Nothing in the program guide suggested I might slip through a time portal during worship. I’m sure of it; I would have noticed.
Sure, the theme of the 34th annual convocation for Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina, “Storied Futures: We Journey Together,” promised a creative and interactive worship experience. Still, I certainly did not expect to slip back and forth between the year 2017 at First Baptist Church of Hickory, N.C., and circa 1973 at Five Points Missionary Baptist Church of Wilson, N.C. But I’m telling you: that’s what happened.
The convocation began with formalities and introductions. Following these matters of business, we entered into a time of worship that began with a responsive reading on the convocation’s theme. The leader read a line that recalled a bit of the history of women in ministry, from the prophet Miriam to those of us in that very room; we responded with a sentence prayer for sacred remembrance and godly truth. The liturgy closed beautifully with the line, “There will be a time when all little girls will grow up knowing they can serve however God calls.”
And just like that, I was back in my third grade Sunday school room at Five Points where my daddy (not yet 40) was pastor. I landed in a memory of a teenager teaching us a song with accompanying hand signals: “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Anna Daniels, the pianist at our church from age 14 on, was always quick to help out with the kids, especially when music was involved.
Back in Hickory 2017, the music leader at BWIMNC took her place at the grand piano and turned to invite us to sing. (She’s called Anna Anderson these days, has been for longer than she was known as Anna Daniels.) Anna, now field personnel with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, has spent years in music ministry and was a natural choice for her role at the convocation. Seated on the front pew, Anna’s daughter, Leah Anderson Reed, an ordained Baptist minister herself, sang along with the congregation following her mother’s direction.
In the sanctuary of Five Points Missionary Baptist, when teenaged Anna took her seat at the piano, high schooler Dotty Ferrell slid onto the organ bench. Sunday after Sunday, Anna and Dotty were there, participating in worship leadership. Clearly, MaryBelle Daniels and Valentine Ferrell had instilled in their daughters: “Your gifts matter. You are perfectly equipped to serve in whatever way God calls.” At our church, their presence was so welcomed as to be unremarkable; it never occurred to me that women didn’t have a place in church leadership.
That morning in 2017, the veil between heaven and earth parted as Anna’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Daniels, and her younger sister, Beth, gathered around the piano. I’m sure I could have caught their eyes, but they were too focused, listening to Anna play, beaming at their beloved Leah; the three of them were as present as they had been every single Sunday at Five Points Missionary Baptist all those years ago. Others were there too. The choir loft (empty to the casual observer) was just as packed with saints who had encouraged and participated in Anna’s life of ministry in years gone by, as the congregation was with those who were being blessed by her gifts that day.
It felt to me, at least for a moment, that God’s Kingdom had indeed come to earth.
The liturgist had said, “There will be a time when all little girls will grow up knowing they can serve however God calls.” I praise God that this little girl knew that all along — thanks to Anna and Dotty and many other gifted women whose lives taught me that my story is a part of God’s story and that I am not alone on this journey of faith.