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Cheryl Ann Beals: By What Authority?


Cheryl Ann Beals

Cheryl Ann Beals is Director of the Sozo Centre for Soul Care for the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada. Originally from the historic Black community of Cherry Brook, Cheryl Ann is passionate about living in awareness and communion with the Trinity and helping others to do the same. She loves watching people and plants grow.


When I look back on my experiences as a Black female spiritual leader, I recognize the many experiences God has used to shape my perspective on biblical equality and my calling.


I grew up in a small Black congregation with a male pastor and deacons. The official leadership was clearly male. However, I also had strong Black women role models. My great-grandmother was one of the founders of the church. My grandmother who raised me was a deaconess and women’s leader. My mother and my aunt were unofficial trustees who got things done.  Even so, I still struggled when I sensed the call to ministry in 1988. I chose at first to become a Christian therapist instead, but God continued to pursue me.


Here are two significant experiences that I had, one during my ordination council in 1998 and the other in 2012 in the Sinai desert, that helped to shape my understanding and confidence in my call.

 

By what authority do you minister?

By what authority do you minister?


This was the question I was asked during my ordination council (in another province) in the spring of 1998. I knew that because I was a Black woman coming up for ordination, there would be some challenging questions during the process. I had been praying for the Spirit's guidance and was confident God would give me what I needed when I needed it. The theme of the service was “… lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God” (Ephesians 4:1b).


The question “By what authority do you minister?” did not surprise me. I was not hurt by it.  What amazed me was the swiftness and the power of my answer. Actually, it was not my answer.


All authority belongs to God! It is neither yours, or mine.”  I was stunned as the words proceeded powerfully and emphatically out of my mouth.  I knew they were not my words, and so did the majority of the people listening. God was speaking to me and to them.


That defining moment taught me a number of things. First of all, it taught me of God's faithfulness. God would defend me; I did not need to defend myself.


I learned about the power of God. The Spirit would speak through me when I was willing. All authority and power belong to God. It's not mine, and it's not anyone else's. We are only instruments of God's will, bringing him glory, or obstacles seeking to use his power for our own gain. I learned that when we are called by God, he empowers us with all that we need.


This incredible experience of the power of God flowing through me became foundational for my ministry. It affirmed my accountability to God and that he is the one who calls me and sustains me. I recognized in the depths of my being that any power and authority that I may have is not mine. I am only the cracked pot (2 Cor 4) God has chosen to pour his power into and through for his purposes.


What I did not recognize was that there was ingrained in me a sense of shame that would hinder me from allowing God to fully take hold of my life and fully empower me. I was unaware of the negative messages I had internalized about myself as a Black person and as a woman, messages that told me it was not okay to fully take hold of my calling.  Over the years, God has continued to heal me and set me free.

 

Sinai Surprise!

In the spring of 2012, I had another defining encounter with God while on a study tour of Israel and Egypt with Acadia Divinity College. When I saw the advertisement for the trip, I knew God was calling me to take it. I wasn’t sure how I would pay for it, but I believed God would make a way, so I registered. As I prepared to go, I thought of my time in Israel as a spiritual pilgrimage.


I had some meaningful experiences in Israel. After our tour of Israel, a smaller group of us continued on to Egypt on a minibus. I was excited to see the pyramids. I confess, I was not thinking of the biblical significance of Egypt. As I was sitting in my seat watching the scenery and listening to music, suddenly my mind was flooded with thoughts and images of Moses, the burning bush, and his encounter with God. I felt I was on holy ground. God was present, and I needed to pay attention. I asked where we were and realized we were in the Sinai. I could physically feel the presence of God. God had my attention.


We stopped to visit Saint Catherine’s, the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world, located in the Sinai Peninsula. Interestingly, it also claims to have the burning bush that Moses saw in its compound. At the time of our visit, they were shooting a video in the chapel, so we could not go inside to see the ancient icons. We walked around the courtyard, and one of the priests took us to the roof. Standing on the roof, we were surrounded by the Sinai mountains. I felt the physical presence of God powerfully embracing me. I was in awe.


We descended from the monastery at dusk in complete silence. I remember thinking we were like ancient pilgrims on a pilgrimage.


That night we stayed at an inn at the foot of the Sinai mountains. Psalm 139 and other scriptures about God’s presence continued flowing through my mind. I could hardly sleep.

The next morning, I did not want to leave—God was so close! I was perplexed by my response. I pleaded with God about what to do. His words were simple, but powerful: “I am with you wherever you go.” As I received those words, I knew that I was free to go and that I had a new powerful awareness of God’s presence that would always be with me. I soon realized my ministry would be focused on helping others to become aware and know God’s presence.


This powerful encounter with God settled any questions I had about being a woman spiritual leader, or my calling to lead other spiritual leaders.


God’s presence and power flowing through me gives me all the authority and power I need. It was clear that the authority to lead is not a gender or racial issue. It is an issue of whether we have the presence and power of God to lead.


My ordination council, Sinai visit, and other experiences have formed me to internalize God’s presence and fully embrace God’s call on my life to be a spiritual leader.  They have taught me to look for God’s presence and power in me and in my ministry as affirmation of my calling first and foremost, and other people second. I would suggest to other women spiritual leaders that you do the same: seek God’s acceptance first and the acceptance of people will follow.  The God who calls us will also open doors and make a way for us.

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