February is approaching, and with it the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching, when churches are encouraged to invite a woman to preach at some point (or more than one point) during the month. Those brave (and smart) churches that alreay have a woman pastor are also encouraged to show support for sister preachers, perhaps by inviting another woman who rarely gets an opportunity to preach to “fill the pulpit,” as we Baptists like to say.
The emphasis has been sponsored by Baptist Women in Ministry since 2007, and has grown from a handful of participants to 200 or more in 2013.
Martha Stearns Marshall was the sister of pioneer Baptist Shubal Stearns, who sparked a Separate Baptist movement in North Carolina beginning in 1755, and the wife of Daniel Marshall, who worked with Stearns and was the first pastor of Abbotts Creek Baptist Church in High Point before moving south to establish churches in South Carolina and Georgia.
In addition to supporting her brother and husband, Martha exercised her own passion for the gospel and gift of speaking in various ways, even when some male pastors of the day thought she was out of line. In describing the Marshalls’ work, Virginia Baptist historian Robert Semple wrote in 1810 that “Mrs. Marshall, being a lady of good sense, singular piety, and surprising elocution, has, in countless instances melted a whole concourse into tears by her prayers and exhortations!”
It was in the royal colony of Georgia, as I’ve noted before, that my family encountered the Marshalls, who had crossed the Savannah River around 1770 to lead an evangelistic brush arbor meeting. One or more men of the Cartledge family, who served as king’s constables, arrested Daniel for preaching a doctrine contrary to that of the Church of England, which was against the law in Georgia.
Martha had something to say about that. According to historian B.F. Riley, “Mrs. Marshall reportedly expressed the indignation of fellow onlookers by forcefully lecturing the officers of the law, fluently quoting passage after passage of scripture in support of her husband’s doctrine.” As a result, Riley wrote, “The stern constable, Samuel Cartledge, was so impressed by the inspired words to which she gave utterance, that he was pricked to the heart, and was ultimately led to Christ.”
As it turns out, virtually the entire Cartledge clan left Anglicanism, with several becoming founding members of Kiokee Baptist Church in Columbia County. I am a Baptist today — seven generations later — largely because of Martha Stearns Marshall.
Modern-day Marthas are all around us, women who are fervent for the gospel and with budding eloquence that lacks only experience and opportunity.
If your church hasn’t already invited one or more women to preach during February, it’s not too late to rectify that situation: to bless and be blessed.
[If your church does participate, BWIM director Pam Durso keeps records of such things and would love to hear from you at email@example.com]
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.