Like many American Baptists, I chose this family, having been raised in another denomination. As a young adult, I joined a church in Washington, D.C., that was affiliated with three Baptist denominations. I worked for an organization representing nine Baptist bodies. It was the start of a new phase of my education. Never mind college and seminary. We’re talking real world now.
When the First Baptist Church of Washington, D.C., called me as their minister of Christian Education, I knew it was time for me to get better acquainted with the people and resources of American Baptists. I made my first trek to Valley Forge. There I met warm, welcoming people who were passionate about their ministries. They also had a clear commitment to mentoring a new, young colleague. During the three years I served in that role, the learning opportunities at Educational Ministries events were the best – cutting edge, thoughtful and stimulating. I was thrilled to be part of the important task of educating a new generation of Christians along with a host of colleagues.
And, of course, I was making friends who continued to challenge and nurture me. That theme continues today.
When National Ministries (now American Baptist Home Mission Societies) called me to serve, yet another door opened, this time to the whole nation. American Baptists have always called upon me to step up to challenges, to grow, to take risks. Now I was meeting and working with people from every corner of the United States, people with whom I didn’t always agree. Once again I was challenged to think about what I believe and how I practice my faith. And, perhaps most remarkably, friendships were strengthened as we talked and disagreed.
It is that ethos of openness and commitment to growth that has made my life as an American Baptist so rich. As a child, I had learned early that it was better to keep my mouth closed in church rather than ask the questions that crowded my brain. They weren’t always appreciated! But in this rich stew of American Baptist life, diversity was suddenly prized. It was a jewel to be enjoyed and celebrated.
American Baptist Women’s Ministries offered me another opportunity to grow. As I met our international partners I saw yet again the difference between my earlier denominational experiences and the American Baptist way. We didn’t view ourselves as Big Brother coming in to make sure others did church right. No, we were serving alongside peers with comparable skills and dedication.
I am proud of our openness, our global partnerships, our respect for the primacy of the local church in doing mission, of so many aspects of our common life. I am proud of our diversity and our deliberate cultivation of that diversity. Just a little taste of the coming reign of God!