On our blog today, we are highlighting Dr. Lynn Brinkley, who is the Associate Director for Baptist Women in Ministry. There is a lot of good information here, so excuse the crazy writing! She has a BIG story!
Dr. Brinkley was born and raised in Fayetteville, North Carolina. She went to college at North Carolina State University. In her senior year, she did an internship with the campus police. After graduation, she didn’t have a job, so the campus police offered her a job. After 18 weeks of training, she became a NC certified police officer, and she served in law enforcement for a few years, and then moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. There, they didn’t allow law enforcement certifications to transfer, so she ended up getting a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from the University of Tennessee. During this time, she was a supervisor for a non-profit for a foster care agency. She had suffered through a divorce, and eventually wanted to go back home to Fayetteville, NC. “I wanted to get closer back to my mom and grandma, and so I took a job working at Social Services in South Carolina for about a year,” she says, reflecting on trying to move back home. She worked there for a little while, then got a job at the Juvenile Assessment Center back in Fayetteville.
The story of her calling to ministry is featured in a book called When God Whispered My Name, by Kathy Findely and Kay Shurden. She was a student at Campbell University in North Carolina in 2004. One day after class in the fall of that year, she was walking to her car, passed a trash dumpster and heard God “whisper” to her. She describes this further, “I know the day…it was August 24th, 2004….something in that moment said, ‘you’re going to work at this university one day.’” She said it was such a profound moment that she wrote about it in her journal that night. Fast-forward to 2007, when one of her professors told her about a job as director of student admissions, and he encouraged her to apply for it. She says, “My mind immediately went back to 2004 and that journal entry!” That Sunday, she went to church and the text was Joshua 1. She reflects on that Sunday message, “’Let’s go to Jordan…cross over…be bold and courageous’ and I was just frantically writing in church that Sunday…taking notes!” Applying for this position took great faith for Brinkley, a woman of color and a minority in her community. “At Campbell University at the time, their staff…they didn’t have anybody who looked like me in their history! There was some discomfort, like ‘what am I getting into?’” But she got an interview! This was very scary for her at first, because she was interviewed by three white men. She was quite straightforward with them and even brought her journal to the interview with her. “I said, ‘I am responding to a call,’ and I opened up my journal and told them, ‘this is what happened to me August 24th, 2004…’ and I said, ‘I just have to be obedient to this call,’” she says, remembering this day. The next week, she got a phone call from the dean, calling her to his office to discuss the interview. “He basically offered me the position…This is the part where I try to say it without crying, but, um…he said ‘we have always needed diversity here at this school, but I want you to know that we are hiring you because you are Lynn, and for no other reason,” she says, in tears. The weight of the fear and anxiety she had about this position was gone in that moment. She worked there for the next 13 years, getting many promotions, before starting with Baptist Women in Ministry in 2019.
This has been touched on, but Dr. Brinkley has had some challenges as a woman in her community. In her tradition, women could preach “from the floor,” as she describes it, but they could not preach from the pulpit. As a woman called to preaching, this has proven difficult in some spaces. Her current pastor at First Baptist Church in Fayetteville used to lead a different congregation, and she was asked to be there for an event. She stood up to preach, not knowing this church didn’t affirm women preaching at the pulpit. She taught about various women being called to lead in Romans, like Phoebe, etc… Her friend, the pastor, talked to her afterward, saying, “Did they not tell you?” And she said, “tell me what?” He continued, “They do not allow women to preach from the pulpit.” So she said, “Well, what do you say?” He told her he was working on it! A few days later, he spoke to the deacons of his church and he advocated for her. “He said, ‘We had Dr. Lynn Brinkley here who has an earned doctorate degree. She is serving as a minister at Campbell University Divinity School. She is part of the Baptist World Alliance…a member of our Baptist Association as an officer and we had someone like her to come to our church and she had to preach from the floor. She couldn’t preach to anybody at this table! We should be ashamed of ourselves!’” The deacons voted that night to allow women to preach from the pulpit in the future.
It has also been hard for her navigating various roles in spaces with a majority of white people. “A lot of times, you have to pick and choose your battles because [if you didn’t] you could find yourself fighting for justice every single day—fighting to be seen, fighting to be heard, fighting to be understood…so it’s always a constant struggle,” she says. But this experience, and her past experience as a police officer, is propelling her forward to do “justice work for women of color.” We discussed the importance of the Women’s Rights Movement, which has provided paths for women to have more equity in our country than they used to have. And the Civil Rights Movement, which has opened doors that were not available to people of color for centuries. But, these movements—while good for our society—have often left out women of color, and this is a gifted group of women whose voices should also be heard.
When asked about her heroes and mentors, she listed a few women, including an 18th century preacher named Jarena Lee. “She fought for her calling to preach,” says Dr. Brinkley. The story goes that Jarena petitioned the leaders of her church to allow her to preach, and they turned her down. So, one Sunday, a guest preacher was at her church and kept fumbling around, so she went up there and finished his sermon and blew the congregation away. The bishop, who originally turned down her petitions, was so in awe of her ability, that he changed his stance and recognized her calling. Another woman who has influenced Dr. Brinkley is Pam Durso, who invited her to be on the leadership team for Baptist Women in Ministry. Pam has introduced her to several opportunities, which have led her to become the first woman of color to lead BWIM and the first woman of color to chair the Baptist Joint Committee. In her words, “Pam put me in the room where it happens!” Another hero, or “shero,” as she calls her, is Gina Stewart, who is “a powerful preacher, leader and ministry role model.”
What a gift to have women like Dr. Brinkley to be our teachers on this journey! Join me in elevating voices like hers, which point us to Jesus in our fight for justice.
A Benediction for the Woman on the Floor
You’ve seen it all, haven’t you?
the committee meetings
the cherry-picked Bible verses
you know the ones….
And you also know the ones that are conveniently left out
Because you know you’re God’s voice
He whispered your name
while walking around the neighborhood,
and serving your neighbors—the ones who overlook you
But He breathed into you a calling which cannot be overlooked
Harness that, and stand true
channel the “Jarena Lees” in your blood,
step up to that pulpit and SHINE!
Shine God’s justice
-Written by Katie Mitchell