All saints

Call to worship and pastoral prayer

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

Today we observe All Saints, a tender time for the church to remember the saints who have died, and whose lives live in us still.

As part of my own spiritual practice, I read obituaries and eulogies. And have written quite a few eulogies in my ministry.

It is a practice that reminds me that death is a part of life. It is a way to keep choosing to live fully even as I am dying certainly. It places me in the river that flows with a life in love that knows no end. Read more ›

Kicking Doe

by Nancy Hastings Sehested
A story from "Marked for Life: A prison chaplain's story"

On my last day, the staff acknowledged my service with a reception, where they presented me with three plaques: one from the governor of North Carolina bearing the state seal; one called the Old North State Award, for employees who stay a decade or more; and one from my colleagues bearing the words “The Chaplaincy Office has been forever changed. In recognition of the person you are, a love gift has been given to Freedom Life Ministries”—a transitional ministry for returning citizens from prison.

No turkey sandwiches were served, which I thought was a missed opportunity. My boss, however, did tell me that he would miss me. How dull his days must have been after my leaving. Read more ›

“By what authority do I preach?”


On October 19, 1987, the Shelby County Baptist Association held its annual meeting at Audobon Park Baptist Church. Some weeks earlier a group of pastors meeting at Bellevue Baptist Church had assigned the Credentials Committee to investigate the “doctrinal soundness” of Prescott Memorial Baptist Church for having called a female pastor, Rev. Nancy Hastings Sehested. The Committee reported to the annual meeting that its investigation revealed that Prescott had been able to give both historical and Scriptural bases for its decision, and that in view of varying practices among member churches it would be unfair to single out one church for action. The messengers rejected the Committee’s report, and a motion was made to withdraw fellowship from Prescott for “irregularities that may threaten the fellowship of the Association.” The motion carried. While the motion was being debated, Rev. Sehested rose to speak, and a motion was made to cut off debate. After some confusion she was permitted to speak. She walked to the pulpit so she could face the audience, which was largely hostile, and made the following extemporaneous remarks.

I am Nancy Hastings Sehested, messenger from Prescott Memorial Church, pastor of Prescott Memorial Church, and servant of our Lord Jesus Christ.

I am a full-blooded Southern Baptist. My mother is a Southern Baptist deacon. My grandfather was a Southern Baptist minister for 70 of his 93 years. My dad is a retired Southern Baptist minister for 50 years of ordained ministry. Read more ›

The breakthrough of God is happening

An Advent call to worship

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

The breakthrough of God is happening. It is happening in the midst of the dark night of the soul, when no one can see clearly, and our fears are magnified. God is creating in the darkness of the womb of this world.

We are Zechariah, saying our prayers in the congregation, carrying our own disappointments in prayers unanswered. We are stunned into silence by God’s promise of new life.

We are Elizabeth, having given up our dreams to our own barrenness. We are shocked that we are not too old or too forgotten for God to remember us with new life. Read more ›

Unprotected Texts

The difficult dialogue with the Bible on love and marriage

by Nancy Hastings Sehested
Circle of Mercy Congregation
May 13, 2012

The caller sounded desperate. “Please, please help me. I don’t want to live in sin anymore. I have to get married. Can you help me?”

She explained that she had lived with one of our prisoners for several years. He had 10 more years on his sentence. Then she told me more than I wanted to know about their intimate life together. “The Bible says it’s sin.” Read more ›

Breathing Places

A story from prison

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

It wasn’t the blood on the stairs that sent me racing back down the hallway, or the repeated cries of “Oh, my god!” that turned me away. It was simply this: I couldn’t breathe. I needed air. Air that was not saturated with pepper spray. With eyes burning, I coughed and sputtered my way back to where I could breathe again. After ten years at the prison, I knew where to go for breathing places.

Two nurses and six officers bolted down the main corridor to the housing unit where the assault happened. No one invited me to go along, of course. They were the first responders, not me. They had retractable batons, pepper spray, and handcuffs; they could stop the flow of blood or patch a gash of flesh. But me? I was useless. “Non-essential staff.”

It was 7:30 on a Sunday morning. I prepared for the morning worship service, oriented our new assistant chaplain, and checked on the forty volunteers who were leading a weekend spiritual retreat for forty-two inmates. As I walked through the lobby, the sergeant in Master Control announced “Code 4. Code 4.” Inmate-to-inmate assault. Then “Code Red. Code Red.” Medical emergency. Read more ›

Call to prayer & pastoral prayer

June 10, 2018

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

Call to Prayer

I visited my friend Ralph while he was plowing the community garden with his shovel. The garden helped to supply a small neighborhood lunch program offered by his church. I looked at the tools of his work. He’d used the same tools for so many years that they subtly shaped themselves to the contours of his hand. The tools welcomed his hands, allowing their full heft and grip to attune with his body.

Perhaps that is what happens in prayer. We are becoming one instrument, shaped by practices made holy by divine forces, plied into plowing the ground beneath us, praying with body and soul for a good harvest. Read more ›

Imagine This

A story from prison

by Nancy Hastings Sehested
(Excerpt from an upcoming book of stories from work as a prison chaplain.)

            Forty inmates lined up for smudging to enter the sacred circle for the Native American prayers. I spotted Genaro and a little alarm went off in my head. “Genaro, can I talk to you for a minute?” He smiled and nodded.

            The shade of the building sheltered us from the blistering noonday sun and got us out of hearing range of the other men. “Genaro, you know that you must either go into the circle to smoke the pipe, or stay outside the circle by yourself. Last week I noticed that another guy sat with you outside the circle. If custody staff sees that, they assume you’re passing tobacco.” Read more ›

Call to the Table

Remembering Hugh Thompson, US Army helicopter pilot who stopped the My Lai massacre

by Nancy Hastings Sehested

It is difficult to look at the suffering of people. But during the My Lai massacre there was an American soldier who looked. He was a helicopter pilot named Hugh Thompson. From his copter he saw the bodies of men, women and children on the ground dead and wounded. He realized that something horrific was going on. He then saw some people hiding in a bunker, cowering. He saw advancing American soldiers.

He landed his helicopter between the Americans and the Vietnamese. He told the Americans that if they opened fire on the Vietnamese, then his crew would stop them, and open fire on them.

Right: Hugh Thompson (at left) greeted by a Vietnamese women whose life he saved when he intervened to stop the US massacre of civilians in My Lai, 16 March 1968, on Thompson's trip back to My Lai in 1998.
Read more ›

Hope Remains

A story from prison

by Nancy Hastings Sehested
(excerpt from an upcoming book of stories from work as a prison chaplain)

            As I greeted the men at the door for the midweek Christian service I was surprised to see Blake, a regular in the Wiccan group.

            “Chap, I didn’t come for the service. I came to see you. I gotta see you now.” Read more ›