Category Archives: Easter 2016

Christina Ryan Perkins: Blessings and Dust

When  you go to a home, give it your blessing of peace. If the home is deserving, let your blessing remain with them. But if the home isn’t deserving, take back your blessing of peace. If someone won’t welcome you or listen to your message, leave their home or town. And shake the dust from your feet at them. —Matthew 10:12-14

Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that city. And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them. —Luke 9:4-5

When you’re in seventh grade, building friendships is difficult. I remember the time my best friend from fourth grade, Gemma, decided to host a small slumber party. She invited only three girls: Angel, Mary, and myself. About two hours after Angel and I arrived, Gemma called Mary and asked her if she was still coming. Mary replied, “No, I don’t like Christina, so I don’t want to go anywhere she is.”

I was confused. Mary and I had been in the same school for four months. We did have any of the same classes and our parents didn’t know any of the same people. The only thing Mary and I had in common was that we had both recently been cut from the basketball team during tryouts. I thought to myself, “why doesn’t she like me? She doesn’t even know me. Everyone likes me.”



That wasn’t really true. I had always been a victim of bullies. They each picked different reasons to bully me: my petite size, my glasses, the eye patch I wore in early elementary school to “train” my bad eye to work, my being a Protestant attending an almost all Catholic school, my academic talents… the list was endless. People didn’t like me. In fact, they seemed to seek out reasons to not like me.

Yet I still stand by the intentions behind what twelve year old me thought to myself. “Why doesn’t she like me? I’ve not done anything to make anyone not like me.” Then and now, I go out of my way to help and support people. Being a pastor, I see the best in people. I see the promise of perfection in each individual. As an adult and a pastor, I still ask myself, “why doesn’t she or he like me? I have been caring, compassionate, and welcoming.”

Recently, I relived a very vivid experience with the kind of bullying common in many churches. Every Sunday I would welcome people at the door and ask about their family members, their health, the recent concert or ballgame their child participated in. Week after week I received the “grocery store answer.” The response you give the acquaintance you sometimes run into at the grocery store. The person you ‘know’ but for whatever reason don’t really know all that well but still wish to be polite to just the same.

“Oh, dad is home now, thanks for asking.”

I continually send out emails filled with reflections, prayers, congratulations and thank you’s to members of the congregation for the time and services to our Lord. All these carefully crafted and thoughtful emails were left unanswered, unless it was to lob yet another complaint.

Family, friends, coworkers all saw the bullying and identified it. Once the bullying behavior was identified, I knew what to do: Be the pastor I’m called to be by shepherding them and leading them to greener pastures.

I was torn between two lessons from divinity school. The first lesson taught me that tough situations are opportunities to learn and grow. Some churches never seem to recognize that they cycle through the same mistakes time and time again. As pastors, we are called to be prophetic. We are called to speak the truth with grace and to walk the congregation through this wilderness so that once and for all it can break this cycle.

But the second lesson was just as memorable, just as important. As I left a chapel service, someone handed me a paintbrush with these opening scriptures printed on the handle. Simply put, “if they won’t welcome you, leave them and shake the dust off your feet.”

I found the first lesson as part of my calling–walking with the congregation as I lead them to a better, healthier place. So I devoted more time to the congregation. I arrived earlier. I began offering more resources and taking more time to pray.

Of course, more time spent with the congregation meant less time with my family. Unless I brought them along. One weekend we spent eight hours prepping for an event. My two children organized materials, ran errands, and helped me cook. The next day, we arrived at church three hours early. The event went off amazingly well!

But not one volunteer complimented it or thanked us for the work. The next week we headed over on Saturday again to prepare things for Sunday’s big event. Still no thanks voiced or offers to help the next week. Finally, on the fourth consecutive Saturday in a row we had dedicated to preparing everything for Sunday, my typically selfless oldest child paused to ask,

“How long are we going to be at church THIS time?”

In that moment I realized I was sacrificing our family’s weekends to serve a people ungrateful but also unreceptive. I cannot please everyone. People do not have to have a reason to dislike me. Sometimes, for reasons that make no rational sense, people are not capable of appreciating the work that goes into the things I do. Some people simply cannot be pleased and cannot receive the shepherding I am called to provide. I’m wasting my time, I’m wasting their time, and worst of all, I’m wasting the few valuable moments I have with my children.

