Becoming Women of Substance: An Interview with Rev. Patti Ricotta

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Hello Church,

Our first ever Metro Women’s Retreat is less than a month away, and to say we’re psyched would be an understatement. You see, for the first time in our church’s history, our Metro women will come together to intentionally “retreat” from our daily lives and be in the presence of our God and one another.

Moreover, we will have the privilege to hear God’s message powerfully spoken through his beloved servant, Rev. Patti Ricotta, who knows a thing or two about what it means to be a woman who understands her identity as defined in the Scriptures, and is able to embrace and live out her mission and purpose as a daughter of God and disciple of Jesus Christ.

The retreat will take place from April 26-28 at Star Lake Conference Center in Bloomingdale, NJ. All spots have been filled but if you’d like to be put on the waiting list, please reach out to us at womens.ministry@emetro.org.

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In preparation for the event, we’ve asked Rev. Patti to share with us about her spiritual journey and background, as well as provide some insight into the meaning of our retreat theme: ”Becoming Women of Substance: Shedding Lies & Living Out Your God-Given Significance.”

Her interview and thoughtful responses are written below.

Please sit back, relax, and take a few minutes to get to know this very special woman and read about how God, through her own life experiences, has led her on this incredible journey of discovering and teaching on the Scriptural interpretation of oneness in Christ.

Happy reading!

Patti, thank you for offering up your time to be with us in April. We are so excited to get to know and learn from you during our time together! Please share a little bit about yourself and how you were led to this particular area of teaching.

Hi, Metro Women. First let me say that I am THRILLED to be with you this April! The biblical subjects we will deal with are foundational to understanding who we are as women made in the image of God. Our exploration together will help you see yourself as the woman of substance God made you to be!

My background has been enormously formative in my spiritual journey; and whether we realize it or not, the same can be said for all of us!

I grew up in Montgomery, Alabama during the height of the civil rights movement. My all-white church was five blocks from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. started the Civil Rights Movement. My mother worked at the same department store where Rosa Parks had worked when she refused to give up her seat on the Montgomery bus, starting the bus boycott, and my father traveled every week from Montgomery to Selma and back during the Civil Rights March from Selma to Montgomery.

It is painful to write, but most of the white people in our state agreed with our governor that white people were created by God to be superior to black people. As a result, they believed they had the right and responsibility to rule over blacks. Sadly, whites were willing to do whatever it took to force black people into subservience. It was an evil and incredibly volatile time to grow up.

Growing up, these were the pictures Patti viewed nearly every night on the television screen that deeply impacted her little girl heart.

Growing up, these were the pictures Patti viewed nearly every night on the television screen that deeply impacted her little girl heart.

A young black woman holds a sign that reads: "Can a Man Love God and Hate his Brother?" A white police officer takes away a sign that reads: "All are One in Christ Jesus."

A young black woman holds a sign that reads: "Can a Man Love God and Hate his Brother?" A white police officer takes away a sign that reads: "All are One in Christ Jesus."

As a little girl growing up and hearing those messages from white leaders and legislators regarding the inferiority of people of color, how did you keep yourself from absorbing and taking up those hostile attitudes?

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Well, God put a very powerful woman in my life to teach me what my Southern culture could not, and to show me that God’s culture supersedes every other culture. Her name was Annie and she was the black housekeeper who took care of me and my siblings every weekday of our growing up years. Because we were poor, both my parents had to work until late in the evening. This was at a time when it was shameful for an educated Christian woman to work outside of the home. Yet, my mother unapologetically helped support our family and entrusted us to Annie’s care.

I loved and respected Annie. There was nothing inferior about her! I needed her, and she helped me to become the woman I am today. Her influence in my life taught me, at a very young age, that adults - even adults in very powerful positions - could be wrong about some of the most important issues in life. My upbringing in the race-torn South shaped the questions of my heart and fueled a life-long exploration of what it means that all human beings are made in the image of God!

What was the church’s role in the development of this view? Did it confirm or oppose your understanding that all people are equal in the eyes of God?

As I became a young woman, I began to realize the superior/inferior conflict was not isolated to issues of race. After accepting Christ as my Lord and Savior at age 17, I was taught by my Christian leaders that God made women inferior to men. “Man is the Head; Woman is the tail,” I heard so many times. But where is that Scripture?? Young women were taught that because God made the woman second, and only as a helper for the man (to keep his house, wash his clothes, cook his food, have his babies), a woman is only considered good and godly if she is quiet, accepts the authority of men/husbands, and is grateful for her position as subservient to men.

Why grateful?

Because as the Bible clearly teaches (according to most Christian leaders of the day), God did not need to give women the intellect or capacity to make important decisions and carry them out. Sound familiar? Those qualities belong only to men; therefore, women should be grateful that they don’t have to make decisions for their families, and even for their own lives. They simply are not capable of making good decisions. Submission keeps women from ruining everyone’s life, so it was taught.

I know this seems like an extreme exaggeration compared to today. But these are the “grandparent thoughts” that still have their lingering affect among Christians at our current time.

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How did you respond to such teachings that ran so counter to what was revealed through your own and personal experiences and relationships?

