Thursday Thoughts
     Phillips Memorial Baptist Church

Phillips Memorial Baptist Church
565 Pontiac Avenue
Cranston, Rhode Island  02910

401-467-3300

pmbcoffice565@gmail.com

Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton: phillipsmemorialpastor@gmail.com

  Pastor Amy's Thursday Thoughts

Thursday Thoughts

When we Forget our History

by Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton on 06/13/24

For the past few years, every time June comes around I find myself caught up in the dog and pony show of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. As you know, the SBC is often in the news for its very conservative stances on just about everything. You may not know that once the Baptists in the North (many of whom are now part of ABC-USA) and the Baptists in the South (many of whom are now the SBC) were once part of the same loosely affiliated movement. The Northern and Southern Baptists split in 1845 over the question of whether a slaveholder could be elected as a Baptist missionary. Now we still share a name, which can be very confusing to outsiders. (This is a very loosely summarized history.)

Word has just come out that the SBC convention delegates voted 91% in favor of ousting First Baptist Church of Alexandria because the church affirms women in ministry. Although their Senior Minister is currently male, they affirm that women can serve as senior ministers. And although on paper the SBC shares our history of affirming local church autonomy, they continue to disfellowship churches for being in disagreement with denominational polity that prohibits women ministers.

Oh how easy it is to forget what movements the Spirit has already made in history! The first SBC woman to be ordained, Addie Davis at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC, happened in 1964 - 60 years ago![1] The first Baptist woman known to be ordained was M. A. Brennan in 1876 at Bellevernon Freewill Baptist Church in PA (Phillips was Freewill Baptist at its founding) - 148 years ago! Baptist women were, of course, preaching and teaching long before those first ordinations.[2] But, Baptists are just babies in the history of the church - we weren’t born until 1500 years after Mary Magdalene proclaimed Christ risen!

The history of women in ordained ministry is complicated, ebbing and flowing alongside patriarchy. In the ancient catacombs in Rome, there are numerous painted frescoes depicting women praying publicly and breaking bread (what we call communion). Women are recorded in ancient writings as missionaries, ministers, and partners with Paul and other men whose names we remember. 34% of the women the apostle Paul commends by name are women![3] Mary Magdalene was the first at Christ’s tomb in all four Gospels, which means the first person to proclaim the risen Christ was a woman. Women clearly served in many leadership capacities in the generations of the church that are remembered in Scripture and even a few hundred years into church history - until patriarchal power structures tried to shut them up.

Obviously our congregation doesn’t need convincing that women should be in ministry - y’all unanimously voted to call one as your minister two years ago. And as I come upon my two year anniversary of serving as your minister (June 26th!), I am reminded that while the Spirit continues to call women (and men) to serve in various ministerial capacities, the complicated history of the church recognizing the Spirit’s freedom to call whoever the Spirit desires to call continues.

When the Spirit fell on that room of scared disciples on the first Pentecost, Peter stood up and proclaimed that despite public perception, the disciples were not drunk - they were simply filled with the Spirit. He recalled for them the words of Joel 2:28-32 - reminding all who had gathered that the Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh.” This included sons, daughters, young men, old men, and male and female slaves. These folx would then prophesy and preach the good news. All of them.

Friends, my prayer is that we would never limit the Spirit’s work by pretending that it is our responsibility to determine who God calls, who the Spirit fills, and whose voices are worthy of proclaiming the risen Lord. That’s not our job. Our job is only to be open to the Spirit’s presence in the lives of those whom the Spirit has called.

I would ask you all to be in prayer for our sisters in the SBC and other spaces where they have been called and yet are being silenced.

Blessings,

Pastor Amy


[1] For the history of women’s ordinations in the SBC see Elizabeth H. Flowers’ Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power since World War II (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[2] For our early history of women preachers see Curtis W. Freeman’s edited volume, A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England: A Reader (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011).

[3] Elizabeth Gillan Muir, A Women’s History of the Christian Church (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), 5.

Waves of Mercy

by Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton on 06/06/24

Yesterday evening we tried out a new beach near Pt. Judith (well, the beach is actually rather ancient, but we had never been there!). Being so early in the season, it was a bit chilly when we arrived. This did not, of course, keep my teen from swimming. Meanwhile her mother did some beach combing (and found beach glass!), reading, and general appreciation and observation of the ocean. (I attribute this difference in preferred beach activities to my having been raised on the Oregon coast and her having been raised on the California coast.)

