Calling Her a Midwife

| April 22nd, 2024

Dear Beloved Community,

Together with BWIM and our friends at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina and Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina, this Sunday, we are delighted to share a screening of a new documentary called Midwives of a Movement (Kelly Auditorium on Sunday at 9:00am!). Midwives of a Movement is a film full of spirit from the original “midwives” whose great boldness gave birth to a movement. I have seen the film twice now and can tell you that you won’t want to miss it! I laughed, I cried, I learned, I grew, and I know you will too. 

We’ll also welcome at the screening and in worship Rev. Dr. Meredith Stone, Executive Director of Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM). I first met Meredith nearly 15 years ago as I began serving on the board of BWIM. I was a fresh seminary graduate putting legs on my thoughts as I started in church ministry, and Meredith was, at the time, serving with the Baptist General Convention of Texas as the Women in Ministry Specialist. 

We met in a meeting for the BWIM board in a gathering tucked away at a wooded retreat center in Georgia. Our director at the time encouraged the board to get to know each other in our down times, so after our meetings ended for the day, Meredith and I took a walk together through those forest paths. (That old photo above was the day and the site!) These were sharp years for my theological convictions, and somehow in that conversation, we got onto the topic of prayer. “Pretty sure I don’t even believe in prayer,” I remember spouting off to her, feeling the spacious safety of this minister-to-minister conversation and the birds as the only ear-witnesses to my confession. I continued: “I mean, I just know too many friends whose fervent prayers never were answered, too many folks hurt by their church and ministers who claimed that fervent, broad prayers for their sick loved one would keep them alive and were despondent when it ‘didn’t work,’ too many of my own prayers that felt like they’ve just disappeared in thin air between my lips and God’s ears. So yeah. Prayer? Not my thing,” I declared, my determined venting finally drawing to a close.

Meredith, gentle and clear, began to unpack those emotional claims with steadfast wisdom. Though I don’t remember the precise words she said, I remember that she made me feel seen and heard, validating my feelings and wrapping her words carefully around my impassioned heart. But she didn’t stop there. “What about all the times scripture tells us that God changes God’s mind in response to the cries of the people?,” she asks, without one ounce of defensiveness, not needing to prove her point or for me to change my mind, simply sharing from her heart. “Don’t you believe that God is a God who responds, who is actively engaged in the life of the world, whose becoming is wrapped up in our own? And isn’t prayer at its heart about the open relationship between us and God, not just the outcome of what is said?”

We walked in silence for a bit. I mulled over her thoughts, probably still too hot-headed to let them soak in, I can see now with the gift of distance. But I’ll tell you this – though it took me years to loosen the clutch of doubt I had over prayer, I’ve never thought about it the same. In the years since, I’ve softened into the practice with more curiosity than guilt, more wonder than anger. That’s precisely the type of teacher and leader Meredith is: one who loves you as you are, and into who you can become. Perhaps we might call her a midwife too.

It’s a gift and an energy she brings into her work with Baptist Women in Ministry every single day. To churches tiptoeing toward fuller celebration of women, to search committees fretting about their church’s readiness to call a woman senior pastor (can you imagine?!), to women ministers whose past has been fraught with the aches and pains of patriarchy, to the aforementioned “midwives of a movement” whose courageous imagination made possible the landscape that people like me enjoy today, to women seeking community, looking for jobs, and finding scholarships, even to a Southern Baptist Convention who, year after year, draws tighter the circle of purity around women in leadership, Meredith offers her steadfast grace. Though she can’t walk us all through the forest and gently call us back to ourselves, she loves all as they are and into who they can become. 

I’m deeply grateful for Meredith, and for her visit with us this weekend! Please do join us on Sunday, friends!

Together in God’s work of Love,Pastor Emily