April 27, 2017
By Carrie McGuffin
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A group of nearly 120 Cooperative Baptist women are “celebrating beauty” April 26-28 at the Leading Women conference, a three-day gathering held at First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tenn., and sponsored by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM).
As CBF celebrates its 25th anniversary, this conference aims to lift up women who call CBF home and are leaders in their churches and communities. Centered around the theme of “celebrating beauty,” attendees are focusing on refreshment and renewal, fellowship and friendship, learning together and worshiping together.
“We celebrate the beauty that God has given to us as women who are leading, women who are called, women who are living faithfully to all that God asks for us,” said Pam Durso, executive Director of BWIM. “We celebrate the beauty of the women who have been our prophets and our leaders.”
The gathering kicked off Wednesday afternoon with a series of LEAD talks from influential Baptist leaders on their unique journeys as women in leadership roles.
CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter addressed her journey in a reflection alongside the story in Exodus 25, with Moses and the Israelites receiving instructions for the tabernacle — where “God asks something just short of crazy.”
God’s calling for an offering of treasured materials like gold, silver, goat’s hair, acacia wood, oil, jewels and more was a call for treasure in the dust of the wilderness, Paynter said. “Who carries treasure into the wilderness?” she asked. “The wilderness is a very unlikely place for treasure, but God asks for the very best in the absolute middle of nowhere.”
In our own personal wilderness times, Paynter suggested it may feel like we have no treasure to offer when God calls on us.
“We may think that we are a very unlikely people in a very unlikely place for treasure, but like that place on the edge of the desert, there is treasure in the wilderness.”
Paynter noted how individuals may think that they are unlikely vessels of treasure, but that in their most “wilderness” times — the times they face the greatest challenges and struggles — are the times that it is likely to find gold. These small victories and treasures can then be given back to God.
Former CBF Moderator Kasey Jones, who serves as pastor of the historic National Baptist Memorial Church in Washington, D.C., spoke about the “importance of being seen” as women.
“I want to talk to you about the importance of being seen, because we limit girls and women if they can’t see themselves up front, doing what God has asked them to do,” Jones said.
Jones challenged attendees to “own some of the responsibility” of creating positive space for women and girls to imagine themselves in leadership roles within the church.
“It’s time for the trailblazers,” she added. “Not just the ones who walk through the doors, but for those who clear the way for others to come behind them.”
It is time, Jones asserted, that the women gathered should allow themselves to enter into challenging situations to be trailblazers for the women and girls who will follow, as she called attendees to prayerfully consider if the direction of God’s calling is into an uncomfortable place, because it is in those uncomfortable places that women can create waves of change.
Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, reflected on vocation as she shared about the challenges encountered as a Baptist woman leader in academia in the 1980s and 1990s.
“You know it’s your vocation if it summons your true self,” Marshall said. “You know it is your vocation if it has dimensions of paschal mystery. You know it’s your vocation if it brings you joy.”
Marshall, echoing the call of Jones to enter into the uncomfortable or challenging situations, noted that the way to God and the way to most effective ministry is through downward mobility — through becoming like Christ and understanding the suffering of emptying oneself, sacrificing oneself and being challenged in order to grow.
“If there is no suffering in our vocation, if there is no paschal memory, then we are not following Christ closely enough.”
This vocational call to lower oneself is contrasted in part by the vocational call to joy.
“Joy requires both grace and effort,” Marshall said. “It is a summation of my great life’s work…yet, I am leading where the Holy One beckoned me, and there is no greater joy than knowing you are exactly where you are supposed to be.”
This confidence, Marshall emphasized, is her hope for all the women gathered — to know the joy of being exactly where they are called to be.
The opening day of Leading Women also featured worship focused on making beauty out of ashes and dust and concluded with a message from Meredith Stone, director of ministry guidance and instructor of Christian ministry and scripture at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas.
Stone reflected on Judges 11:29-40 and the story of Jephthah’s daughter, emphasizing the uniqueness of the passage as being the only origin story of a women’s tradition in the Bible — which comes in the wake of a father’s sacrifice of his daughter.
“The horror of [Jephthah’s daughter’s] story cannot be neglected,” Stone said. “So why do we read it?”
Stone pointed to Phyllis Trible, a feminist biblical scholar, who has written that the story of Jephthah’s daughter should be read “in memoriam.”
“We do so, so that those who are neglected will be remembered,” Stone said. “We do so, so that we can commemorate the stories of those against whom violence has been perpetrated. We do so to remember a past that sometimes the present still embodies.
Follow #leadingwomen2017 to get a glimpse of the conference in action, and find photo and video updates at www.facebook.com/cbfinfo.
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