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.

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.

Becoming Beloved Community–Building Relationships

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.

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Rev. Sandra DeMott Hasenauer is associate executive director of American Baptist Women’s Ministries.