Enough to make a Baptist dance

What inspires a rhythmically challenged 51-year-old to take up dancing?

By Pam Durso

I grew up as a Texas Baptist -- in the days when dancing was a sin -- and since I was a good Christian girl, I never learned to dance and certainly didn’t attend school dances!

Given my lack of early opportunities and a complete lack of natural rhythm, I still don’t know how to dance. But I must confess that in the past few months, I have spent some time dancing (in the privacy of my office, of course – long-time inhibitions are hard to get past).

So what leads a 51- year-old woman to take up dancing? Joy! Sheer happiness and delight!

suzii paynter mugI have been overwhelmed by joy in these past months, and just in case you haven’t heard the good news that is making me dance: Suzii Paynter has been named as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s candidate for the executive coordinator position. And just in case you don’t know Suzii, let me tell you about her.

In the past five years, I have been an interested observer of Suzii’s leadership. There are so few models of leadership for women in Baptist life, and as I moved into a leadership role with Baptist Women in Ministry, I knew I needed someone to watch and learn from -- a strong woman who knew how to lead and lead well.

I didn’t have to look far. Suzii and I were serving on the Baptist Joint Committee board together, and during meetings, I watched as she brought energy and needed insight to the table. Over the years, we have had times to sit and talk, to share meals, to talk on the phone, and she offered me honest and valuable insight about life as a leader, about balancing ministry and family, about gathering resources to do the work. She has modeled leadership for me, but Suzii also took time to bless me with time and friendship.

Since 2001, Texas Baptists have been the beneficiaries of Suzii’s leadership. She has served in several roles but is currently the director of their Advocacy/Care Team and also director of their Christian Life Commission.

Suzii has had oversight of chaplaincy relations and counseling services. She has led Texas Baptists as they address community-care issues such as literacy, hunger, immigration and human trafficking.

She has spoken out on public policy issues and has been a force of change in the Texas legislative and judicial processes. Her work on the very successful hunger offering is a clear demonstration of Suzii’s advocacy skills on behalf of marginalized peoples.

Watching her work in Texas, I have discovered that she has visionary and prophetic gifts. She sees beyond borders and limits and perceives how Baptists can be more closely connected with the working of God in this world. She identifies needs that must be addressed.

Suzii is a dreamer, but she is also a doer. She is a gifted administrator and is able to put procedures and processes in place to meet needs, to respond to crises, and to bring change. Not only efficient, Suzii is also innovative in her approach to planning, seeing possibilities that others often overlook.

One of the great gifts that Suzii will bring to CBF is her vast experience in working with Baptists across the theological spectrum. She has successfully rallied Texas Baptists around important causes, significant kingdom work. She has brought people from a variety of backgrounds to the table and led them in working together, in cooperating on the things that really matter.

Suzii has also worked with people from all walks of life -- ministers, church members, college students, denominational leaders, attorneys, political leaders and the media. Suzii’s warm, outgoing personality is what allows her to connect with so many different people. She naturally befriends all she meets and welcomes individuals into group discussions and activities. Her friendliness makes people feel comfortable and valued.

And Suzii is a natural fit for CBF leadership because she has been part of the CBF movement from its earliest days. Suzii was involved in planning and organizing the earliest General Assemblies. She has been at the CBF table now for 20 years and has been a supporter, an advocate, and a leader among Cooperative Baptists. She served on the Coordinating Council for many years and has been and continues to be passionate about CBF and its ministries. Suzii has the gifts and leadership ability to lead CBF into the next phase of its journey.

As I been pondering CBF’s future, I keep dancing! I believe, actually, I know that Suzii Paynter, with all her many strengths, will lead us into a new day, and it will be good!

This commentary appeared originally on the Baptist Women in Ministry blog.

OPINION: Views expressed in Baptist News Global columns and commentaries are solely those of the authors.