by Sandra Hasenauer
American Baptist Women’s Ministries as a national organization has been engaged in an initiative named “Becoming Beloved Community.” This initiative, an outcome of previous work done through the Transformed by the Spirit work of American Baptist Churches USA, was developed to help us explore God’s vision for our ministries in the midst of today’s realities. In the early stages of the initiative, there was a comprehensive series of interviews, surveys, and follow-up surveys with hundreds of American Baptist women (and a few men too!) led by the Rev. Dr. Trinette McCray of McCray Consulting, to discern key themes, concerns, and celebrations about the organization. The result was four strategic themes that undergird the ongoing work of the national board of AB Women’s Ministries. This is the first of a series of four blog posts on “Becoming Beloved Community” that will address those four themes.
Relationships are critical.
As my dad used to joke, “Who’d-a thunk it?”
As we’ve explored God’s calling to American Baptist Women’s Ministries over these last several years, prayerfully seeking guidance for where we should focus our efforts to be most effective in God’s ministry, we kept hearing the words “building relationships” over and over again. At first, to be candid, I thought, “aren’t we already doing that?” And I suppose, at some level, we can certainly say we are. I feel privileged to be working in an organization in which I actually really look forward to board and team meetings because we have so much fun in the midst of all the work we’re doing!
And yet, I am also reminded of conversations I had with Rev. Valerie Andrews, when she was serving as our national events coordinator. She made the point during one discussion that we American Baptist women are very good at coming together around tasks, but maybe not so much about coming together just for relationship. Yes, I felt convicted. How often did I call someone only because I had a work-related issue or question for them, rather than just calling to check in on how they were doing, or simply to say hello? (And, as I often joke, I know I’m a unique child of God, but I’m not that unique. If I’m experiencing something, it’s quite likely a lot of you reading this could be nodding your heads in agreement!) Valerie went on to emphasize that our ministries need to be about “People, not Programs,” and I wrote that in caps because it became a rallying cry. During event planning team meetings, eventually someone on the team would remind the rest of us, “People, not Programs!” and we’d re-focus on the need to emphasize opportunities for relationship-building throughout our event.
At one level, building relationships in our ministry is critical to helping our ministries stay relevant to the women and girls God wants us to reach. If we don’t actually know the woman or the girl, we don’t know what needs they have or how God wants us to walk alongside them. Having effective ministry means ministering with who that person really is, not what we assume about that person based on their age, educational level, family relationships, job, and so forth. We’ve been trained to think of successful ministry in terms of volume–the more people you have showing up at your events, the more successful your ministry is. And yet Jesus’ own ministry showed that the one-on-one is just as important, if not more so, in terms of transforming someone’s life for Christ. Therefore, we’re being called to stop and ask ourselves: Are we focusing on reaching out and getting to know individual women and girls as the primary way we’re in ministry, or are we focusing on programs and meetings and hoping women and girls show up so we can be in ministry with them once they walk through the door?
At another level, many of the difficulties we’re seeing in our society right now could be alleviated if there were more relationship-building going on in our neighborhoods. As human beings, it’s easier and faster to build metaphorical walls than bridges. This has been true of humans since humanity began, really. Our natural tendency is to “stick to our own kind,” people we think we know already and, more importantly, people whose behavior we think we can predict because they think and act pretty much like we do. However, that tendency is also what gives rise to fear. When you don’t know someone, it’s easy to imagine the worst about them. We paint the stranger with the same brush as the person we saw on TV that looked an awful lot like them. We dismiss someone as “ignorant,” “clueless,” “stupid,” or worse, because we disagree with their politics rather than trying to understand why they may believe what they believe–what hurts and fears have they experienced that led them to the decisions they make? As American Baptist women, we’re part of one of the most diverse Protestant denominations in the United States. How can we take what we experience in our faith communities and allow it to teach us how to help others learn to build relationships?
And so, becoming beloved community all begins with building relationships. Relationships are critical. It’s that simple.