Why Martha Matters to Me by Kristy Bay

Kristy BayIn preparation for leading a student disciple now weekend that dealt with how our faith sees us through the hard times, I sat down with some of my old journals for a little trip down memory lane. Yes, some of it made me cringe, some entries elicited giggles, and some entries stopped me in my tracks.  You see, it was in junior high when I first began to write about my calling “to be a pastor’s wife.” At the time, this was all the vocabulary I had to express God’s call on my life. It wasn’t until much, much later that I would begin to have the language and worldview necessary to see this for what it was: my earliest inklings of a call to vocational ministry.

In a twist of irony, I actually AM a pastor’s wife. But simultaneously, I am a pastor. Since my middle school ramblings about calling, I have grown up, gone to college and seminary, spread my ministerial wings, been ordained, and preach/teach at various ministry events. This past Sunday, I was given the honor of being the Martha Stearns Marshall preacher for my newest faith community, First Baptist Church of Middlesboro, Kentucky. A beautifully intentional faith community nestled into a crater in Appalachian Kentucky. The lectionary text for last Sunday was about the worst I could have picked . . . the Sermon on the Mount section about adultery, divorce, cutting off sinful appendages, and the fires of hell. Not exactly inspirational. That is, until I really dug into this text and realized that Jesus’ formula here was intended to paint a wide picture of what the realm of God could and should look like: a place where the bearers of said Kingdom are those of integrity, who honor their commitments, who value truth and compassion, and who seek reconciliation above retribution.

And yet, these are but a few of the passages of scripture that are still misinterpreted in our day. And they are not alone. Far too many Christians choose portions of scripture to interpret “literally” whilst creatively bending other passages. 1 Timothy and Titus come to mind as a few used to “keep women in their rightful place.” As someone who has felt the sting of exclusion based on literal interpretations, it was a breath of fresh air this week to grapple with these texts. Jesus came not to abolish “the law,” but to put into place the overarching law of love. And this is hard for those who love the law to deal with. But time and time again, Jesus valued the intent behind the law over the literal letter of it. And what was the intent? To bring about the realm of God in which all of God’s children are afforded love, justice, reconciliation, and a place to belong.

Martha Stearns Marshall matters to me because it is the legacy of some faithful disciples who decided to value the law of love over the historic love of the law. It matters to me because it widens the Kingdom of God to include all of God’s children. And it matters to me because time and time again, I have been blessed by congregations who choose to walk in that legacy . . . because they follow Christ’s legacy. Congregations who repeatedly open their hearts, their arms, their doors, their baptisteries, and even their pulpits and say, “Who is welcome here? YOU. All of you, because you are all children of God.”

Kristy Bay is a minister, pastor’s wife, writer, musician, and friend to teeangers. She and her husband, Zach, live in Middlesboro, Kentucky. 

Honoring Martha by Dan White

Dan WhiteIt took a long time–213 years to be exact. But in February 2006, one of Columbia County’s leading women was finally honored for her outstanding achievements.

Baptist Women in Ministry honored Martha Stearns Marshall by naming February 2006 and every February after that as Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching to recognize women called to preach and to encourage all churches to enlist a woman to preach.

Martha Stearns Marshall (1732–1793) blazed the trail for women preachers and pastors in spite of scorn, persecution, and rejection by the colonial religious establishment of the eighteenth century. She was the most famous of many Separatist Baptist women preachers, deacons, and elders from that era.

Martha was a Holy Ghost-anointed Baptist preacher. According to her contemporaries, she was of singular piety, zeal, and surprising elocution. Her exhortations brought her audience to tears. She preached in church buildings, barns, town squares, and open fields. It was not unusual for thousands to gather to hear her proclaim the gospel message.

In 1747, Martha married Daniel Marshall, a Presbyterian “New Light” from Connecticut, and convinced him to become a Separate Baptist. Both of them had come under the spell of British Evangelist George Whitfield’s powerful preaching (Whitfield is credited with being the catalyst for the First Great Awakening). Soon after their marriage, the Marshalls sold everything they had and departed for the mission field in New York’s Susquehanna Valley to bring the gospel to the Mohawk Indians.

