Presented during the thirtieth anniversary celebration of Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina, March 16, 2013.
In its second decade (1993-2003), as Baptist Women in Ministry of North Carolina transitioned from reacting to relating, the questions persisted. We as women in ministry, particularly as Baptists, wanted to know: To whom do we want to relate? What is our message? Who is our hope?
In those years, the sacred stories of my sisters in ministry did not speak of a call that was gender or age specific. I always felt that our desire was to minister to anyone who needed the hope of the gospel. I didn’t know any women who wanted to cause an uproar or make people angry because of their calling. The stories I heard were about sisters compelled to respond to all the challenges and affirmations that we had been immersed in all of our lives
Years of singing, “Wherever He leads I’ll Go” and Take My Life and Let it Be” put a conviction in our hearts that we could not nor did we want to ignore. Every time I heard the text read in which Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labors are few,” I thought that his call was to as many as would respond. Wouldn’t it make sense that as many of us who were willing to follow should be doing ministry? It never made sense to me that we would prohibit half of the population when there was so much work to do. But ten years into this organization’s existence, the lines seemed to have been drawn tighter, and people were being called in greater numbers and at great costs to make choices about allegiances. People were asked to sign the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message or be fired. While more women were being ordained and our new seminaries were open to educating women for ministry, the reality in 1993 was that ministry opportunities were still very limited for us.
And ministry opportunities that were available were hard. Several years ago I had a conversation with one of our BWIM founding mothers who had left a highly publicized senior pastorate. She said that she came to town with years of ideas that she wanted to share with the congregation that had courageously called her. She soon realized, however, with deep sadness, that it had taken all of the creative energy and passion the church had to call a woman amidst a great media frenzy and the public backlash, and they had nothing left to give. They had no energy to engage in her ideas, and she eventually had to walk away from that ministry opportunity.
Relating to those who we thought were our allies can be very disappointing and very painful.
But ever hopeful, those of us connected to BWIM of North Carolina continued to relate with truth, and courage and sometimes humor as we continue this journey.
I remember an experience I had years ago when I was preaching for a youth event at Camp Caraway. I was hustling down that back hall that had small couch in a dark alcove. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that someone was sitting on the couch, and I heard a man mutter under his breath, “I ain’t ever sat under no women preacher before.” I am pretty sure he was not trying to start a conversation with me, but the temptation was too great to resist. I stopped and turned to him and said, “I had just planned to speak the gospel to you, but I guess if you need me to sit on you I can.” He was clearly not expecting me to respond and most likely not open to further conversation, so I walked on. After the service, he came up to me, and I shook the hand that extended. Sometimes you can relate with very few words. Change is hard. Change is never fast enough for some. It is never slow enough for others.
The barriers that both men and women used to exclude and demonize women called to ministry always seemed fear-based to me. I could often feel the fear and pain people experienced as they thought about the price they would pay for letting go of their position and power. They often came across as harsh or patronizing or even prejudice, but if Carlyle Marney, the twentieth-century Baptist prophet is right, those who were driven by fear are the poorer for their shortsightedness. Marney wrote, “Prejudice is a vicious kind of mental slant; pushed up out of your culture that makes up your mind for you before you think. It is an evil kind of mental blind spot that shuts from your view the facts in a given situation. It is a tyrannous mental fence that holds you from friendships you need and confines you to your backyard. It may be racial, religious, sectional, economic or social. It is always personal anywhere it happens to you and it cuts across justice, perverts truth, subsists on lies and worse: it twists and waste personality.”*
There is a high cost and a great risk in relating to others, especially those who do not share our understanding of the gospel, but there is no ministry without relationship regardless of the risk. There are those who will never understand that God calls women to ministry, but for some of us, there are those moments when a young women we have known since she was in our GA group, calls and asks for a reference as she applies to seminary. Then she says, “You were the first woman that I ever saw as a minister. Thank you for being the person who showed me that there was another way. As we serve, we have such glimpses of the hope of the gospel in the lives of those to whom we relate.
At times when I felt excluded, my mom quoted to me from her favorite poem. The poem was Outwitted by Edgar Markham.
He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in
BWIM of North Carolina, we serve a Savior of bold hope for such a time as this.
Wanda Kidd is the college ministry coordinator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.
*Carlyle Marney, Faith in Conflict (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1957), 87.