The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina’s annual general assembly March 19-20 provided the occasion for several auxiliary meetings, including the North Carolina Chapter of Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM-NC) and the second Elevating Preaching Conference.
As BWIM-NC gathered at Knollwood Baptist Church on the morning of March 19, it felt a bit like old times: back in the day when the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina still treasured its more moderate members and the annual meeting was traditionally held in Winston-Salem, it was customary for BWIM-NC to meet at Knollwood prior to the meeting.
The worship time was centered around the story found in Joshua 3:14-17, in which Joshua told the Israelites to take stones from the river as a memorial, as a way of explaining to future generations what God had done for them. Wanda Kidd, College Ministry Consultant for CBFNC, spoke of how BWIM emerged from Southern Baptist conflict in the 1990s. LeAnne Spruill, of Yates Baptist Church in Durham, expressed hope that as more children grow up seeing women in leadership roles, churches will become more accepting of women in the pulpit. “Seeing is believing,” she said. Veronice Miles, who teaches homiletics and Christian education at the Wake Forest University Divinity School, said current women leaders were like the Levites who carried the Ark of the Covenant and stood with their feet the water so others could cross over the Jordan. “We are not the first to face the waters of exclusion,” she said, but “We must tell the story we have promised not to forget and make them [these stones] a memorial forever.”
BWIM-NC presented its annual Church Award to Knollwood Baptist for its consistent support of women in ministry. The Anne Thomas Neill Award was presented to Jessie Belle Lewis, who died last fall, and her sister Claudeline Lewis, both members of Antioch Baptist Church in Enfield who were influential in that church’s decision to call its first woman pastor, Judith Powell. She became the first of four consecutive women pastors at Antioch (pictured, with Lewis, at right).
The second “Elevating Preaching Conference” was held in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Winston-Salem, during CBFNC’s afternoon workshop sessions. The event featured five speakers, including Matt Johnson (an MDiv student at WFU Divinity School), Nancy Hastings Sehested (chaplain at Marion Correctional Institution and co-pastor of the Circle of Mercy Congregation in Asheville), Robert Moses (a ThD student at Duke Divinity School, originally from Ghana), Doug Dickens (professor of pastoral studies at Gardner-Webb University’s divinity school), and James Dunn (retired executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, now teaching at the WFU divinity school).
Sehested’s sermon, delivered with great appeal and without notes, was a clear demonstration of what skilled women can offer the churches.
There may be more, but the number of Anglo Baptist churches in North Carolina I know of who have women pastors can be counted on my fingers with some left over. A few others have women serving as co-pastors. There is no question that churches would be well served if there were more. The eleven moderate seminaries established in the past two decades have helped to train and prepare a number of God-called women for ministry roles — including that of pastor — but the churches willing to call them are few and far between. I know several women who are convinced of their call and standing ready to serve, but most of the churches willing even to consider them still conclude “We’re just not ready for a female senior pastor.”
In my more cynical moments, I think they’re just chicken. There’s no guarantee that all women pastors will be pulpit stars or effective leaders, but there are some real gems out there who could be, if they were just given a chance.
I’ve seen, and I believe.