Elizabeth Brinegar

My name is Elizabeth Brinegar, and I am delighted to be here to share my faith journey with you. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where going to church was not optional. We were there every time the doors were open. Each morning I would go downstairs and see my mom at the breakfast table with her Bible, devotional book, and prayer list in front of her.

This habit is what I learned from my mother, who learned it from her parents. Faith and participation in church and church community life are a generational thing for us. Church leadership has always been important in my family, especially music ministry.

I grew up attending Roman Catholic schools but a Southern Baptist church. I’ve always been a questioner and wanted to know about the differences between the various faiths, and the different beliefs, and the ways that people approach God.

My answer is that God is God, and the rest of it is just frosting on the cake. The important thing is to believe in Jesus Christ.

When I went to college, I was planning to become a physician. I wanted to be a pediatrician and work with children. Then I took my first science class and thought, “There is no way I will do this study for another eight years. That would be torture for me.” I ended up getting a degree in literature, and my family said, “What are you going to do now?” What grad school program are you going to?” I said, “Well, I don’t know.”

I was really involved in campus ministry which was very dear to my heart. In my senior year of college, we were without a chaplain at the school. Each one of the seniors had to take a Chapel week and speak at it and provide leadership for it.

I found that when it was my week, I was practically running back to my dorm room to work on my presentation. I had the best time digging into scripture and figuring out what God was calling me to say, following the leadership of the Holy Spirit. I got up to speak and I heard in my head this voice that said, “Wouldn’t it be great if you could get paid to do this?” I said, “Absolutely not; that is not what’s going on here.”

That was the fall of my senior year in college. During the spring of my senior year, I had finally listened to God. God kept telling me to go to the seminary.

I kept listening to God and finally I said, “OK, but I’m not going to be a pastor. I will do enough. And that’s what you get, God.” And God said “No, I want more.”

So I decided to be a director of Christian Education; I was not going to be a Minister, no matter what God said. And God said, “No. I want more. I have different plans for you.” I ended up taking a year off between college and seminary. That Christmas I was at a retreat, and we would play what was called the Magical Mystery Tour. One night we would do something educational, something fun, a volunteer project, and something spiritual.

Our spiritual activity that evening was to walk the Labyrinth. A labyrinth is a path that you walk and it’s outlined for you. The idea is that at every turn on the path, you stop and say a prayer. We were all walking this labyrinth and they said, “We are not leaving until everyone does this labyrinth. I did not want to do it because I knew that God was doing something with me. I did not want to do it because I was comfortable giving to God what I was comfortable with, and nothing more. When the leaders said everyone has to do it, everybody’s head snapped over towards me because I was the only one that hadn’t done anything.

I slowly take off my shoes. And slowly take off my socks. And I finally stand up. There’s candlelight all around the labyrinth circle. Some of our leaders are playing guitar softly. It was the perfect worship setting. I stand at the entrance and stare at my feet. And I willed my right foot to lift up. As I put my foot down, the only thing I could think was, “How blessed are the feet of the one who came to proclaim the good news.”

And in that moment I said, “OK, I’ll be a pastor.” I had said that I would do what I wanted to do, and that that would be enough for God. But that was not enough for God, because God had huge, imaginative creative plans for me that I never would have done on my own. After I finished my Master of Divinity, I was ordained in the Presbyterian Church as a Minister of Word and Sacrament. I’ve served congregations in Mississippi and in Arkansas. I have worked as a university chaplain.

I have done some amazing things. I’ve gotten to be the director of operations for a nonprofit ministry, and I’m currently the pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Batesville, AR. It is such a blessing to be with this community of Saints because they are people who love one another. They love their neighborhood. But most importantly, they love God. Most importantly, they love God.

The biggest gift is to be with that family, that body of believers who love God first and foremost, because that’s how we build one another up. That’s where our faith journey lives. My faith is not perfect. I struggle still with saying, “God, I will do this and that’s good enough for you.” God still says to me, “Not big enough.” I say that I will go this far, and God says that He wants me all the way over here.

Because God’s huge imagination is so much bigger than what I can begin to picture on my own. So every day I have to wake up and choose. And I say, “Here I am, send me where you will send me. Do with me what you will.” It’s not just to say it once in the morning, it’s to say it all day long because all day long are options to veer off of that path. And some days, friends, is harder than other days.

Some days it is so difficult to say that I am not in control. Take that desire away from me because sometimes I don’t want to give that up. That’s one of my big sins. The illusion of control. That’s one of the things I struggle with the most. But faith is a verb. Faith is not something we have. Faith is something we do. Faith is something we do. It’s that muscle that you’ve got to work out. It’s that action.

James tells us that faith without works is dead. We need to have that action set because that’s what God desires of us. We are called, we are claimed. God wants us to love and do. Coming to that realization is what has made God alive for me.

Growing up as I did in church all the time, it was taken for granted that I would be a believer. It was just taken for granted in our family because that’s what we do, that’s who we are. At some point your faith has to become real to you and has to live in your heart where you have that indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

And my faith became real to me when I woke up one day and paid attention to the voice that said, “You are loved.” You are loved and with that power, with the power of God’s love, you can go and make a difference. That’s all we’re here to do. To know that God loves us. And to go out and share that message with other people. That’s the faith life. Know that God loves you and go out and tell somebody else through word and action.

That’s it.

Love God and love your neighbors.

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