The following post is from Julie Gaines, a student at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and one CBF’s Collegiate Congregational Interns (CCI) at Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Va. This blog is included as part of a series of posts from CCI-ers who will share about their summer experiences.
During the first week of my internship, my senior minister challenged me to consider what it might look like for me to be a minister in each situation I found myself in this summer. He looked at the weekly calendar I had blocked out, pointed to different squares and asked, “What would it look like for you to be a minister while you’re in the office, planning a youth trip? What about on Sunday mornings? What would ministry look like for you while driving the church van?”
The questions he asked were straightforward, but I found myself taken aback by them. “I thought planning time was just supposed to be planning time?” I thought to myself, but no sooner had my brain formed that sentence than I realized the trouble with that way of thinking.
If planning time is just finalizing details, if visiting is just doing what my senior minister asked me to do, if driving the van is just an excuse to get out of the church building for a few hours, then when does ministry actually take place?
I’ve been struggling with this question all summer. I’m not a good planner by nature. I rarely feel like I’m prepared to respond when someone asks me a hard theological question. I don’t always remember all the details. Many nights, I’ve sat up and wondered if God really knew what God was getting into when calling me into vocational ministry.
Initially, I think I entered the summer with the assumption that if I could just spend the right amount of time planning, if I could just be meticulous enough to think through all the potential problems that might pop up during camp, if I could just find the right words to say to this person during my pastoral visit, then my summer and ministry could be considered successful.
This past Sunday, our passage for worship was the story of Mary and Martha, found in Luke 10:38-42. Our senior minister, Sterling, preached a wonderful sermon in which he suggested that the story of Martha and Mary challenges us to look for the surprising ways in which Christ chooses to show up in our daily lives. Towards the end of the sermon, he asked the congregation what it would look like if we actually stopped and recognized the presence of the sacred in our midst, especially during those daily tasks that seem the most routine.
I think that challenge summed up what my summer has been about these past 9 weeks. Looking back on the events of the last two months, the times when I felt that I was serving and ministering the most are the times where I planned to the best of my ability, showed up and took one step at a time forward as I felt God leading.
I experienced God’s grace through the laughter and stories of a 93 year-old church member, who energized me and helped me realize that I’m passionate about reminding those who spend much of their time alone and are aging that God has not forgotten them, even when they are unable to physically get to church.
Then, there was the time when a billboard on the side of I-95 prompted a spontaneous discussion, initiated by one of our students, about God’s love, heaven and what salvation really looks like, all in the back of the church’s 15-passenger van while we drove to the lake for a day trip. I admitted that I didn’t really feel like I had all the answers, but wanted to talk about what they thought, and a 10-minute dialogue began where tough questions about baptism, sin and even questions of predestination came up. That conversation surprised me, and the fact that I managed to stay present and have that conversation surprised me even more.
Most Sundays, I found God in the holy embrace of ladies before Sunday School and after the worship service, in the warm smiles and handshakes during the passing of peace, and the stories that each person I encountered shared with me in those sacred spaces.
Even in the moments where I felt like I was about to fall over from being so tired, like the time the door to the church bus stopped working in the pouring rain during VBS week, I felt God’s presence sustaining me and God’s still, small voice whispering to me, “Keep your eyes open. I’m still here. I’m still at work, even while you rest or are too busy to see. I’m going to do something greater than you can imagine with the seeds you are planting right now. So, be still and enjoy the ride!”
Later that week, a 3-year-old boy who refused to say one word to me for the last almost-two years ran off the bus on our last day of VBS. Just before I shut the door, he turned around, grinned and waved to me, shouting, “Bye!” before running into his home. As I shut the door, I shut my eyes, just for a second and thanked God for the reminder that God was at work, even as I buckled car seats, sowing seeds and growing plants.
I found God to be most present in these moments where I stopped trying to “act” like a minister and started just trying to be present with whatever situation I found myself in and whomever stepped in front of me. I learned the importance of being willing to extend a hand and practice the art of holy listening, a practice which allowed me to start making connections and bringing people in our congregation together.
I learned that ministry for me looks much more like this—like equipping the saints to serve, naming God and those sacred spaces and sharing the love of God with all of the neighbors whose paths cross mine—and much less like having all the answers or planning and controlling every detail.
This summer has renewed my faith in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s continued presence in the local church, challenged me to accept and live into my identity as a minister, and reassured me that God has not abandoned me as I pursue God’s call into the ministry.
As I transition into the fall, I enter my third year of seminary at BTSR with gratitude for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s CCI program for supporting me over the last four summers as I discerned God’s calling toward seminary and vocational ministry and for Tabernacle Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., for opening their doors and their hearts to me and for their patience as I continue to learn and grow as a minister and a person.
I’m entering the fall with the faith and the confidence that God is planting seeds in my life, even when I’m unaware, and that God will continue to show me the way forward, one step at a time.