“An Invitation to Becoming”  by Rev. Bailey Edwards Nelson, Senior Pastor, Flat Rock Baptist Church, Mt. Airy, NC

There is nothing more difficult than realizing that you have been called to do something, or perhaps be something, that will most likely bring the disapproval of others.  As a young girl I loved visiting the community pool and playing with my friends, though I did prefer one game that might have seemed a bit unusual to other children.  While some kids played games of tag and water basketball in the deep end of the pool, I could be found in the shallow end.  You see, that was the only place where my feet would touch the bottom and allow me to stand up straight as I baptized each one of my friends.  Yes, I was the girl who spoke aloud the words she had heard her pastor speak so many times before, “I baptize you now in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Buried with Christ in baptism, raised to walk in a new kind of life”.  I have to admit that my “candidates” were not always cooperative, or even willing, but I was preparing for what I thought I would be doing for the rest of my life.  I was certain that God had called me into ministry, though I did not yet have the language of pastor and preacher.  I only knew that I was meant to help people, love and care for them, and share the story of Jesus as it had been shared with me.  It was simple……but not for long. 

I have recently seen my calling come into full fruition, as I was called as Pastor of a small church in Mount Airy, NC (yes, the real Mayberry).  The road to Flat Rock Baptist Church was filled with great success and affirmation, as well as pain and rejection, as I struggled alongside sisters in the ministry to find my voice and place of service.  I was called every name in the book, and assured time and again that I must certainly be “misinterpreting God’s call”, so when I found myself standing in front of a congregation and with tears in my eyes accepting their invitation to serve them as their pastor, I once again felt the way I did in that swimming pool.  The spirit of God poured out on a daughter, knees shaking at the task before me, yet overwhelmed with joy at the thought that I was receiving an invitation….an invitation to become.  

Sadly, there are those that would seek to drown out the voice of the Holy beckoning to me, and replace it with the sounds of hate and oppression.  My church, for being willing to call a person and not a gender, was quickly ousted from the local Baptist association.  Signs proclaiming, “Women cannot be pastors, according to God’s Law”, went up at in town churches, while other pastors decided to preach sermons railing against my presence as a “devil sent distraction” meant only to destroy “biblical purity”.  With all this static, how could anyone expect to hear, much less interpret, the voice of God?  

Luckily for me, the voice of the God who calls came through loud and clear in the form of church members who proudly proclaimed me as a beloved friend and pastor, as well as countless e-mails and phone calls from clergy and laity around the world expressing support and affirmation.  Our church is not just surviving, it is thriving, and as for me…..well, I remain confident in the knowledge that I am called, and by the grace of God, still becoming.