The only woman pastor in her community, the sole woman on the church staff, the first female faculty member in her seminary, the solo woman among the chaplains in her hospital or hospice, a co-pastor with her husband, a worship pastor in a historically black church, the first woman president of a Latin American Baptist convention; they were all present at Leading Women, and many more. Pioneering, pursuing, and persisting, these Baptist women came together to tell stories of remembrance and courage, beautiful narratives of grace. We also listened to our sisters to learn good practices to sustain ministry and to gain strength to persevere.
As historic, perhaps, as that first organizing meeting of Baptist women in ministry in 1983, this gathering (April 26-28) allowed us to take measure of the genuine progress over these ensuing years. Younger women who have grown up along with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and have benefitted from its unwavering support of their vocational aspiration listened to tales of yore as some gave historical context to the movement.
You can imagine the laughter as we shared stories of baptismal mishaps, faux pas at Eucharist, slips that slip during sermons, and children’s sermons hijacked by a deacon’s kid. We marveled at the creative gifts of our sisters and how they are changing congregations, schools, non-profits, and other varied ministry contexts.
A lovely moment came when I was able to welcome another woman to the presidency of a Baptist seminary. At one time there were only two of us: Lillian Lim (of blessed memory) of the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary and I, here in Kansas. That was all Baptists could stand, evidently—one per hemisphere. Now there is another. Dr. Linda McKinnish Bridges will begin serving as president of Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond on July 1. I presented her with some juggling balls, as the demands of the office require such skill.
Then I traveled to another Baptist meeting in Mattoon, Illinois, where I encountered American Baptist women who are making all things new in the ABC family. The Reverend Muriel Johnson, a regional minister for the Great Rivers Region, is a force of nature. A gifted preacher, leader, and mentor, she exudes the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. We all call her “bishop,” and with good reason. She guides us in a more excellent way. Stephanie Johanpeter aka “Pastor Jo,” a Central alumna, is an ebullient presence in her church, area, and region. I watched how the good folk of southern Illinois related to these two, and my heart was made glad by their pastoral excellence.
God is doing a new thing in our midst. Women are a key ingredient in making all things new, and when women gather, new horizons open. Faithful men add to this with their partnership and affirmation. Thanks be to God!
Molly T. Marshall