog Interview
The Reverend Dr. Alice Greene
Senior Pastor, Irving Park Baptist Church
Chicago, Illinois

At what age did you first “hear” a call to the ministry?

I began to realize that God had been calling me into ministry when I was in my late 30’s. The call was gentle, but consistent. I didn’t have any female role models or family members who were in ministry, and so it took me a while to understand what was going on.

Did you share your call experience with anyone? If so, how did they respond?

I first shared my call with a pastor who responded by asking me to write a sermon. I found that very difficult to do at the time, and thought that I must have been mistaken. The call was persistent and more insistent over a period of about 10 years, so that by the time I was in my late 40’s I knew that the call was real and decided to attend seminary.

How long did it take after acknowledging your call to becoming licensed and or ordained?

I was fortunately in a church where the first woman had already been ordained. I responded to God’s call by leaving my full time job, enrolling in seminary full time and taking on a part time job at the church. I was licensed about one year after announcing my call, and ordained about 9 months after graduating with a M.Div. degree

How would you describe your journey into the ministry?

The journey was an especially blessed time for me. I loved seminary and felt a clear confirmation of my call by the joy that I experienced there. My only regret is that it took me so long to fully understand what God was doing in my life.

What role models impacted your perception of ministry (male and female)?

My pastors had all been male, and at the church I attended they tended to be very powerful speakers. I initially felt inadequate for preaching, because I felt that preachers should have powerful speaking voices. I started out intending to be a Christian educator rather than a preacher, and had no intention of becoming a pastor. I did take a preaching class, however, and it was the professor in that class who helped me to learn that God’s call was to me, just as I was, and that I didn’t need to be like anyone else to fulfill God’s call to me. Preaching became a joy.

What is your current area of ministry? How did you become who you are (multifaceted question I know!)

I am presently the pastor of a multicultural church on the Northwest side of Chicago. After seminary, working on the staff of a large church led me to finally realize that God intended me to be a pastor. The search for the right position was difficult, though. God’s divine intervention caused me to leave the church where I worked to move back to my hometown and take care of my mother. Then God directed me to the church where I am now the pastor. We found each other one month after I stepped out on faith and moved, not knowing what the future held for me!

Is it your experience that female pastors are strong advocates for other female clergy? Why or why not?

I knew very few female pastors in the African American Baptist world in which I served. The few Baptist female pastors that I knew were not from traditional African American denominations. They were supportive of women clergy, participating in collegiate clergy groups and willing to share experiences, advice and support.

What challenges have you faced in your role as a clergywoman?

The greatest challenge I’ve found has been in the “glass ceiling” that so many of our Baptist churches have when it comes to women pastors. Many of our African American Baptist churches will accept women as teachers and associate pastors in charge of various ministries, but calling a woman pastor continues to be difficult for them.

What suggestions do you have to help create greater opportunities for females desiring to become pastors? (Specifically, what can others do to help open doors for female clergy?)

I’m presently working with others in our American Baptist denomination to develop networks and plans to support the cause of women’s leadership in our churches. There are many supportive people who we are encouraging to come together in networks to educate others about women’s call to ministry, to advocate for women in ministry, to cultivate the calls of women into ministry and to celebrate women’s gifts for ministry.

You just wrote a book, Angels All Around. Tell us about the book, how you came to write it and what you hope it will accomplish.

Angels All Around is a novel that I was inspired to write with the hope that it would help people think more deeply about their connection to their Creator. The idea that we are all created by God for God’s good purposes led me to want to encourage people to remember that goodness from which and for which they were created. This idea morphed into a somewhat fanciful novel about angels that are sent into the world as humans with things to accomplish for God, but being born into the world strips away all memory of their angelic existence. As humans, they have the difficult job of remembering who they really are and what they are to do.

The two main characters of the book are sent into the world by God to meet and marry so that they can become the parents of a special child, but the female is born an African American on Chicago’s south side, and the male is born into a Jewish family in New York City. By the time they meet, she’s already married and he’s a war hero and a ladies man. The book revolves around the difficulties these two have remembering what they are to do and the spiritual warfare that is waging around them.

My hope and prayer is that this book will inspire others to know that they were intended to use their gift of life for God’s good purposes.

You’ve also started a blog. Tell us about the blog and share the site address

The blog is for people who read Angels All Around, so that they can share their thoughts about the book with each other.

What words of wisdom or advice would you share with women who feel called to the ministry (pastorate or other ministries)?