That is when I realized the second most memorable lesson from divinity school was the most important. I was not received and it was time to go. My best way for me to be their pastor is to open the door for someone they will receive. To hold onto that door and keep trying would be the worst failure of all. The realization freed me–healed me.

I am holding hands with my children as we skip freely away, the dust is flying off our feet, blessing the congregation all the way home.


Christina Ryan Perkins is a graduate of Campbell University Divinity School and a ministry mom living in  Fort Wayne, Indiana and serving as the Interim Pastor at First Baptist Church, Huntington Indiana.

Kheresa Harmon: The Mystery of Prayer


We can spend a lifetime struggling to understand how, or even if, our prayers are answered. We beg for the diagnosis not to be cancer. We silently cry for this pregnancy test to be positive. We scream out to God for her not to die today. We groan for the relationship to be restored. We bargain with God to fix it, whatever it may be, one more time. We struggle. Did God hear us? Did God answer us? Why did it turn out this way? Where is God?

We can spend a lifetime struggling with prayer.

A 402 mile bus ride drove my nine-year-old son, Timothy, to his knees. As dusk’s delicate fingers slowly pulled the curtain on Maundy Thursday, my son became sick. He was very sick. Tears welled up in his fearful eyes. Timothy looked frantically at me and pleaded, “Please pray!”

The charter bus swayed and lurched along I-85 South. Timothy rested limply in his seat and I kneeled on the floor. He and I forgot about the other children, their parents, and his teachers. I begged God to take away the headache and the nausea. I begged. The bus swayed and I prayed, “Please help Timothy not be scared, Jesus. Please make your face known to him right now.”

Maundy Thursday darkened. The bus swayed and lurched. Timothy’s nausea and pain intensified. Somewhere along I-85 South in Gaston County, Timothy’s prayer was not answered.

Or was it?

With his eyes closed and his little head resting against the bus’s window, Timothy whispered, “Before I threw up, I was not scared anymore. I just felt safe and that, no matter what happened to me, I would be O.K.”

Good Friday dawned, and health was restored to my son. Timothy and I spent the better part of that holy day reflecting on the sacred moment of prayerful struggle that happened in my son’s life a few hours earlier.

In a swaying bus on a dark Maundy Thursday evening, Timothy struggled with prayer. In his struggle, Timothy grasped what it was that makes prayer so powerful. He did not get what he wanted. The pulsing pain in Timothy’s head did not abate. The nausea would not loosen its grip on him. Timothy vomited, in a bag, on a charter bus filled with peers.

Timothy did not get from God what he asked (nor did Jesus on the first Maundy Thursday, for that matter). Timothy did get precisely what he needed – God’s peaceful presence.

Our model for prayer and the struggle with it is captured perfectly in Jesus’s words in Matthew 6:9-13, and especially in verse 11 – “Give us this day our daily bread.” Our good and gracious God gives us exactly what we need for each minute of the day, even when we are ignorant of our own needs.

What we need is God. We are given God.

Timothy got God’s yes! As the bus swayed and lurched along I-85 South, Timothy felt the powerful presence of the God who is with us. Timothy was not alone. We are never alone, for our God is with us.

The mind-boggling beauty of God’s presence with us is that God’s presence with us is God suffering with us. God does not merely carry us. God holds our hand and groans with our pains as we struggle along this swaying, lurching journey called life.

That is more powerful than a prayerful petition answered simply the way we want it to be.


Kheresa Harmon is married to Steve Harmon and they are the parents of a fourth-grader named Timothy.  A graduate of Campbell University Divinity School, Kheresa serves as the Director of Admissions for the School of Divinity at Gardner-Webb University.

Ashley Neese Mangrum: Remembering Tabitha

In the days and weeks following Pentecost, armed with the new indwelling of the Spirit, Jesus’ disciples were experiencing God in radical ways. A foreign eunuch is baptized on the side of the road; a zealous persecutor turned Christ-follower becomes the church’s greatest missionary; a Roman centurion known as a God-fearer sits waiting for the gospel and radically changes the nature of the church and its mission; and Peter, the denier, is its leader. People who were believed to be dead to God had received God’s spirit, too, and were given a new life and a new home in the Body of Christ.

Wedged in between the famous, radical stories of Saul-turned-Paul and the Roman centurion named Cornelius is a little known woman named Tabitha (Acts 9:36-43). Tabitha is not known by her prestige or position of influence, wealth or the brand of her shoes. She is not known by the names of her husband or children, by her great accomplishments or the size of her jeans. She is known by her kindness. Those who know her associate her name with the overflow of kindness and compassion that fills her days. She is known as Jesus’ disciple.

