There was a time, a few decades ago, when a woman being called to the pastorate of a church with historical connections to Southern Baptists was so rare (sadly) and such a big deal (for good reasons) that it created major headlines.
In each case, it seems, I knew the person personally or at least knew a good bit about her journey. For some, I’d heard them share this deep sense of calling that was truly a long-shot possibility.
They served as staff ministers for many years – pastors-in-waiting who too often waited and waited. Others found the fulfillment of their pastoral calling in more accepting and affirming places.
My first participation in an ordination service for a woman by a Southern Baptist congregation was in 1978, placing her among the first 50 or so. The ordination was not controversial, just a rural congregation affirming what they had witnessed in the life of one of their own.
That newly ordained Baptist minister at the time, however, is now retired from the pastorate after serving congregations of the United Methodist Church. Some of the brightest and best from the nurturing of Baptist congregations and Baptist campus ministries, and the training of Baptist theological seminaries, have fulfilled their ministry callings in other fellowships.
Good Faith Media’s Nurturing Faith Journal (going back to its earlier years as SBC Today and then Baptists Today) has long advocated for gender equality and reported on the growing impact of women in ministry.
The first issue, dated April 1983, reported on a gathering in Louisville, Kentucky, that led to the formation of what is now Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM).
The late Sarah Frances Anders, a sociologist and professor in Louisiana, faithfully tracked the growth of women ministers in Southern Baptist/Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregations.
Long before social media, her primary method for garnering such information came through her frequent requests for updates via letters to the editor that we gladly printed in the journal.
Sarah Frances, like many others, found BWIM to be a needed organization that encourages and resources both women ministers and the congregations they serve.
It is encouraging to see more women responding to ministerial callings and receiving theological training – and to read about congregations that eagerly call them to ministry positions including the pastorate.
But barriers still remain, even within congregations that claim to support gender equality.
As BWIM Executive Director Meredith Stone told me, “There is reason to celebrate the tremendous progress that has been made for women in ministry among Baptists. But this is not the time to claim victory.”
“Women still struggle to find places to live out their callings, and still experience the effects of 2,000 years of patriarchy embedded within the church – even among moderate and progressive Baptists,” she continued. “It will take continuous and intentional efforts from all of us to transform congregational cultures into ones that empower all women to live fully into their potentials for service in the church and world.”
The next big step will come when a congregation calling a woman as pastor will be less newsworthy. It will be no more of an exception than calling a man to that position.
My hope is to get to know more of the excellent pastors of congregations – both women and men – as their work is important and often very challenging. But it is a good thing that there are more women in pastoral roles now than when one could recite the few names from memory.
Ministry calling is to be taken seriously without the erecting or protecting of human barriers poorly constructed by patriarchy and propped up with isolated biblical texts in the same ways slavery, racism and other acts of inequality have been supported.
Several pastor friends have announced their retirements for later this year. Congregational leaders charged with finding their replacements would be wise and faithful to consider the full spectrum of pastoral possibilities.
It’s OK if the line of framed photos of past pastors takes on a different look.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.