We all need to be reminded that our calls come from God and that we are here to serve God. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that God can’t use you for whatever purpose that God may have for you. Let God lead you, and don’t be surprised or afraid to allow God to take you to new places and to do new things--possibly more than once in your life! God’s plan for you will be better than any plan that you may have for yourself.

What words of encouragement and caution would you give to those who are currently serving in a ministerial role?

Expect difficulties. Learn from them. They are for your growth and deepening. Don’t ever let the troubles you may face discourage you, because if you have made the shelter of the Most High your dwelling place, God will send angels to protect you from the demonic forces in this world. Remember that angels are more powerful than demons.

Were you encouraged by mentors and friends as you shared your calling into the Ministry? Is there a role model that particularly influenced and blessed you as you listened and wrestled with God’s call upon your life? Do you have a word of wisdom and or encouragement to share with other sisters who believe that they too are called to serve in the Gospel Ministry? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at

Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"So, God Does Not Call Women or Girls - Let's Talk to Rev. Amy Greene About That!"

“You ‘misheard’ the call – God doesn’t call girls or women to preach. You were probably called to be a pastor’s wife, Christian Educator or missionary!” But the Reverend Amy Greene, Director of Clinical Pastoral Education and Assistant Director of Spiritual Care of the Cleveland Clinic knew she’d “heard” God’s voice correctly. In today’s blog, Rev. Amy shares with conviction, her call experience, the pain of rejection and her triumph over the voices of skeptics.

Shepastor Blog Interview
with The Reverend Amy Greene
Director of Clinical Pastoral Education
Assistant Director of Spiritual Care
The Cleveland Clinic

At what age did you first “hear” a call to the ministry?

I remember very vividly an experience around age 9, about the time of my baptism. I was reading my Bible (as I did often) and I had the thought, “If I was a boy, I would know I was supposed to be a preacher.” I remember feeling confused that God would put that desire in my heart without noticing that “he” (as I thought of God at the time) had made me a girl and not a boy. I remember feeling sort of doomed to wander and figure it out, which is what ended up happening, in a way.

Did you share your call experience with anyone? If so, how did they respond?

I did start telling folks that I felt called and I remember my Sunday School teachers and parents dismissing it and telling me that “God doesn’t call girls/women to preach” and that I had “misheard” the call -- that God would only call me to be a pastor’s wife, missionary or Christian Educator. I remember even then thinking “No way” to all three. I knew the power was in the pulpit and I knew it was that or nothing.

How did you understand and process “the call?”

I tried to put it aside but it never quite went away. Finally, when I was 21, I found out about a very unusual Southern Baptist church called Oakhurst Baptist in Atlanta. It was known for being “not typical.” When I visited, I saw with my own eyes my “first ever” real live female Baptist preacher – Nancy Hastings Sehested. I began to wonder if I had heard the call correctly after all, since clearly it was possible for a woman to be a real preacher—I could see her with my own eyes. Not only that, she was a powerful preacher and she knew her Bible.

How would you describe your journey into the ministry? (Please share the environment in which you were raised, religious influences such as denomination, church etc.)

I went to seminary in my early 20s because I simply couldn’t bear not to go. I didn’t feel any sense of hope that I’d be able to be a senior minister (i.e. be in the pulpit regularly). I definitely did not feel called to children’s and youth ministry. I had become a journalist in college (majoring in it and working for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution) and I was still working there when I just got too restless to stay. I thought I would become a religion editor or write about religion and faith in some form or fashion. In some ways the next few years are a ping-pong match inside myself over the question of whether I was a writer with a really great theological education (from Union in New York) or whether I was a minister who loved to write. I finally got clear about it the year the Olympics came to town (1996) and I was back on the newspaper staff, making great money but feeling like I was wasting my time. I had put a lot of things on hold to raise our two sons, and I had only been willing to take part-time work. That limited my options in ministry even more severely. When my youngest was almost 10, I decided to go do CPE to become a hospice chaplain. The rest, as they say, is history. I got completely bitten by the CPE bug, and got recruited by my supervisors to train for certification as a supervisor myself. My writing skills and passion helped a lot and I got through the process quickly. I have been supervising CPE for more than 10 years and I am just as excited and passionate about it as ever.

