January 26, 2024
Meredith Bauman (M.Div. ’22) discovers the beauty of spiritual formation
Meredith Ury Bauman did not expect to go to seminary, despite having grown up “running through the halls” of Wesley Biblical Seminary. Her father, Dr. Bill Ury, was a professor of Systematic and Historic Theology at WBS from 1989 to 2012, and her mother, Rev. Diane Ury, is also a WBS alumna. Nevertheless, when she experienced a call to ministry at age 18 while in college at Asbury University, she felt no desire to go “across the street” to Asbury Theological Seminary, as many classmates did, or anywhere else. Instead, she wanted to get directly into ministry service. “To be honest,” she says, “I was turned off by a lot of seminarians’ attitudes. I wasn’t looking to impress anybody.”
However, the Lord was soon to begin taking her on a journey to reveal to her how much she actually was trying to impress others. She and her husband Blake moved to China, where she worked as a school teacher. “In the U.S.,” she recalls, “I was known as a leader, and part of a family of leaders. People thought of me as spiritual. It stroked my ego.” Moving into a liminal space away from known places and people, however, things were different. “In China, nobody cared who I was. I didn’t have a reputation. I wasn’t even especially good at my job, and I knew it. My husband was getting promotions, but I felt unseen.”
Meredith says this began a two-year transformational process in which the Lord revealed to her how much she had depended on the approval of others. The painful frustration of not being seen caused her to cry out to the Lord. Amid this struggle, God began to bring books and resources into her life related to Spiritual Formation. Often in the church, we focus on the active role disciples should take in growing closer to God, but the Spiritual Formation perspective puts greater stress on the work God does in us. Our role is often simply to respond with surrender, like clay in the hands of the potter.
“At the end of the road of my frustration and breaking was God Himself. He was saying to me, ‘I approve of you. I see you. You are my beloved daughter.’”
As Meredith digested these ideas, she came to see God’s mercy in stripping away the approval of others—not to destroy her worth, but to anchor her worth instead in God’s own approval. “As the Lord took me down the road to let go of that need,” she says, “at the end of it was Himself. He was saying to me, ‘I approve of you. I see you. You are my beloved daughter.’ It just wrecked me. My whole identity was shifted, and thus my ministry. Now I was just His, I didn’t care what others thought of my job and abilities.”
To her surprise, she emerged from this time with a desire to go to seminary. She wanted to share with others what God had done in her own heart, but she wanted to be sure her experience was grounded. Her personal study had led her to a place of readiness to trust and learn from other “spiritual masters.” She knew that if what she felt she had learned about spiritual formation was solid, it would stand the test of comparison to the disciplined study of Scripture and theology.
Applying to seminary was the first test of her new-found identity in Christ. She wasn’t sure she was “smart enough” even to get in. Moreover, she needed to be sure she wasn’t going just to fulfill her family’s expectations. “I sat down with my dad and told him pretty bluntly,” she recalls, “I love you but I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing it because I’m called.” He responded with humility, she says, and blessed her pursuit of her calling. The Lord also made a way for her to participate from China, thanks to WBS’s Zoom-based platform.
As she began classes, Meredith was pleasantly surprised. “I couldn’t have been more wrong about what to expect at seminary,” she admits. “I knew I could trust the professors theologically. But what I found was that they also had pastors’ hearts. In fact, most were pastors as well as teachers. I could sense in every class that the focus was not on who could impress each other with how smart they were, but rather the professors were just meeting each student where they were at to help them learn.”
She also discovered that, although the language might be different, the historic witness of the Church and the Scriptures lined up with her experiences in China. For example, in her Systematic Theology classes with Dr. Steve Blakemore, she says “My heart was exploding because it was different language but it is exactly what Jesus has been doing in my heart. He was teaching that we were made for union with God, that He desires our wholeness and restoration—to make us fully human again, who he created us to be.” She discovered a rich theological heritage that is not based on simply removing sin but on gaining wholeness, and salvation is a healing process of letting go of our lives in order to be filled with the life of God. “When people meet the real Jesus,” she says, “their lives are totally changed. He is a person, not an intellectual idea. And he is a healer, not just a judge.”
“My only hope is the secret place.”
Graduation became the next test of the work God was doing in Meredith. She had a daughter about a year old at that time. While she loves being a stay-at-home mother, she wondered, “Am I going to be able to use what I have learned? Or will I have to bury it for 18 years until my children are grown?” She remembers crying on a flight home from an event, unsure how to hold together her love for her baby with her love for learning and teaching. As she continued to trust the Lord to use her according to His plan, however, ministry opportunities began to open. Specifically, she found herself called to speak to groups about the very things she was most passionate about sharing.
Today, Meredith and Blake live in North Carolina and have a son, Shepherd (1) as well as their daughter Vera Magdalene (3). And, in two weeks, she is preparing to speak to a group about Spiritual Formation. “I’m terrified to speak,” she says, “because if God doesn’t show up, that’s just Meredith, and nobody needs more Meredith!” She continues, “My only hope is the secret place. If I find more of God in the secret place, He will fill me with Himself, and out of the overflow of that, I’ll have something to give to others. That’s the beauty of the secret place: God always has more of Himself to give, if we just keep showing up.”
Along with her mother, Meredith is part of the committee working to prepare for the inaugural WBS alumni reunion, coming August 16-18, 2024 in North Georgia. Her desire is that alumni will make time to come, so they can create a space for God to bring them rest, renewal, and refreshment. To us, that also sounds like a great opportunity to find God in the secret place.