 

The ocean always feels like a sacred place to me. Between the smells, the feel of the sand under my feet, the sounds of kids playing, and the lap of the waves, I almost always leave feeling relaxed and at peace. Even a gray and stormy day at the beach will do this for me. What a gift the ocean is!

 

A few months back I was reading Revelation 21 in a funeral service and was struck once again by John’s proclamation that in his vision of the end, “the sea was no more” (21:1). As much as I love the ocean, the people of Biblical times were much more ambivalent toward it. The ocean was a source of food and transportation, but it was also a source of chaos. It was moody, dangerous, and a route of transportation by which enemies came and invaded. Revelation is telling people that the chaos and uncertainty of the world will be gone in the end - but does it have to do away with the ocean?!

 

The Bible isn’t all doom and gloom about the sea. In Psalm 98:7 the sea is invited to praise the Lord: “let the sea roar, and all that fills it!” Genesis 1 tells us that God created the seas and sea animals. Jeremiah 5 reminds us that the sea remains under God’s commands, “I placed the sand as a boundary for the sea, a perpetual barrier that it cannot pass; though the waves toss, they cannot prevail, though they roar, they cannot pass over it” (5:22).

 

This summer I hope that you get to spend some time at the ocean, contemplating its power and beauty. While I do pray that God’s presence rights this world of chaos and uncertainty, I’m also hopeful that this beautiful part of God’s creation will be redeemed along with the rest of God’s good creation. Afterall, the Psalmists believed that the ocean’s waves could praise God!

 

Blessings,

 

Pastor Amy

Dancing Through Grief

by Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton on 05/30/24

I spent this past weekend at Kripalu (a yoga retreat center in the Berkshires), where I participated in a weekend of yoga, rest, and dance at the “Dance Your Heart Out/Shake Your Soul” retreat.  While I rarely let anyone but my daughter see my dance moves, at Kripalu I found myself in a room of people, sometimes dancing together while the instructor led, sometimes on my own in a room of joyous dancing people, sometimes in partners or triads. I went because the director of the somatic therapy training program I participated in for the past few years was leading and in large part because I want to bring more embodied spiritual practices to our own community.

We Western Christians are good at praying with our brains, but we forget that God also created our breath and our bodies and we can pray with those too. In the second creation story we read that God made a human from the fertile topsoil and then “breathed into [his] nostrils the breath of life, and the [man] became a living creature” (Gen. 2:7). This text kept coming to mind as I did yoga and danced - my breath is God’s breath and my body part of God’s good and joyous creation.

As someone who loves intellectual pursuits, it is a challenge to drop out of my mind and into the rest of me - into my hands and arms and legs and feet and heart that beats and lungs that breathe. But, having spent a weekend exploring prayer and connection to God’s creation through breath and movement, I came home with a feeling of calm that was palpable.

I also arrived home to discover that while I was away and off my phone (Kripalu policy!), Israel had attacked Rafah and women and children already fleeing violence were burned to death in their tents. How does someone look at another human and believe that person should be dead? How does someone forget that the other person is also part of God’s good creation, that their bodies were also given life by the breath of God?

All of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures can be summed up in this way: Love God and love one another. While Jesus proclaimed this to be a new commandment in John 13:34 (I give you a new commandment: Love one another), this was already a teaching in Judaism. Leviticus 19:18 similarly exhorts people to love one another, “You shall not  take vengeance or bear a grudge…but you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus showed what loving one another looked like, but God had always expected this of God’s people.

Who here has experienced this imbalance of joy and grief, of peace and turmoil? Who here has been discouraged when the world is so violent and wondered what difference their own peacemaking faith and life can even make? Oh – I’m not alone?!

I won’t be trite and say “just dance your way to joy!” But, I might say that when the news of people hurting people weighs you down, don’t give up your journey toward being someone who brings God’s radically inclusive love to the world. Ecclesiastes 3:4 says there is a time to weep and a time to dance - sometimes we have to do both things at once. And if what you need to do to keep the course of faith is to dance through the grief, then turn up the music and let your muscles, bones, connective tissues, heart, and lungs that God created move in rhythm with the tunes and let your heart break, heal, and connect with the Spirit who enlivens you. Because God knows that this world needs a few more people connected to the movements of the Spirit, able to love the world around them with an overflow of joy.

