By Starlette McNeill
Members of the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship gathered at Seven Locks Baptist Church in Potomac, Md., for a meeting with Suzii Paynter, the executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
It began like any other meeting — with sign-in sheets and name badges, catch-up conversations with old colleagues and promises to spend more time with new friends, a prayer of blessing and then standing in line for food. After we talked about our congregations, made promises to spend a little less time with them in order to rest and visited the dessert table more than once, we all sat down to hear the story of MACBF churches and their leaders. It served as an introduction of the members of this year’s coordinating council, the congregants they served and why they had found their niche here.
Afterwards, Suzii stood up and changed the conversation, her opening remarks answering prayers and making the food taste even better. Describing CBF as a “denomi-network” and emphasizing the importance of our collective identity, she shared the words of Kayla Mueller, a 26-year-old Arizonan and humanitarian aid worker who was captured in Syria and killed by ISIS earlier this year. Kayla wrote to her family, “I remember mom always telling me that all in all in the end the only one you really have is God. I have come to a place in experience where, in every sense of the word, I have surrendered myself to our creator b/c literally there was no else…. + by God + by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in free fall.”
Suzii skillfully connected Kayla’s feeling of being “tenderly cradled in free fall” to the repeated mention of the disciples’ nets in the New Testament. We were nets mended, nets tossed to the other side of the boat all in hopes of being fishers of women and men. More specifically, we were the small knots, “joined and knit together,” that tenderly cradled the region (Eph. 4.16).
But she was not just sharing eloquent words or painting an inspiring image in our minds. This was not a motivational message or an obligatory meeting to fire up the troops before sending them back onto the battlefield of ministry. No, Suzii clearly believes in MACBF and sees the region as apart of the national body, apart of the net and the network.
And she appreciated the thread that tied and rallied us all together. Suzii identified with the vision and work of Trisha Miller Manarin, the part-time regional coordinator, who has been serving since February 2014. During her tenure, Trisha has established a partnership with the John Leland Center for Theological Studies, hosted much-needed retreats for chaplains, pastors and ministry leaders, created ministry resources for churches that feel called to minister to and with refugees, immigrants and victims of human trafficking. This venture led to a partnership with Refuge and Hope, a ministry in Uganda led by CBF field personnel.
Trisha’s infectious energy, refreshing passion and love for pastoral ministry has drawn pastors and ministry leaders across cultural and state lines to gather for fellowship in local churches and area restaurants month after month. She has been a net for the region, catching the eye of both new and seasoned clergy, boosting MACBF’s visibility. Perhaps, this is part of the reason why the Baptist World Alliance offered her office space this past November.
If someone thought that her work had gone unnoticed or that she had slipped through the net, then Suzii’s announcement of fully funding her position for the next two years changes that internal monologue. Met with applause, the unexpected expression of financial support was the start of her response to us. This is how you start a conversation. Cha- ching!
If you are wondering how to keep a crowd awake after lunch, this is how you do it. Start talking about the gifted people in the room and how blessed we are to be connected to each other. Then, demonstrate your gratitude by investing in one who serves after office hours and off the record of time sheets. We were all ears after that and an easy catch.
Asked later about the recent turn of events, Trisha said, “I have come to see my calling as the coordinator for MACBF to [include shepherding] pastors, equipping and encouraging congregations. I am honored to serve and love what I do. [I] love being with the folks of MACBF. We are better together — for sure! Suzii’s announcement was a sign of CBF’s commitment to our very unique ministry in the Mid-Atlantic. It is also a great encouragement to me as she so kindly affirmed our ministry in the Mid-Atlantic.”
Trisha’s story and journey in ministry is a reminder not to get tired of doing good, that women in ministry are rewarded for their labor and that God’s net is big enough for us all (Gal. 6.9). I can’t wait to see what happens at the next meeting!