Three years ago I got a call from a head-hunter asking me if I wanted to consider directing the CPE program at the Cleveland Clinic. I’m ashamed to admit it now, but I really hadn’t heard much about the Clinic. Also I wasn’t sure I wanted to give up a great life in Atlanta for the cold, frozen north. Fortunately my husband was ready for an adventure since our sons had both left for college. It has been the fastest and most exhilarating three years of my life to be at the Clinic. I am still a Baptist. I was ordained by Oakhurst when it was still Southern Baptist but I became American Baptist later, as did the church. I belong to Peace Community Church in Oberlin, which is American Baptist in spite of getting kicked out of the Association in Cleveland (just like Oakhurst got kicked out of everything Southern Baptist in Atlanta) – for their stands on justice issues. It’s a long drive, but I have to hang my hat in a place that takes a stand for principles of inclusiveness, priesthood of all believers, autonomy of the local congregation, intelligent biblical study, justice and modern scientific understanding – just to name a few. How much time do we have?

What role models have impacted your perception of ministry (male and female)?

Both pastors at Oakhurst at the time – Mel Williams and Nancy Sehested – were my models and mentors. They remain important figures in my life, though I rarely see them. They embodied integrity and fidelity to their Baptist roots. My formative CPE supervisors were both Baptists, though I’m sure there are good ones who aren’t (that’s a joke). I would say my current boss is a mentor to me now, though we function very much as partners and learn from each other. Many of my students are role models for me, especially when they have faced struggles I have not. I hope I never get too “growed” (as my Appalachian ancestors would put it) to need role models.

In what area of ministry do you now serve? How did you get there?

See above. I am Director of Clinical Pastoral Education at one of the best hospitals in the world. I can only say I got here by sheer grace. I got called by the Director of the Spiritual Care Department (my boss and friend, Rev. Dennis Kenny) several times before I said yes. I was too stupid to say yes the first time. Thankfully I got another chance. I really can only believe it was Providence that got me here – that and a wonderfully supportive husband and grown sons who said, “Ma, it’s your turn…you should go.”

What challenges did you face (or are you facing) in your particular ministerial role?

The biggest one is that Rev. Kenny and I both want to offer excellent spiritual care as well as excellent education for ministry here at the Clinic but we have a very small staff. We both have a tendency to bite off more than we can chew. We both have a tendency to forget that it’s God who neither slumbers nor sleeps, not us.

Is it your experience that female pastors are strong advocates for other female clergy? Why or why not?

Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I find that women help women according to their personalities and their own stories. Some are jealous and bitter about their own struggles and so don’t want to see anyone else succeed. I find I really like mentoring young women, but I enjoy young men just as much. Everybody has the same struggles these days…how to live out an authentic call in a complex age. I love ministry in the clinical setting because it is by and large a lot less sexist than the average congregation (there are many women doctors, executives, etc). Also, women have had freedoms and opportunities in chaplaincy a little longer than in most mainline congregational settings.

What suggestions do you have to help create greater opportunities for female clergy?
(Specifically, what can church leaders, congregations and male clergy do to help open doors for clergywomen?)

Just be fair. If someone is called and proves they are capable, gender shouldn’t matter – nor should race, class, physical ability. If we take Acts 2 seriously, we have to stop deciding for God whom God will call and use.

What words of wisdom or advice would you share with women who feel called to become a senior pastor or to serve in some other form of ministry?

Hang in there. Trust God, not denominations. I remember very distinctly, in a moment of sheer despair (after finishing a demanding M.Div. program and moving back South), feeling that I would never actually have a job as a minister. I heard that inner voice that is not my own say, “If you believe the Southern Baptist Convention called you to preach, then I can’t help you. But if you believe the great I AM called you, just keep moving forward.” I know it wasn’t my wishful thinking because it scared me too much. I would have preferred (at the time) to give it up. My advice, which was given to me before I went to seminary and I’ve paraphrased over the years, is “If you can resist going into ministry, do resist it. And don’t be blaming God if you’re miserable. If you “run from the call” and don’t feel happy, then just face the fact that you are not doing what you really want to be doing. Don’t imagine yourself to be so important that God can’t go on doing God’s work without you. Just say yes to the life you want.”

What words of encouragement and caution would you give to those who are currently serving in that role?

Don’t get isolated. Don’t think you’re the only one doing it. Don’t think you’re special. Don’t think putting everyone else ahead of you is holy. Love God and others as (which means “in the same way that”) you love yourself. If you don’t love yourself, you’re not loving anybody else either – you’re just using their crises to feel needed. Don’t fool yourself.

Is there anything else that you would like to add to encourage clergywomen?

If it was in fact God who called you, you needn’t worry about anything. If it was not, turn back now.

Are you sensing that God has placed a call to preach or pastor upon your life yet others are saying, “Not so?” Do you have a story of victory over the voices of doubt and negativity regarding your acceptance of the call? We want to hear from you! Post a comment or send me an email at

Until next Wednesday,
In faith, hope and perseverance,
Pastor Chris