Blessings,

Pastor Amy

PS - Michael Franti & Spearhead’s “Show Me Your Peace Sign” is a good song to dance to when the violence of the world breaks our heart once again.

The Next Big Thing

by Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton on 05/23/24

June is a month of transitions - especially for students and teachers. The preschool children at Little Shepherd have been going to and from the sanctuary all week to practice for their upcoming graduation. I spent the other evening at the Honor Society awards night for my own daughter, who is graduating highschool in just a few weeks. Our teachers are finishing up an academic year and starting their much deserved summer break before they return next year to a fresh crop of students.

Life is full of transitions, from our first breath to our last. Some of them are large transitions - moves, graduations, marriages, divorces, job changes - and some of them are small - outgrowing your favorite shoes or pants (for kids or adults!). Growing up programs us to ask and expect that there will be a NEXT BIG THING, a graduation, a job change, a move. I don’t know about you, but I find it easy to get caught in trying to figure out and control what that NEXT BIG THING is.

Even Jesus worried about the next big thing. Remember the time he knew his end was near and he spent the night praying in the garden with his sleepy friends who couldn’t stay awake with him in his own dark night of the soul? That night he was “distressed and agitated,” “deeply grieved” and begged God to change what he was facing (Mark 14:32-36).

What I want to suggest is that when we are facing the NEXT BIG THING we might lower our gaze from the hoped for or feared future to what is right in front of us. Are there things we need to do now, today, to live out our faith in this world? Are there people who need to be loved now with a kind word or small act of service? And are there moments now that we might pause in prayer, much like Jesus did?

In Philippians 4, Paul encouraged his readers to substitute worry for prayer. “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (4:6-7).

So, during this month of transitions for our students and educators and during lifetimes full of transitions, I encourage you to find some moments in your day to take your eyes off the NEXT BIG THING and look around you. How can you love and serve and pray now?

And, when you get a moment, send some prayers up for our students and educators that they will finish this year strong and that the Spirit might guide them into whatever is next!

Blessings,

Pastor Amy

Let the Little Children

by Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton on 05/16/24

This time of year leaves those who have children in their lives in a state of shock - how is the school year already over? And, how are these kids already old enough to finish this grade?! I’m reeling a bit over the fact that my daughter is about to graduate from highschool and a week later will be at college orientation. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?! Children really do pull us into the future at a breakneck speed.

I love that each May we celebrate the PMBC kiddos with our Children and Youth Sunday. This year it coincides with Pentecost (May 19th). I cannot imagine a better text than Acts 2:17-18 for the Sunday on which our young people will lead us in worship. 

In the days to come–it is our God who speaks–I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind. Your daughters and sons will prophesy, your young people will see visions, and your elders will dream dreams. Even on the most insignificant of my people, both women and men, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.[1]

There aren’t a lot of references to children in the Bible, especially not in the New Testament. The childhood death rate was high and children had little social power. But, we do have that little story in Matthew 19:13-15 in which the disciples try to shoo the clamoring kids away and Jesus stops them from doing so and blesses the kids. I guess they didn’t hear Jesus tell them they had to become like children to enter the kingdom, had to welcome children, and had better not harm a child (Matthew 18:1-7)!

We love our kids and youth here at PMBC. But, what if beyond just being thankful they are here and enjoying the children’s story we also remembered that when the Spirit came upon the church on its day of birth, the promise was that young people would also be God’s spokespeople? If we remembered that, we might seek out their wisdom more often or look around at how they are making themselves heard nationally and globally and ask ourselves how God is speaking through them. Youth are often the folx who are not yet encumbered by social norms and more bravely speak out the truth of what they see.

So, on this Pentecost, remember that the children were always part of the Spirit’s promise. Perhaps look around at the young people in your life and ask yourself how you can be more like them. And definitely come and be led by them in worship this Sunday!

Blessings,

Pastor Amy



[1] The Inclusive Bible.