By Eileen R. Campbell-Reed
“I was just as afraid as you were, Karynthia, that it would be a failure.” Dr. Patricia Brock laughed at this admission, but she was speaking honestly. She and her mentee, Elder Karynthia Phillips, both began their mentoring relationship with some trepidation.
In late September, a group of women in ministry in Middle Tennessee gathered over lunch to talk about mentoring. Scholastica is a monthly meeting that brings together seminary students, experienced ministers, faculty of Central Tennessee to network and build relationships around the shared work of ministry. On this occasion, a dozen women gathered around tables and a panel of four guests, including Brock and Phillips, began the conversation by sharing their experiences of the mentoring relationship.
Pat Brock and Karynthia Phillips have been working together for nearly two years. When Phillips began her MDiv program she was already an experienced minister, yet she was not too sure what good mentoring might look like. As a part of the Women’s Leadership Initiative MDiv program, all students are provided mentoring and coaching to support their theological education. The students begin the mentoring work by filling out an application for a matching process.
In her application Karynthia shared that her previous mentoring relationships lacked purpose, goals and objectives. She and her mentors ended up “talking randomly.” Under the application’s questions about “any worries about being assigned a mentor,” she said, “No. Just don’t want time wasted.” Based on the past, Phillips’ hopes were not high.
Brock says when she read that application, she thought, “I didn’t want to give her a bad experience!”
It took time to build trust between the two women. Brock says, “I never had a mentor. I thank God that I had life as a mentor. I had to get mentoring by living. In a way, God was my mentor.”
Brock says of herself when she was a seminary student a decade ago: “I did have to learn to slow down and give myself grace. My advisor in [Vanderbilt] Divinity school, Alice Hunt, would see me in a class as she walked down the hall. And she would come back by later, and she would say to me, Pat Brock, have you given yourself any grace today?”
Before going to seminary to become a chaplain, Brock had a long career as a schoolteacher and principal. Now she teaches courses at American Baptist College. She says when she began her relationship with Phillips, “I learned that I had all this stuff I wanted to teach her. And I’ve been a teacher my whole career! But I had to pull back. There were times when I just had to be quiet. And I had to allow Karynthia to delve into her self.”
Brock’s insight about listening resonates with other mentors in the Women’s Leadership Initiative. When interviewed, each mentor, to a woman, noted a similar theme: listen. To get better at mentoring, becoming a better listener is key.
The listening worked for Phillips. She says of Brock, “She just listens. She let’s me go talking and talking.” And although Brock sometimes shares her perspective on things, Phillips says, “She wants me to develop my own perspective.”
Occasionally Brock thinks it is important to be more directive. Both women laugh when Phillips confesses that sometimes she tries in her life to do it all – studying, working as a physician’s assistant, being a wife and mother, coordinating ministries at her church. It is then that she hears from Brock: “Do YOU! Just do Karynthia! Just chill.”
Brock’s direct message about self care and other kinds of questions can get Phillips’s hackles up at times. “She makes me look at the truth about things!” says Phillips. Brock sometimes asks questions that bring out the urgency or importance of whatever Phillips is fretting about. Brock says, “Sometimes I might ask for real? Why does that concern you? Does a grade define you?”
Although she may feel pulled up short by these questions, Phillips says, “There’s a give-and-take in a relationship. I don’t want anyone to make me into a clone. Patricia sees my gifts and talents and skills. She’s helping me move to a more excellent way. We may be gifted, but we can do what we do in a more excellent way.”
Now two years into this relationship, Phillips has experienced a mentoring that exceeds her expectations. She sees it as a “platform of survival.” And Brock has learned a lot about herself as a mentor, too. And she keeps coming alongside Phillips and inviting her to “extend grace” to herself.