Did you hear it?
Maybe not . . . after all there was already a generous crack in the mold that shaped The Memorial Baptist Church in Greenville, North Carolina. But that sound was the mold breaking as we ordained the first woman into the gospel ministry in our church’s 188-year history.
For many years, The Memorial Baptist Church has supported women in leadership roles. We have had our share of women lay leaders and ministers. Over the years, we have ordained many women into the ministry of deacon, but the opportunity to ordain a woman as a minister had not presented itself, until recently.
As with any historical congregation, the decision to do something new is a journey. That journey for our church began in 2010 when our diaconate received a request from Rebecca Aikens, who was seeking a letter of affirmation and recommendation of endorsement for her pursuit of a Master of Divinity degree from Campbell Divinity School. The deacons read the request without hesitation and voted to endorse, each signing their name in affirmation.
Throughout Rebecca’s time at Campbell, she remained on the hearts and in the prayers of the people at The Memorial Baptist Church. Rebecca speaks of her church family often and describes how they helped to “pray her through” divinity school. During her seminary years, she answered her call into hospice chaplaincy.
It came as no surprise when, last fall, Rebecca entered into my office and asked to be ordained. She was excited, yet nervous. She was ready to fulfill her calling, yet anxious at what she was being called to do. Rebecca was experiencing what every person as far back as Moses and Aaron experienced; which was, “Am I worthy?”
As pastor, I was excited and nervous as well for Rebecca, but also for our church. I wondered what it would mean for us. After all, we had not ordained a woman into the work of gospel ministry in our 188-year existence!
After prayer and conversations with our church moderator, the deacons were first presented with Rebecca’s request. They too initially pondered over what it would mean for the church. Then a lone person said in loud voice, almost a shout, “This is wonderful!” With that, the deacons shifted gears into discussing when they could bring the wonderful news before the church for a vote. Some deacons even jokingly argued as to who among them would get to serve on the ordination council.
Rebecca was ecstatic. I was enthralled, and our church historian was elated that history was being, in his words, “corrected.”
On February 28, 2016, Rebecca was ordained in the beautiful sanctuary of The Memorial Baptist Church, her church home, with several friends and family in attendance.
So, when I asked if you heard it, perhaps I was not referring to the mold breaking, but rather that sound was the thunderous applause that was heard when for the first time in Rebecca’s life, she was rightly called, Reverend, and a historic church once again made history.
Brad Smith is the pastor of The Memorial Baptist Church, Greenville, North Carolina.