Tabitha takes her place in the Acts of the Apostles alongside men who did great and spectacular deeds in the name of God–healing, preaching, baptising. She accompanies men who were given life-changing dreams.

But the most flashy thing Tabitha does is die. She dies and everyone mourns and Peter is called. Peter had become known for his healing ability–God’s ability to heal, rather. Peter walks into a room heavy with grief and sorrow where Tabitha’s lifeless body had been lain. He kneels beside what is left of her and prays. And when the time is right, he speaks to her saying, “Tabitha, arise.” Tabitha opens her eyes. Peter reaches for her hand and helps her up. She is raised to walk in newness of life. Tabitha’s life is restored to her but also to those around her, for she most certainly continued in the kindness and compassion for which she was known.

Many read Tabitha’s story and miss Tabitha altogether. Her story is often told as the story of Peter. He is the one doing the healing, after all. But we know that is not true. God is the healer. Peter was simply the faithful conduit. I think Tabitha is wedged in between the remarkable stories of our church’s early days to remind us that being Jesus’ disciple is not just about preaching or baptising, dreaming dreams, healing, or having breadth of influence. Her story teaches us not to get caught up in the flashy and miss the true work of a disciple: acts of kindness and compassion. Deeds that often go unseen and almost always overlooked, as is Tabitha. It is a call to each of us to be like this woman–ministers and disciples known for our abundance of kindness and compassion.

Whether or not we have the kindness and compassion part down, we have each been Tabitha at one time or another. Each of us has been knocked off our feet, laying lifeless in a room thick with sorrow, unable to open our eyes, and instead we see only darkness. The life we knew has been lost. And each of us have been in desperate need of a Peter, someone to sit beside us in the sorrow, pray fervently, and when the time is right, help us get up. We have all needed someone to take our hand and walk beside us.

This is the role of a minister.

As I call each of us to be Tabitha, known by our acts of kindness, I cannot help but recognize that we are also called to be Peter.

A few months ago, I stood at the bedside of a man known for his deeds of genuine kindness and compassion, a disciple often overlooked and taken for granted much like Tabitha. I knelt beside his motionless body and prayed with all my might. I spoke to him saying, “Open your eyes, Dad.” My father, the most faithful and sincere minister I know, was not dead, but he lied in a comatose state after suffering a tragic accident and sustaining a traumatic brain injury.

In addition to my role as minister-mother, I was also now minister-daughter. Perhaps I always have been, but tragedy has a way of bringing the role of minister to the forefront. (Luckily, I also have a minister-brother with unwavering strength and faith.)

To minister to the one who has always ministered to you, to care for the one who has always taken care of you–this is hard. It requires us to wade through even more emotional baggage and fear. We can never separate ourselves from the context in which we were raised, the people and places that shaped us (the good and the bad) into the women and ministers we are today. Ministering with our contexts behind us is a different thing altogether than returning to our contexts to minister within it. Your role as minister-daughter is coming, and for many of you, it has already come. My hope is that we would be as diligent in the role of minister-daughter as we are in the role of minister-mother. I hope that we will be kind and compassionate, quick to pray, and bold enough to speak truth, hope, and restoration.

My dad did not open his eyes, at least not right away. But he did eventually, and I felt as Peter must have felt on that day long ago beside Tabitha: amazed at the power of God to bring light in the darkness and hope when all seems to lost; honored to witness first-hand God’s healing and restorative work in the world.

I don’t pretend to understand healing or our role in it. But watching God work in my dad’s mind and body on the long road to recovery, sheds new light on the story of Tabitha. To be a disciple is to live by kindness and compassion. And to be a minister is to be quick to pray, first and foremost. To be a minister is also to be a faithful conduit of God’s hope. It is to enter into the places of sorrow and remain there for a while, and when the time is right, we take a hand in ours and help her up. The same power that opened Jesus’ eyes and raised him up, the same power that flowed through Peter and into Tabitha’s lifeless body, is present with us even now. We have the ability to speak life and healing, to be the conduit of restoration, the presenter of hope in the midst of sorrow and grief.

So, blessings to you who are like Tabitha for the sincere kindness and genuine compassion that marks your days makes the world a holier place.

And blessings to you who are like Peter for being quick to pray and a faithful conduit of God’s healing and restorative work, helping us see the world anew.