I went to the scriptures to see for myself. I asked: “What did God intend by using the word “head” to describe husbands? Does it really equate to “authority over,” or did God intend a more tender, unifying message by the analogy of head and body? Was woman really just an after-thought, or could there be another reason why God made the woman after the man? Does the word “helper” that God uses to describe woman really mean someone who cooks and cleans for the man? Or does the Creator show us what he meant when he proclaimed the woman “helper” by giving the man an unforgettable object lesson before creating the woman?”

What about your family? Were the church’s views of a woman’s “rightful place” reinforced within your own home?

Thankfully not. I was puzzled by the teachings of the Church about men and women because of the amazing example of my own mom and dad. They were quite different from typical Southern couples of the time. Both my parents worked hard together, inside and outside the home. My father and mother collaborated on every issue our family faced. Dad was wise and nurturing; mom was wise and had a mind for business. My dad leaned on my mother for her abilities in carrying out the business of running the family, and she leaned on him to recognize when their five children needed extra love and attention.

Sometimes, after openly discussing something together, my dad would see that mom’s ideas made more sense about how to do something. Grateful for a good decision, dad submitted to mom. Other times, the discussion evolved showing that my dad’s ideas would produce the desired outcome and mom gratefully submitted to dad. They loved each other and submitted to each other when making all family decisions.

But was that biblical?

Not according to my spiritual leaders. They believed my father had abdicated his God-ordained leadership role by not insisting my mother simply do as she was told. Mom was violating her position as my father’s “helper” by inserting her own thoughts into dad’s decision-making process. Surely, our family would devolve into chaos if my father didn’t right the ship, take over the helm, and put my mother in her place.

But that never happened, and my parents lived in deep, abiding, faithful and mutual love for 64 years until my mother’s death. They would say their marriage was blessed with love and grace because of their mutual respect and mutual submission. My mother set before me a picture of a woman’s strength and gifts being utilized by God for the good of everyone around her, and my father imprinted on me an understanding that God, as Father, was loving, kind and compassionate. They both taught me that marriage works well in an ebb and flow of mutual submission.

Patti’s parents, Jimmy and Betty Baldwin. Together they modeled mutual respect, love, and submission in their marriage - something very counter to what the Church as well as society was espousing at the time.

Patti’s parents, Jimmy and Betty Baldwin. Together they modeled mutual respect, love, and submission in their marriage - something very counter to what the Church as well as society was espousing at the time.

How did you process these competing views and ultimately come to conclude that what was being reflected in your parent’s relationship and what you understood from your own study of Scripture was indeed God’s view?

I simply had to figure out who was right. Was it the Church that told me women only matter to God in a secondary way, and that men are really God’s great human love (that felt exactly like the argument of my state’s racist population, who taught that black people only matter to God in a secondary way, and that whites are really God’s great human love!); or was my experience with my parents closer to what God had in mind when he created male and female in his image? I had so many questions that my church leaders simply couldn’t or didn’t care to try answering.

How deep did you go in your study of Scripture and your desire to verify and better understand God’s intention and purpose for male and female relationship?

Eventually, my three sons were old enough that they and their father felt comfortable with me being away a couple of days a week. That allowed me to fulfill a 25 year-old dream of going to seminary. Since my college years, I had always wanted to study the Bible’s original languages – Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). I knew that careful examination of the original words in their biblical contexts was the most profitable way to learn what God meant at the time the Holy Spirit inspired those words to be written.

It is bad interpretation (hermeneutics) to put a 21st century definition on an ancient word and expect to get a clear meaning (exegesis) of what God intended to say through the text to his audience at the time. I wanted to know if it was true that God made the man first because he intended males to lead females. What did God truly have in mind when he declared that his female image bearer would be a “help” to man/humankind. Did the wife’s “submission” really mean that every man was more capable than any woman to discern the will of God?

What I came to learn, after years of deep study and prayer, is that the answers can only properly be discerned by going back to the beginning and looking closely at God’s perfect design for his image bearers in creation. In order to understand what God intended for relationships between men and women, and what it really means to be a woman or a man, we have to start where God started, with one man and one woman in a garden, because it’s all about creating “oneness”! And that is where we are going to start, too!

Wonderful! We can’t wait to see what we’ll find through our study of God’s Word together. Thank you so much, Patti. God bless you and we’ll see you soon!

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Rev. Patti Ricotta is a member of Brewster Baptist Church (BBC) in Cape Cod, MA. She is also president and co-founder of Life Together International, an organization committed to combating injustice and building authentic biblical community through scriptural teachings on the fundamental equality of all people regardless of gender, ethnicity, socio-economic status or age. You can read more about her by visiting www.lifetogetherinternational.org.

Patti graduated from Auburn University with a B.S. in psychology, and moved to Cape Cod, MA to teach at The May Institute for Autistic Children in 1980. After raising her three wonderful sons, she fulfilled her longtime dream of studying the original biblical languages in seminary.

She graduated cum laude and earned membership in the Phi Alpha Chi Scholastic Honor Society from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 2011. Her Masters of Divinity focused on Hebrew, Greek and biblical interpretation for cross-cultural missions.

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