Over the past few months I have been fortunate to work closely with Laine Scales, a professor at Baylor University, serving as her intern at Good Neighbor House in Waco, Texas.  From her I learned that Baptist women worked in settlement houses one hundred years ago, when they were not allowed to participate in other forms of ministry, including preaching. This fact is an important part of our history as Baptist women. I hope this interview piques your interest in the history of Baptist women, settlement houses, and also in the revival of that ministry as represented by Good Neighbor Settlement House.

MM: Dr. Scales, what prompted the idea to start Good Neighbor Settlement House?

The vision for Good Neighbor House came out of my research on Baptist women in the early twentieth century. They created a model settlement house in Louisville, Kentucky. As a part of the curriculum for Baptist women training to be social workers and missionaries, students gained practical experience in the Baptist settlement houses, later named Good Will Centers. These centers, started by Woman’s Missionary Union at their Training School, proliferated all over the South and even overseas as the women graduates went out to do social work and missions. Since I teach graduate students in social work and higher education at Baylor University, I thought it would be a great project to bring together my commitments to social ministry, graduate education, and Baptist history.  We could provide hospitality and ministry to our neighborhood in North Waco and at the same time offer practical experience in ministry and community development for young people, just like those Good Will Centers did  one hundred years ago.

MM: You have a background in social work ministry; tell us about that.

I grew up in a Baptist family in which my parents modeled “good works” as part of every Christian’s responsibility. It was a natural extension of that upbringing for me to enroll in the Carver School of Church Social Work in 1984. I followed in the footsteps of my older sister, who had also studied at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. In Louisville, I learned from teachers, including Anne Davis and Diana Garland, icons in Baptist ministry. They taught me that what church work really needed was a trained cadre of ministers with MSW degrees to guide the work.  While in school, I felt called to continue on past the MSW, earn a doctoral degree, and become a professor who would in turn preparing church social workers to do the work.  The closing of our dear Carver School brought my beloved teachers, Diana Garland, Anne Davis, Patricia Bailey, and a few others, to Baylor and to Waco.  I followed them here to teach in social work and higher education. I have spent my entire career studying and admiring those Baptist women of the early 1900’s, our Carver School mothers, who set a path for the rest of us to study what we call church social work.  So, I guess we would say my ministry moved from doing to teaching. If we are not careful, that line of ministry can grow too distant, too much in the “ivory tower.” The Good Neighbor House gives me a very practical way to get involved daily and be “hands on” while still mentoring others who want to learn to do this work.

MM: How is Good Neighbor similar to or different from the early Baptist Good Will Centers?  

We are different in several ways. First, we have modernized for the twenty-first century. For example, we no longer need to segregate ourselves by gender so we involve both men and women in the project. Also, an important component of the settlement house model that the earlier Baptist women did NOT follow was to have residents, called “settlers,” living in the building. Frankly, that was one of my disappointments as I studied the Baptist settlement houses. Those women did not have the full experience. To correct that, Good Neighbor has updated the experience to include a group of five settlers living in the two houses on the property. This makes a huge difference. They build their own community as they live, pray, and learn together, and then they are able to reach out as legitimate neighbors to the rest of the community.

MM: What is Good Neighbor House Waco’s goal in regards to Christian ministry?

Of course, the primary goal is for the organization to provide Christian hospitality by opening spaces for classes, prayer meetings, clubs, and all the wonderful activities that those early Baptist women provided. A very important secondary goal is providing an opportunity for formation of our Christian settlers who spend at least one year with us. Some stay on longer. While we have had some women settlers from Truett Seminary or Baylor School of Social Work involved, our opportunities are open to anyone. We have also had gap-year settlers and more mature adults who are not students, but want to explore community engagement as a form of ministry. The settlers volunteer seven to ten hours each week in exchange for a rent subsidy and meet weekly with two mentors for guidance.

LS: What else would you like readers to know about Good Neighbor?

That this story, this history, is an important part of our heritage as women in ministry. When women were excluded from types of ministry considered inappropriate for their gender, opportunities like the Good Will Centers provided a space for women to answer God’s call. There are still women out there today who need these types of alternative spaces to practice doing social ministries. Good Neighbor Settlement House is attempting to provide these opportunities and I hope our readers would pass the word to ministry-minded women (or men) who might like to spend a year learning and volunteering with us.

Laine Scales is a 1986 graduate of the Carver School of Church Social Work, the descendent of the Woman’s Missionary Union Training School that launched settlement houses for Baptist women. She completed her Ph.D. in higher education at University of Kentucky in 1994 and has successfully combined her passion for social work, higher education, and Christian ministry in the Good Neighbor Settlement House project. We hope that by reading this interview you learned more about the unique work she is doing and will remember the hard work of the early Baptist women of the settlement houses who paved the way for today’s women in ministry.