Martha Stearns Marshall Month 2009

Stepping Up

by Donald Berry and Chris George

CHRIS & KELLI 4Kelli George Kirksey notes that her brother, Chris, was in the minority in their household as one brother with three sisters. Yet she never thought of him as a boy but rather as her brother. She became aware of gender issues in relation to the church when Chris was a student at Harvard Divinity School. She remembers evening conversations between her brother and their father regarding women’s roles in the church. Her brother’s strong support of women in leadership caused her to seek answers to the question of what she could and could not do.

Bible study led her to a key question, “Where are the women in the Bible?” She found plenty of male heroes from Abraham to Ezra, but female protagonists were rare. Now a third-year Master of Divinity student at Gardner-Webb Divinity School in Boiling Springs, North Carolina, Kelli now looks back and sees that her own path to ministry paralleled the experience of Esther.

On February 1, 2009, in celebration of Martha Stearns Marshall Women’s Month of Preaching, Kelli delivered the homily as the guest preacher at First Baptist Church, Mobile, Alabama, where her brother is the pastor. Her sermon, based on a text from the book of Esther, was brief, her diction clear and deliberate, and her message straightforward.

Kelli began her homily by underscoring that Esther’s story parallels a universal human experience. God is often hidden from us. Like Esther, Kelli noted that she has heard no audible voice and received no burning bush commission. In her homily, she talked of Esther hiding her ethnic identity and hiding from her destiny for “such a time as this.” Mordecai encouraged Esther to step up and take her place for the good of her community. No divine mandate was received, yet Esther risked her standing as queen, even her life, to save Jewish lives from Persian vengeance. Kelli reminded the congregation that even today although God may remain hidden, all Christians share the responsibility to step up and become leaders needed by a world in crisis.

After the message, Kelly and her brother Chris together served the Lord’s Supper to the congregation. The membership of First Baptist heard for the first time in a worship service the words of institution for communion spoken by both a male and female voice.