I grew up in a house with a mother who greatly disliked Halloween. In fact, I remember one year when there was no candy in the house so the one trick-or-treater who came to our door received a can of soup. Really.
A few years before that, as a first grader at South Newton Elementary School, I needed a costume for our annual Halloween Carnival and costume contest. My mother, never one for the store-bought costume, decided that I should dress up as Carol Burnett’s cleaning woman character, the one seen at the beginning of her television show. Some of you might remember what I’m describing but I’m guessing this reference will be lost on anyone under the age of 40.
I distinctly remember being on the stage with the other costumed kids, walking in a circle in front of the judges as they considered the display of Halloween finery. I walked around with a feather duster, dusting pretend furniture as I went. Somehow I knew my costume wasn’t typical, but I knew it was original. And although I didn’t win anything that night, I began to realize that my mother wanted something different for me. She wanted me to stand out even if I felt uncomfortable in the process.
Before you decide my mother is not going to win “Mother of the Year” based on these stories, know that she is a wonderful woman who has set an amazing example of unconditional love and consistent guidance before me and my family through the years. Looking back, I see what she hoped to accomplish by pushing me down different paths. She knew the opportunities that would come along simply by standing out from the crowd.
As a woman minister in a Baptist church, I suppose I do my share of standing out. I realize there are a few in my church family who didn’t support my ordination or the eventual change of my title to Associate Pastor. And I know there are some who will describe my occasional preaching as “speaking” or, as my ordained minister sister experienced, “giving a little talk.” But the interesting thing for me is that the flip side of these supposed slights can be just as frustrating. When my ministry is going well and everyone seems completely in tune with me and leadership I am providing, I am tempted to wonder why someone isn’t making a bigger deal of me-—the woman minister. I know, I know . . . ego trip, anyone? I can hear Jesus’ words ringing loud and clear as I think about this temptation to stand out: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. (Matthew 16:24 NLT) The ultimate goal is ministry, not finding more ways to be outstanding.
And I realize that when I have asked myself, “When do you feel most like a minister?” that the answer I come up with every time comes down to words just a few may hear or actions just a few may see—ministry that takes place along the way, not in the big events and gestures but in small ways and in the midst of the daily routine.
So how do I put “standing out from the crowd” in the right context? How do I keep it from reflecting self-centeredness and instead reflect a desire to honor God, especially as I have come to realize the ways God works when we aren’t standing in the limelight?
For me, part of the answer lies in recognizing the ultimate goal—to glorify God with my life. I am free to follow God’s leadership and to listen to the Spirit as the Spirit speaks in so many ways. I may be standing in front or I may be sitting on the back pew, but one thing I can be sure of: I am an original creation, created in the image of God. My mother had that divine idea; she knew the truth well before I even considered my capabilities.
Now I want to teach my own children that they hold endless possibilities. I want them to know that God has gifted them in wonderful ways that they are just beginning to discover. And I want them to remember that standing out from the crowd isn’t an end in itself—but it may just give them a better view of how they fit best into God’s family.
But I do need to say to my mother that I still think sending me to school that day in 8th grade with the multi-colored leg warmers and clogs was a very bad idea. . .
Reverend Shannon Stewart Hall is the mother of three children: Jonathan—15, Chloe—12, and Caroline—5, who have worn their share of store-bought Halloween costumes through the years. Shannon and her wonderfully supportive husband, David, have been married for 21 years. Shannon, who graduated from Converse College and New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, is Associate Pastor of Music and Family Ministries at First Baptist Church in Graham, North Carolina. David teaches high school science in the Alamance County School System.