My name is Mary Burks. I was born and raised in a small town in northeast Alabama called Albertville. I was the daughter of Hilda and Gilbert Burks, both seminary graduates who dedicated their lives to ministry. For a long time I thought I was raised in a very conservative family and church, but now I realize it was open and based more on God’s love than exclusion. But time has proved me wrong. I declared my faith and was baptized at the age of 7, along with about 25 other of my baby boomer classmates, proving that Baptists do believe in infant baptism. I chose Scripture and a motto from each era of my life and from that era was John 3:16: For God so loved the world. The Motto might be: It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice. And I learned to be nice, to follow rules, to love and obey God, but not to be real.
In college, I discovered the joy of Baptist Student Union where I met campus minister Bob Ford. Bob was the most real, weird and wonderful, impatient, loving, imperfect and perfectly himself minister I’d ever met. He’d say things like, “if I weren’t a minister I’d say (insert four letter word). He taught me to be real with my faith. It was there I attended University Baptist Church and there in 1974 they had women deacons! With these experiences and serving in summer missions, I accepted a call to ministry. About a decade later, I went back to that church and they ordained me as their first woman minister. A Bible verse for that time might be, “Take off your shoes, you are standing on holy ground.” And a motto might be “Relationship, not just rules,” as I realized that Christianity was about God choosing us first and not keeping count.
In 1981, I moved to Louisville to attend Southern Seminary, a combination of Camelot and Wort Hog School. I found my way to Highland when I heard my high school youth minister, Paul Duke, was called as pastor here. And here I have been since, blessed by so many, including Dottie Adams Frank who was my Sunday school teacher. I was married here and had two children you nurtured into faith. I was called to minister as a supervisor of Clinical Pastoral Education at Norton Healthcare where I have the privilege of walking with those who suffer and educating ministers in the art of pastoral care. You walked with me through all the ups and downs of my life, including my dad’s death and a husband who decided he didn’t want to be married to me anymore. Through that dark valley you stood beside me and God, with your help, healed me. You celebrated new life with me a year ago as I married my beloved Bruce. A theme for this era is a combination of Jon Stewart’s, “Whaaaaaaaat???” and Mary’s “Let it be.” The scripture is, “Weeping may stay for a night, but joy comes in the morning.”
Thank you for the honor of returning to serve Highland as a deacon. My hope is to serve you well, and together, to bring honor and glory to God.