It was a beautiful night under the stars.

A group of us stood at a place overlooking the city of Budapest in Hungary.

Our host, a local Baptist minister, took our Ottawa University choir group on a tour of the city, regaling us with stories and a wonderful meal.

You cannot go anywhere in the world without finding a Baptist, and most assuredly, they will have a plate of food waiting for you.

I asked the minister about the life of the churches in Hungary. The pastor told a few stories about various congregations.

Along the way, he made an observation. “If it weren’t for the women, we would have no churches.”

The Hungarian pastor was puzzled by the response of some Baptists back in America who were making headlines around the same time (the mid-1990s), claiming that women should not be in church leadership, especially pastoral ministry.

He could not conceive of Baptist churches without women in the fullness of the life of the church being part of what made a church “tick.”

Women in the pulpit, women in the choir, women in the mission field, women in the furtherance of the church.

He celebrated how the church could expand beyond the limits of the horizons some of its followers chose to maintain.

I agreed with him, somewhat because I grew up in the American Baptist denomination, which on our good days has not placed a stained-glass ceiling in the way of people based on gender, age, race/ethnicity and so on.

I also grew up the child of the churches that if it were not for the women, we would not have much left.

My time in university and seminary was underwritten in part by the scholarship programs of the American Baptist Women of the Central Region (Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas).

I learned early on in life that there is great good to be found when the “mothers of the church” get behind the needs of a local church or around the nation or world.

In the history of many congregations, we remember the contributions of many women, past and present, who have furthered the ministry of the church, whether in the committee and board meetings, the kitchen, the classroom and the pulpit.

The Hungarian Baptist said it well, echoing the lessons of our Baptist heritage, the history of the church, and the witness of the New Testament to the women who have enriched the community of faith.

Sometimes, the story of Lydia appears on the same Sunday in the lectionary as the United States celebrates Mother’s Day, the day we remember mothers and give words and signs of honor and love.

For 2016, Lydia appeared in the readings for last Sunday.

The conversion of Lydia (Acts 16:11-40) is also about the change of Paul’s mind.

While making the plans to travel and preach the gospel, he is summoned to a place he had not considered going.

Paul has a hard time making any connections in Philippi, yet on the outskirts and margins of the town, he finds a faithful witness awaiting him.

While he finds himself singing the jailhouse blues after tangling with the local authorities, Paul will discover that Lydia has spent her time building up a congregation.

I think it is most appropriate to find Lydia down by the riverside at prayer on such a day as this, for we must also celebrate the continuing legacy of what happened next when Lydia embraced the gospel and lived it out.

Jerrod H. Hugenot is the associate executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of New York State. His writings can also be found on his blog, Preaching and Pondering.

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