I am devouring (in small bites) David Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character, which delineates how one grows toward a life of integrity, moral character, and service. He writes of varied influential persons of the 20th century and how they experienced a “summoning of the self” through the unique circumstances of their lives. Of course, they had to be paying attention.
One example, Dorothy Day, was not known for probity; she lived a wanton life—until she had a daughter. The lens through which she viewed life shifted, and she sought to make a better world not only for this one in her care, but also for all who were relegated to impoverishment and brutal living and working conditions.
Brooks observes that as character is formed, one’s livelihood can become a calling, and one lives for more than his or her own well being. This is vocation, and persons’ lives “would be unrecognizable unless they pursued this line of activity,” he writes.
I surely know this to be true. As a 12 year old girl, I was invited to consider ministry—although I am sure what my pastor had in mind did not include the pathway I have taken! Later, as I observed the marginalization of women in the church, I experienced the “summoned self.” I perceived that it would not get better for them in congregational life until it got better at the places where ministers receive preparation, the seminaries.
The CBF General Assembly was in Dallas, and Central sent a good contingent. (This month is full of Baptist fiestas, as my friend and sister theologian Nora Lozano calls them.) I was joyfully surprised when I learned that Baptist Women in Ministry was giving me the Distinguished Mentor Award, “for more than thirty years of faithful and grace-filled mentoring of students, ministers, and leaders,” as the plaque says. Forgive me for trumpeting this recognition, but I am deeply moved by it.
Accompanying men and women preparing for ministry is my life’s work, and my life would be unrecognizable without this distinctive privilege. God did not grant me children, but instead gave me students in abundance. I celebrate their vocations as they have pursued well-lived lives of Christian ministry.
I am pretending that “distinguished” is not a euphemism for old, and thus I am focusing on the word “mentor.” We can learn many things through books and classroom discussion, but there are dimensions of character that can only be learned through the intersection of life with mentors.
My most memorable youth minister, Margrette Stevenson, offered encouragement to a mischievous adolescent girl, stirring up gifts for ministry. I remember observing the graceful life of Dr. Rowena Strickland, teacher of Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, surely a pioneer as a scholar and mentor. I remember Dr. Roy Honeycutt saying he would hire women in the School of Theology when some were qualified, and he made good on his promise. I remember Dr. Dale Moody wrestling with the ordination of women as his daughter presented herself, and then finding ways to encourage others. I remember Rev. Sue Fitzgerald, pastor to mountain preachers, always finding ways to strength their ministries. And there are many more.
God summon our lives through events and perceptive others. I am grateful for mentors and for the opportunity to help shape the church through those preparing for ministry now.
Molly T. Marshall