Recorded Minister Report for 2016
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.
My New Year’s resolution for 2016 was to embrace the new, and there were a lot of new things this year! The first few months were my last semester at Candler School of Theology. I devoted most of that time to working on my thesis, “Dangerous Women’s Bodies: Stories of How Women Ministers are Threatening and Threatened.” I enjoyed working with Luke Timothy Johnson as my thesis advisor, and I was happy with how the thesis turned out and was received. I expect that I will spend more time with this project in the future, possibly expanding it into a book, but it is good to be able to step away from it for a while. Many of the stories I collected were emotionally challenging—including stories of sexual harassment and assault—and I need to have the right space and energy to be able to spend more time with those topics.
I also took a full load of classes, which seemed to be preparing me for pastoral ministry, including classes on preaching, conflict transformation, and a practicum on leading weddings and funerals. At the same time, I was applying for pastoral positions in Friends meetings, but Way did not open for me to work in any of the meetings where I applied. That was disappointing because I felt a call to pastoral ministry. I graduated with my Master of Divinity in May, and celebrated with friends and family.
Over the summer, I spent time in discernment about next steps. I have continued to do volunteer work in Atlanta Friends Meeting, where I serve on the Ministry and Worship Committee as well as clerking a wedding committee and an anchoring committee. I started my second year on the Board of Trustees for Friends Journal and agreed to be clerk of the Growth and Stewardship Committee in addition to serving on the Finance Committee. I had wanted to get more professional experience in development and, as Friends Journal has started a capital campaign, I have had that opportunity! There are always so many opportunities to volunteer for Friends, and I have found that I need to have clear boundaries around my volunteer time. At the end of the year, I lay down serving on the anchoring committee, which felt in right order.
I spent much of the fall building my ministry. I worked with Betsy Blake on my new website, www.ashleymwilcox.com, and began meeting regularly with Julie Hliboki to develop a business plan for my ministry. I networked with local ministers and professionals, and developed workshops and retreats on prayer, Quaker discernment, spiritual practices, and church leadership. I felt an increasing call to preaching, and preached in United Methodist churches, the vesper service at Clairmont Oaks, First Friends Meeting, and the Quaker Women in Public Ministry Conference. I began to upload and share recordings of my messages on SoundCloud. As I worked to find ways to make ministry financially sustainable, I continued to do part-time legal work.
In September, I felt clear to join Good News Associates (GNA), a nonprofit organization that supports individuals called to non-institutional ministries. In November, I traveled to Oregon for the GNA retreat, and was able to spend time with friends and family in Portland and Salem who I had not seen in years. I especially enjoyed worshiping at Freedom Friends Church twice, for regular worship and an evening Convergent Friends worship. In my time with GNA, however, it became clear that GNA and I had fundamentally different approaches to fundraising and web-based ministry. Consequently, I asked GNA to release me from that association, which they have (my official last day will be March 3).
The newest thing is Church of Mary Magdalene. In early December, I told my friend Hannah Hill a dream I had about preaching for women and said that I was thinking about starting a Wednesday night worship. Hannah immediately said that she would do that with me. Hannah is an ordained Cooperative Baptist minister, and we worked together to share elements of both of our traditions. We named the worship Church of Mary Magdalene, to honor the first woman preacher. Way opened surprisingly fast. The Ministry and Worship Committee of Atlanta Friends Meeting agreed to take the midweek worship under its care. We shared the news about the new worship on Facebook and Twitter. On January 4, just a month after our first conversation, we had our first worship, with 23 people. It is a semi-programmed worship, with singing, a prepared message, open worship, and prayer. The worship was a blessing for me and others, and I am excited to see how this community—both locally and online—will progress.
In the coming months, I am looking forward to having some more structure to my weeks. I will be a teaching assistant for the introductory preaching class at Candler, which meets on Tuesday and Thursday mornings, and I will have Church of Mary Magdalene on Wednesday nights. I feel that I have had good self-care this year, with regular yoga and walks, a weekly Sabbath, coloring, and daily prayer, and I hope to continue with these and other healthy practices. I appreciate all of the support for my ministry, including my (recently reconstituted) anchoring committee, the spiritual nurture group that meets every other week, monthly meetings with my spiritual director, and time with my partner Troy, who is a wonderful sounding board and deeply supports my ministry. I plan to continue to find ways to make ministry sustainable, financially and physically. I am grateful to everyone who provided me with financial and spiritual support this year. This ministry would not be possible without you.