October is National Clergy Appreciation Month. As I’m feeling particularly sentimental this October, I decided to spend the month writing about clergy persons who have influenced my life in some major way. There’s no real rhyme or reason behind the order of these posts (other than I’m saving the best for last), but just the true hope that these wonderful people feel appreciated and loved this month.
I first met Chris George in 2012 when he came to preach at McAfee Chapel. An unassuming pastor from Mobile, Ala. (by way of the great state of Kentucky), Chris hoped to find a congregation full of SEC faithfuls in this Georgia audience. During the height of March Madness, he stood before us wearing a bright blue tie stating that he “wore blue for the best team in college basketball.”
Unfortunately, Chris lost a listener that day. I tried valiantly to be attentive, but it was so hard when the first words out of his mouth were so blasphemous.
And since I’m not known for holding my tongue about such things, I marched straight up to him at the end of the service to introduce myself. “Chris – I’m Emily Holladay, and I just wanted to let you know that I am wearing red for the actual best team in college basketball.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but that conversation would be one of many with Chris. You see, in addition to being an avid sports fan, Chris is also a strong advocate for women in ministry and constantly seeks to help female ministers (or aspiring female ministers as the case may be) find a place behind a pulpit, on a church staff, or simply amongst colleagues who affirm them.
So, Facebook conversations about sports in Kentucky turned into discussions about seminary and my fears about graduating and becoming complacent in ministry. Even when I expressed doubts, he remained quick to affirm my character and God-given gifts as a minister. Somewhere along the way, I think I began to respect myself more because some pastor who didn’t even know me very well recognized God’s movement in my life. Maybe I shouldn’t have been, but I was shocked when he actually requested my feedback on ministry!
But that’s just who Chris is – quick to encourage and eager to learn – even from people who really should be learning from him.
Fortunately for me, Chris and his family moved to Atlanta a year and a half ago to minister with Smoke Rise Baptist Church. And as luck would have it, the church was also looking for an interim children’s minister, and by September 2013, I found myself working for my first Clergy-Boss.
The older I get, the more I appreciate the way God continuously weaves our stories together with other people’s in surprising and meaningful ways. I never would have guessed that a snarky comment about UofL basketball would lead me to develop one of my most influential clergy friendships.
Not only did Chris open the door for me to see the word “minister” in front of my name for the first time, he also helped me to truly view myself as a minister – even without the title.
Reflecting on my year at Smoke Rise, I am amazed by the ways Chris continued to treat me as an equal in ministry, asking for my feedback and trusting my decision making skills and vision – even though my role at the church had a quickly approaching end date. I expected to come in and keep the programs running while the church searched for a full time minister, but Chris would not have been content with that, and from day one asked me to jump in and make a meaningful impact in the church.
As a young person with few years of “real” ministry experience, I did not expect to be treated as an equal by a “seasoned” minister. Working with Chris taught me that finding a pastor who supports, encourages, and yes, even respects you should not be the dream, but the reality for young ministers entering a church setting. And he really set the bar high as I searched for a church of my own to serve.
Last year I told Chris that I don’t know what led him to invest in a random McAfee student, but I’m grateful that he did. The sentiment hasn’t changed, and I am grateful that my first Clergy-Boss has turned into such a supportive colleague and friend.