Last November on the Baptist Women in Ministry Facebook page, the staff asked the question: “Who was the first woman you heard preach?” Several folks mentioned my mother’s name, Esther Burroughs. My mom was a great preacher–even if she didn’t always call herself that. She has now retired with my dad in Greenville, South Carolina, but in earlier years, she traveled around the United States and abroad sharing stories from her life and ministry.
Mom was born in Canada and eventually took a long bus ride to Mars Hill College, where she met my dad. They finished at Oklahoma Baptist University. After several years serving churches in Oklahoma and Texas, they accepted a call to Samford University in Birmingham. Dad went on the faculty as composer in residence, and mom became the first Baptist female campus minister in the state of Alabama. For nine years, they both influenced generations of Baptist young people–many of whom are in ministry and mission in Southern Baptist and Cooperative Baptist life, serving all over the world.
Next, my mom got a call to come to the Southern Baptist Home Mission Board (HBM) to work in their student mission office in Atlanta. In this move, our parents taught me the value of an egalitarian marriage. We moved to advance my mother’s career. Dad moved without a job–finding a church to serve a few months later. In her role with the summer mission program, Mom hired me to work a summer at a Southern Baptist camp–beginning what would become my career of summer camp ministry through Passport Camps.
A few years later mom was invited to join the HMB’s Evangelism Department–as only the second woman to serve in a national leadership role there. She began to speak around the country at state and national SBC evangelism events. Some of her fellow preachers would not hold her hand when they gathered on the stage to pray before an event. She eventually left the HMB, and spent many years speaking, preaching, and writing before retiring.
I can’t adequately explain the impact my mother has had on my life. Both my parents shaped and influenced me in ways I am still discovering. But growing up, mom was a daily example of an empowered woman, who was living out her ministry calling by taking the next opportunity that came her way–with a strong will and a gentle grace that still define her.
Every role on a Passport Camp summer team is open to women–including the role of camp pastor. 47% of our camp pastors have been female. We have worked with a dozen women who are currently serving as senior pastors and dozens more who are associate pastors, youth and children’s ministers, chaplains, and missionaries.
Growing up, equal roles for women and men was normal in our house. I pray that this is normal for our houses of worship in ever increasing ways.
David Burroughs is the president of Passport Camps, a summer ministry to church youth and children’s ministries that provides week-long camps focused on mission and discipleship.