Becoming Beloved Community–Walking Together toward Relevant Goals

By Deborah Malavé Díaz

American Baptist Women’s Ministries as a national organization has been engaged in an initiative named “Becoming Beloved Community.” This initiative was developed to help us explore God’s vision for our ministries in the midst of today’s realities. This is the third of a series of four blog posts on “Becoming Beloved Community” that will address those four themes. For all the posts, click on “beloved community” in the tag cloud on the right.

C2R4: AB Women’s Ministries retreat for young adult women, 2012

Before becoming the national coordinator of Events (2015-18) for American Baptist Women’s Ministries, I was the coordinator for Young Women for the Puerto Rico Region, when the position was included for the first time as part of the region American Baptist Women’s Ministries (Mujeres Bautistas Americanas) board. It was exciting, as there was no previous path to follow, and, at the same time, challenging. I had to both reach out and make space for young women at our beloved (but also very “established”) community. To make it more challenging, when it came to demographics, part of the board said the young women must be between 25 and 35 years of age, and other half said between 30 and 45. That difference of opinion went on for my three-year term. I was approaching my 46th birthday during the first year of my term year and found myself outside the demographic “box” I was elected to represent. Fast-forward to 2015 when I became coordinator of Events. I told myself, “Deb, you got this! This first year, follow The Guide, follow the way AB Women’s Ministries has done things in the past, add your perspective, and you be fine.” I quickly discovered, however, that AB Women’s Ministries was breaking new ground, and the events planning process was the platform to do it. I was, again, in a very exciting and challenging time in which new paradigms were leading the way.

I invite you consider the common thread between these two leadership experiences with the beloved community. In the first one, there was a need to bridge a gap; on the second, an emphasis on meaningfulness. In both, the common thread is the urgency to be relevant. Is the AB Women’s Ministries beloved community relevant to you? Are you relevant to the AB Women’s Ministries beloved community?

How can we walk together toward relevant goals? This is what I have learned: First, I cannot do it alone. I know what is important to me, but I must learn from you what is important to you. We must build relationships among ourselves. In my role as coordinator of Events, I frequently lead one-hour long conference calls. There can be between five to eight women on these calls, and half of them I have never met in person! But from the start I think of them as my sisters. We have a purpose: we make sure everyone expresses themselves in our conversations, and we are respectful of time set aside for AB Women’s Ministries. You, too, can build relationships for relevant goals using this model in your formal or informal AB Women’s Ministries meetings: Define your purpose; listen and talk to one another; and respect everyone’s time. The second thing I learned is that leadership is a shared responsibility, and inclusiveness is the glue holding it all together. To achieve relevance in a group is like holding a kaleidoscope where each woman is one of the facets. Like a kaleidoscope, relevance is ever-changing; therefore, you must be inclusive in your endeavor.

One last thought: What has God taught me about leadership with the AB Women’s Ministries?  “You know better than to put new wine into old wineskins. They would burst. The wine would be spilled out and the wineskins ruined. New wine needs fresh wineskins,” Mark 2:22 (TLB).

Deborah Malavé Díaz serves as coordinator of Events for American Baptist Women’s Ministries.

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Becoming Beloved Community–Inclusive Leadership

By Rev. Angel L. Sullivan

American Baptist Women’s Ministries as a national organization has been engaged in an initiative named “Becoming Beloved Community.” This initiative was developed to help us explore God’s vision for our ministries in the midst of today’s realities. This is the second of a series of four blog posts on “Becoming Beloved Community” that will address those four themes. For all the posts, click on “beloved community” in the tag cloud on the right.

Gardens at Woburn Abbey, Bedfordshire, UK. Photo by ukgardenphotos on Flickr. Used by permission, Creativecommons.org.

Take a moment and imagine yourself standing in a flower garden. Take a deep breath. Breathe in the smells; notice the honeysuckle and roses. In your mind’s eye, look around and ponder the bright colors. Imagine yourself bending down, running your hands across the blades of grass, noticing how it feels under your fingertips. Finally, picture yourself sitting against the trunk of a giant oak tree, allowing the leaves from the branches overhead to provide you with cooling shade from the warm sun. How do you feel? Good, right? Now, imagine standing in the same place, but this time there are no trees, flowers, grass, or sweet smells. It is just you in the midst of dirt. Now, how do you feel? Perhaps you feel a little lonely, empty.

You see, God designs everything to have a purpose and place in the world. At our best, we all work together. Nothing competes but, rather, everything complements and builds on everything else. This is a model for inclusive leadership.

Growing up, I viewed leadership as a hierarchical model, where one person was in charge of, or over, others. The person in charge had to have all the answers and could not, and should not, ask for help. To do so would be a sign of weakness and ignorance. Over the years, however, I have come to learn that leadership, especially inclusive leadership, is not about managing. Rather, it is about engaging people of diverse ethnicities, age, and life experience in such a way that you bring out their gifts and skills for the purpose of sharing within the greater community. I personally seek out the stories and wisdom of people who have different lived experiences from mine in order to gain a broader perspective.

When I served as the coordinator for Mission and Events on the national leadership team of AB GIRLS, I was engaged in a model of inclusive leadership. I was an adult leader amongst teenage girls. While, in theory, I could have been the main leader, in reality I was just as much a learner. I would often listen to the girls’ stories about school, relationships, technology, and life in general. They provided me with wisdom and insight, and empowered me to work with youth in my community. I don’t think I would have felt comfortable doing so had I not had their experience to teach me.

I could not imagine a world where everyone thought the same, and where I would be the only one in the midst of dirt. We are all meant to be unique pieces in God’s garden of human diversity. We are much stronger, wiser, and powerful in our togetherness and diversity than we are apart.

Rev. Angel L. Sullivan serves as national president of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.