Ashley Mangrum is a minister and mother of two living in Davidson, North Carolina with her husband, Ben. She is especially thankful right now for good conversations with her minister-father, Shelby, who continues to make a miraculous recovery. In her free time, Ashley is an aspiring artist and cupcake connoisseur.



LeAnn Gardner: The Church as Redeemed Hypocrites


Because Charleston is one of the top three destination wedding cities, I find myself officiating a good amount of weddings. If I’m really lucky, I get to engage in premarital coaching with those couples. The conversations include the “major” topics of marriage: sex, finances, communication, conflict, family relationships, and spirituality.

Most of the couples I marry tend to say the same thing: “We are spiritual, but not religious.” I have heard this phrase so much that I sigh when I hear it. When I ask couples what they mean, they usually say something along these lines: “Church people are hypocrites. We don’t think it’s necessary to be involved in church. I find God in nature and through art. I don’t need to go to church to feel connected.”

Admittedly, I have a bias. I’m a minister and I’m also a church member. I grew up in the church. I went to a Baptist high school, Baptist college and Baptist graduate school. My paternal grandfather was a Baptist minister. I have been “saturated” in church (and Baptist) culture. Growing up, I did not have extended family around and so church friends became family. I still attend church with people who kept me in the nursery and taught me Sunday School.

However, I also have also been hurt by the church two significant times, once when I was a young adult and the second as a young professional, which caused me to question my vocational calling and sense of self. I have seen the gross underbelly of God’s people (including me) who have fallen short of their callings. They, and I, have indeed been, and are currently engaging in hypocritical behaviors. I have seen churches harm people and even commit spiritual abuse. I recoil when I see churches endorse fear, hatred, discrimination and isolation.

But, yet. I keep waking up my children and taking them to church, to learn about God’s big love and lavish grace. I keep taking them to Wednesday night suppers, so that they learn that their family includes a church family, a chosen family with whom we break bread. They will learn that these people are not perfect, but that they are human and, if they are brave, these people, their people, live in the truth that they are forgiven and loved.

Last week at our Maundy Thursday service, we took our two boys to the nursery where they usually go during worship times. Our eldest who is 4, uncharacteristically had a hard time separating from us. We decided, spur of the moment, to take him to the service, a very solemn preparation for the most serious two days of the church calendar. He had never been to a service, so we were nervous. He did quite well.

At the end of the service, our pastors served communion via intinction, where the bread is dipped into the juice. I had never thought about this scenario- whether he would receive communion before he was baptized. I found myself walking up to the front with my active 4 year old and he pulled a crumb of bread from the plate the pastor offered. It wasn’t quite enough to “intinct,” so I dipped my bigger piece and put it in his mouth. I gave my son the elements, as a mama and a minister.*

There are many communities of people who love and care for each other well. Our neighborhood is one of them. I recently stumbled upon a post where someone was so sick she could not leave the house to get medicine. She posted humbly on Facebook that she really needed Ginger Ale. Within seconds, someone (whom she did not know) had volunteered to go to the store and deliver what was needed on her porch. Although not explicitly done in the name of Christ, this was a Christ like action.

But what makes the church different? My couples would say that they give and receive in the way my neighbor did and do not need a formal church in which to live out selfless and loving lives. I get that, I really do.

But the richness in the faith tradition for me is that when we participate in the ritual of the Eucharist, we acknowledge that we are indeed hypocrites, but that we are redeemable and are seeking redemption, both through Christ and the relationships he gives us in which to live out that redemption. I want my sons to grow up experiencing the mystery of taking bread and wine with people who are in our circle because of our desire to love and live Christlike lives, and because we are broken and in need of redemption.

So…to those couples, I say: churches are indeed full of hypocrites. There is no denial of brokenness when you walk up an aisle to receive the Sacraments of remembrance, grace and forgiveness. Like Alcoholics Anonymous, church people (on a good day), readily admit they need help.

Thanks be to God for the redeemed hypocrites with whom we share our lives.

*About 5 minutes after we sat down from taking Communion through intinction (bread dipped in a chalice), my son loud-whispered, “Mama, that stuff I drank from the Piston Cup was yucky!” There is nothing like your child reminding you of the everyday-ness of the elements, especially as related to Lighning McQueen.


LeAnn Gardner is a right brained social worker and minister married to a left brained engineer. Together they (sometimes) compose a full brain. She is mother to two boys, ages 3 1/2 and 1 year.