Martha Would Be Proud
by Pam Durso
One hundred and six Baptist churches across the nation and one in Cuba joined together in February 2010 to observe the fourth annual Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. Churches in eighteen states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) and District of Columbia invited women into their pulpits to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. The event has grown since in 2007, when fifty-five churches participated in the inaugural Month of Preaching.
Sponsored by the Baptist Women in Ministry, the event is named for Martha Stearns Marshall, an eighteenth-century North Carolina Separate Baptist woman preacher, who preached alongside her brother and husband. The event is both a celebration of women in the pulpit and an opportunity to educate congregations about women in ministry.
Micah Pritchett, pastor in Kansas City, Missouri, invited two students from William Jewell College, Hannah Lewis and Abby Pratt, to preach at Englewood Baptist Church. In the welcome to worship, Pritchett told stories of his own opportunities as a seminary student to preach in small Texas churches, and he reminisced, “Those churches gave me an opportunity to explore my calling and see if this was what God really wanted me to do. They let me use my gifts and gain some experience. Those little country churches play an important role in preparing young ministers for ministry. But most of those little churches won’t invite a woman to come preach. Young women don’t get those opportunities that I had.” Pritchett continued, “Today we are saying that we support women in ministry–not just in theory, but in a very practical way as we bless and encourage these two young women as they explore God’s call on their lives.”
For Martha Stearns Marshall Day at Bethel Baptist Church, Scottsburg, Virginia, Jonci Womack preached on Phil. 1:12-14, reminding the congregation that “we can give all of our troubles to God because he has promised to never leave us or forsake us.” Of the experience of preaching, Womack said, “I felt that having the opportunity to speak was a chance for me to show that we are all called to speak out and share God’s love with this broken world, not only on Sunday morning, but each and every day of our lives.”
Kate Hanch, children’s ministry associate at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, preached on Luke 4 and the temptations of Jesus. Keith Herron, the church’s pastor, expressed his appreciation for her words: “What was so extraordinary about Kate’s sermon was the obvious attention she put into writing a well-crafted word on a tough text. That’s not a text one can nibble around the edges because the text itself demands one go to courageously to the heart of the story. Kate demonstrated that she knew how to approach the text and her sermon was well done because she had seriously listened to the story and helped us listen too.”
Bailey Edwards Nelson preached twice for Martha Stearns Marshall Day, once at the church where she serves, Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church, Jackonsville, Florida, and once at First Baptist Church, Rockingham, North Carolina. Nelson was preaching for the first time as a mother, having given birth to her son, Aidan, on December 17, 2009. “To step into the pulpit for the first time as a mother,” Nelson noted “was a distinct and overwhelming intersection with the ever-creating God. My son has colored the way I approach the Holy, and as a result, the way I approach the task of preaching. Love, mercy, and hope have been manifested in my life and I can hold him in my arms . . . who dare not be changed by that?”
This year Martha Stearns Marshall Day was observed for the first time in Cuba. Lauren Colwell, associate minister for spiritual formation and families at First Baptist Church, Savanah, Georgia, preached with the assistance of a translator, Marioles, at Iglesia Bautista Genesaret in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba. “I was nervous about conveying a relevant and coherent message through a translator,” Colwell said, “but Marioles dispelled those fears immediately. My limited Spanish knowledge told me that she not only provided a better than dynamically equivalent translation, but also matched the tone, inflection and emphasis in my delivery. What a powerful experience it was to share the act of preaching in two different languages before our sister congregation in Sancti Spiritus, Cuba.”
Colwell’s sermon focused on the story of Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, and she challenged her listeners: “We are often quick to forget what we have seen or learned in the past, but we still have reason to look to an expectant, hopeful future. When we allow God to open our eyes, like Hagar, we experience a different outlook.”