by Scott Stearman
Alliance of Baptists' congregational partners have been ordaining and calling whomever they perceived as gifted for ministry, male or female, for three decades. Women pastor nearly 30 percent of Alliance churches. This year’s annual gathering in St. Louis will celebrate the successes, lament the continued inequity, and open up our imaginations for more of God’s diversity in ministry leadership.
I first met Traci Blackmon in a synagogue. This seems strange to say of a white Baptist preacher and an African-American UCC pastor. But the days following the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.,
were nothing but extraordinary. We were together at the Central Reform Congregation planning the clergy response to the needs in our community.
Traci and I had been in the same room on a number of occasions through the years. Cecelia (my wife) had started a community gospel choir that performed all over the city including Ferguson before Brown’s death. I had been very involved in racial reconciliation events through my years in St. Louis. But we’d never met until the tragic circumstances of that day in August 2014.
What I experienced that day, and since, was as rare as precious stones and for our broken world, more valuable. It was that exceptional combination of three elements that so many of us hold, but without her beautiful balance: a vibrant, energetic, and authentic faith, an uncompromising call to make this world better, and the wisdom to know how to bring her heart, head, and hands to the task of doing so.
Although Traci has her M.Div. from Eden Seminary, I was not surprised to learn that she spent years as a licensed RN. She brings the head of a trained healer, the heart of a compassionate minister, and the hands of one who knows you can’t fix the world by hiding in your study 24/7.
A couple of examples: She founded the Sista SOS Summit, an intergenerational symposium designed to assist women toward spiritual and sexual wholeness and co-founded “When Women Gather…,” a monthly ecumenical gathering committed to facilitating the spiritual growth and development of women by studying the Bible through the lens of women.
Traci was the first woman pastor in the 156-year history of Christ The King United Church of Christ, Ferguson where she still serves. As of last fall she travels from St. Louis to Cleveland where she overseas the Justice initiatives of the United Church of Christ.
There are iconic images of Traci that have made international news. I think of her locked arm and arm with protestors like Cornel West and Jim Wallis, pictures of her many hours on the streets seeking to comfort the oppressed and dis-comfort the oppressors.
But the image that hangs pre-eminent in my mind is that of her with a hurting woman. Traci had agreed to be the speaker at my installation as pastor at the Metro Baptist Church, New York City. After an inspiring sermon and a lovely service, she took significant time to help another hurting soul. That is a picture of her heart. We all live in a better world because God gave her the brains and practical courage to put that compassion to work.
Scott Stearman is pastor at Metro Baptist Church, New York City and a long-time Alliance supporter. He previously served as pastor at Kirkwood Baptist Church, St. Louis, which will host our 2016 Annual Gathering.
Left- Scott Stearman
Right- Traci Blackmon