MEMPHIS, Tenn. (ABP) — Baptist supporters of women in church leadership looked back on 25 years of triumphs and setbacks June 18 as Baptist Women in Ministry celebrated its first quarter-century in Memphis, Tenn.
About 150 people gathered at Memphis’ eclectic and intimate Center for Southern Folklore for the event, which was held just prior to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Memphis. They shared stories about the highs and the lows of trying to lead Baptist congregations and to celebrate those who paved the way for women in ministry.
Supporters also heard a report highlighting the advances and challenges for Baptist women in congregational and denominational leadership since the organization was founded in 1983.
BWIM is an organization that “is an advocate for women in ministry,” said Eileen Campbell-Reed, co-author of the report, “A 25-Year Retrospective of Baptist Women in Ministry.”
More than 2,000 ordained
When the organization started in 1983, the group could identify fewer than 200 Baptist women ordained to the gospel ministry. Now they count more than 2,000.
But, even as moderate Baptist groups have become more open to women in leadership during that time, the Southern Baptist Convention has grown more conservative on the subject. Very few churches aligned solely with the SBC ordain women in leadership roles any more, the report noted.
During the Southern-style dinner, the group presented awards named in honor of Addie Davis — the first modern-day Southern Baptist woman ordained as a minister in 1964.
Bailey Edwards Nelson, a pastoral resident at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., received the award for excellence in preaching. Caroline Lawson, a pastoral intern at Morris Chapel United Methodist Church in Walkerton, N.C., received the award for outstanding leadership in pastoral ministry.
LeAnn Gunter Johns, the group’s past coordinator, is a pastor at Peachtree Baptist Church in Atlanta. She has been preaching for six years.
“I have not experienced a lot of negativity,” she said, giving credit to the women who came before her.
Walking the journey together
It helped that her parents were supportive although they hadn’t attended a church with a woman pastor. She said she and her family walked the journey together.
Women preachers “shouldn’t sound so foreign to our ears,” said Ellen Sims, associate pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Mobile, Ala. Sims started out as an English professor and became a pastor about 2 years ago.
She noted that BWIM sponsors the Martha Stearns Marshall Day of Preaching the first Sunday of every February. The day encourages Baptist churches — even those without female ministers on staff — to turn their pulpits over to a woman for the morning. Marshall was an 18th-century Baptist preacher.
“We believe that Baptist women today are still listening and following God’s call to ministry, and we believe that God will continue to call other women into this incredible vocation,” according to a message from the coordinator in the report. “Thus, BWIM and the leadership team will continue the work of advocating, connecting, and networking women (and men) together in ministry.”
Kate Campbell, a Baptist folk singer with a Southern drawl, provided the entertainment for the evening. She had the women join in on her final song. Their voices rose in harmony as they sang the lines, “Sometimes I feel discouraged and I think my works in vain, but then the Holy Spirit revives my soul again.”
“We have come a long way,” Johns said about the increased number of ordained women in Baptist life. “But we still have a long way to go.”