Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks to a near-capacity crowd at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. (ABP photo by Bob Allen)
Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks to a near-capacity crowd at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington. (ABP photo by Bob Allen)

Nadia Bolz-Weber speaks at Baptist church

The “Sarcastic Lutheran” talks about grace, liturgy and women in ministry at an event promoting her new book at a Baptist church in Washington, D.C.

By Bob Allen

Trends like the waning influence of denominations and rise of the religious “nones” don’t mean that churches should abandon their denominational identity, author and Lutheran church planter Nadia Bolz-Weber said Tuesday evening at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington.

“I’m don’t feel like I’m this post-denominationalist,” the tattooed 44-year-old pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver said in a conversation on the future of the church with host-church pastor Amy Butler, moderated by the National Journal’s and Calvary member Amy Sullivan.

“I think each tradition has care-taken a particular aspect of what it means to be the Body of Christ,” Bolz-Weber said. “No one tradition has done all of that.”

“The Lutherans, Episcopalians, Catholics have sort of care-taken that kind of liturgical, Eucharistic tradition,” she said. “The Anabaptists have taken the peace church tradition on behalf of the whole body — like all these different parts of the body. If you have a juicy ecclesiology, I think you will see that we can sort of appreciate that. I think the particularities are important. I love the particularities, and I don’t think they should be a mush.”

nadia panelBolz-Weber, raised in the Church of Christ, traversed various spiritual pathways before being ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She said few of the people who attend her church started coming because of its Lutheran affiliation. At the same time, she said, it’s that tradition’s theology of grace and liturgy that attracted and keeps them there.

“Those particularities are important in a missional sense, so I really don’t want to see them go by the wayside,” she said.

“I totally agree with you,” said Butler, a graduate of Baylor University and the International Baptist Theological Seminary who recently marked 10 years as pastor of the 151-year old Calvary Baptist Church. Calvary is affiliated with American Baptist Churches USA, the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

“Most of the people, I think, who wander in the doors at Calvary … have given up on the church or don’t have a church background or just happen to end up here,” Butler said. “And I’m fairly sure that nobody in this town wakes up on a Sunday morning and thinks: ‘I’m going to go to church today. I think I’ll go to a Baptist church.’

“So we have a little bit of a marketing problem. But the flipside of that is when you get to learn and grow in community and experience what it really means to be a Baptist — like this tradition of free church and separation of church and state and the free work of God’s Spirit and work in the community together — it’s like totally awesome.”

“You also don’t have Garrison Keillor working against you,” quipped Bolz-Weber, who writes for blogs including God’s Politics, Patheos and her own website, Sarcastic Lutheran. Bolz-Weber has emerged as the new face of progressive Christianity with success of her new memoir, Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint.

The event at Calvary was her Washington stop on a book tour that has captured the attention of major media including the Washington Post, CNN and the UK Daily Mail. Co-sponsors included the Alliance of Baptists, American Baptist Home Mission Societies, CBF national in Atlanta, the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Virginia.

Bolz-Weber read excerpts from the book, and the evening closed with a question-and-answer period during which one female audience member considering seminary asked the two pastors for any advice.

“There are a couple of things,” Bolz-Weber said. “One is really listen to your external sense of call. I think we overemphasize internal sense of call, and I find the internal sense of call to be slightly sketchy, because you can either default to it becoming a form of spiritual self-flattery — to think ‘Oh, God’s calling me to be a pastor’ — or you can be so humble that you would never assume that God is calling you as a pastor.”

“I often ask people, do people already make you their pastor?” she continued. “Do you have a history of your friends; your, like, secular friends, going, ‘Hey will you do our wedding?’ Or people sharing those sort of difficult parts of their life with you? I think you have to listen if people are already making you their pastor. That feels a little more certain to me, in terms of call.

“And the other piece of advice I do give is … do not apologize for who you are, and try to have humility. There’s this sweet spot where you’re not being self-apologetic and you’re still having humility. That to me is the space where you can sort of be a pastor.”

Bolz-Weber said she hears women apologize for themselves all the time.

“I don’t think apologizing for ourselves is really useful,” she said. “God made you who you are and put you where you are. So there’s nothing to apologize for, but still have humility. Like, if you make mistakes, don’t think it’s going to affect your authority if you admit that. Do not waste your energy defending or protecting your own authority. You’ll always lose it.”

Butler’s advice was simple: “Don’t suck.”

Butler said while Baptists lag behind Lutherans in opportunities for women in ministry, doors are opening and more and more young women are considering ministry as a profession.

“There are some really awesome Baptist young women who are coming up behind me,” Butler said. “They’re awesome, but you know what? Just because you’re a woman and women should be able to be pastors does not mean that you’re a good pastor.”

“This is such a rigorous calling,” she said. “It’s hard.”

Bolz-Weber said a few of her church members attend seminary, and she tried to talk each one out of it.

“It’s such a weird job, in the sense that being a pastor means that you’re willing to be the first one to die, to throw myself in front of the bus every time,” she said. “Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to convict yourself first of whatever you are preaching to your congregation? That’s an unpleasant process.”

“In every interaction, you will probably have to do the heavy lifting,” she said. “You have to be the emotionally mature person in the interaction almost always, regardless of how you feel.”

“It’s a weird job,” Bolz-Weber said. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”