After the French and Indian War broke out, the Marshalls had to leave, and they joined Martha’s brother, Shubal Stearns, at Sandy Creek Baptist Church in Guilford County, North Carolina. A tremendous revival broke out that church and spread north, south, east, and across the Appalachian Mountains. Dozens of Separate Baptist churches were established. Ministers were ordained. Multitudes were converted to Christ and joined the newly formed Baptist churches.

Shubal recognized his sister’s divine gift, and along with her husband, he encouraged Martha to preach, and preach she did! She even was arrested and jailed in Virginia for refusing to stop preaching the gospel even though she was three months pregnant at the time.

Eventually, Martha and Daniel migrated even further southward, down the Piedmont into South Carolina and Georgia. They both continued to preach despite colonial authorities ordering them to stop. In defiance of the authorities and the laws that prohibited religious expression by unlicensed groups such as the Baptists, the Marshalls settled in 1771 in Georgia on the Kiokee Creek near Appling in Columbia County.

Daniel Marshall was a wanted man and was soon arrested in Augusta for preaching the gospel without government licensure. He was convicted, which made Martha furious. She let loose with scriptures that she had memorized, using them to support her case for religious liberty, challenging the arresting constable and the magistrate, and proclaiming that she and her husband would obey God rather than the laws of men.The British constable, Samuel Cartledge, was so moved by her passionate oratory that he converted and became a noted Baptist church planter and preacher. From their base of operations, Martha continued to preach and Daniel and his son, Abraham, established the first Baptist Church in Georgia, Kiokee Baptist Church, in 1772 and numerous other Baptist churches in Georgia and South Carolina.

I am especially proud of Martha, for my wife, Joyce, and my mother-in-law, Ramona Baston Smith, are direct descendants of this magnificent trailblazing woman preacher from the banks of Kiokee Creek. The Marshalls’ home site and the Old Kiokee church building are not far from our home–on Tubman Road, off Washington Road in Columbia County. The home site has interpretive markers and is well worth a visit.

Dan White is the pastor of North Columbia Church in Appling, Georiga.

This blog first appeared as a column in the Augusta Chronicle on February 7, 2014.

Distractions by Tammy Abee Blom

BowlingInclement weather trapped us inside for a few days, and it was time for an adventure. The girls campaigned mightily for bowling as long as I bowled with them. So that’s how I found myself at the bowling center with both girls frustrated with me.

I had agreed to bowl with them, but secretly, I had plotted to return emails and organize a church event while they bowled and I participated halfheartedly. I was getting away with it, until Eve bowled a strike. She turned around, caught me with my eyes riveted on my phone and exclaimed, “You missed it. How could you miss it?! I bowled a strike. Mom!” Add preadolescent drama and eye rolling to the words, and you get the picture.

I knew what I had to do. I put the phone in my purse and participated with my girls. It sounds like a simple choice to put away the phone, but the running loop of tasks was not easily ignored. I was thinking about what needed to be done, who needed to be contacted, and what I had forgotten to defrost for dinner. With ball in hand, I took a deep breath as I approached the line and said, “Right now. All I am doing is bowling.” When I found myself adding more to the mental to do list, I reminded my brain, “All I am doing is bowling.”

Once I focused on bowling with Eve and Audrey, my shoulders relaxed, and we enjoyed our time together. But I had almost missed the moment.

There is a Zen saying, “Talk when you talk. Walk when you walk. Die when you die.” I am adding to the list, “Bowl when you bowl.” I have falsely convinced myself that I can do multiple tasks at once and all of them will get the attention they deserve. It is not true. My girls got angry with me when I tried to appease them with part of my attention after I had promised my full self. Not only do my relationships suffer but so does my spirit when I chase distractions rather than focus on the now. This desire to live in the now is called mindfulness or centering. Both Thomas Merton and Parker Palmer sought lives rich with being fully present and focusing on the moment at hand. Henry Thoreau said it like this,

In my walks, I would fain return to my senses.
What business have I in the woods
if I am thinking of something out of the woods?
– Thoreau –

Whether Zen or Thoreau, I am inspired to focus on what I am doing now and do it with attention and passion. When I succeed in being in the now, I see God’s grace and goodness in myself and the moment.

Tammy Abee Blom is an ordained Baptist minister, regular contributor to BWIM’s blog, mother of two amazing daughters, teacher for children’s Sunday School, and lives in Columbia, South Carolina.