One of the most compelling histories for Baptist Women in Ministry is The History of the Women’s Missionary Union published in 1964 by Alma Hunt, Executive Secretary (1948-1974) of the Southern Baptist Convention Woman’s Missionary Union. Without a very exciting title, Hunt provides one of the most dramatic accounts of the beginning of the women’s movement in the Southern Baptist Convention that took place in Richmond, Virginia in 1888.
“Horse-drawn hacks clattered on the cobblestones of the capital city of Virginia. The Richmond Dispatch headlines for Friday, May 11, 1888, read: ‘Baptists to meet. Over eight hundred delegates and many visitors expected.’
For the past forty-eight hours, Main Street station had echoed with voices of visitors from every section of the South. The newspaper prediction that this would be ‘the largest meeting the SBC ever had, and one of the largest religious assemblies that ever met in the South seemed to be coming true.
The busiest spot of the city centered within the shadow of the spire rising above the First Baptist Church, Richmond. In the next square east, the spire of the Broad Street Methodist Church cast its shadow on a vastly different group. A few women talked together. In a friendly courtesy, the basement Sunday school room of this church had been prepared for a small gathering of Baptist women, thirty-two delegates from twelve state Central Committees and perhaps one hundred Richmond women. They had one purpose in mind: to unite their scattered missionary efforts into one organization and to take the gospel to women in other lands. These women symbolized the beginning of an unbroken line of dedicated women who humbly, yet proudly, would call themselves ‘laborers together with God.’”
In Luke 8:1-3, we meet Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna and other women who are accompanying Jesus as he travels and preaches the Good News of the Kingdom of God. These women represent the early adapters, the women who are purposeful, dedicated and eager to serve based on who they are, what they have and who they are called to be. Why? The Jesus Movement invited women to participate in ministry with a result that women felt included in community resulting in their commitment to service and kingdom living.
Today, there are modern-day women who are actively engaged as disciples and also see their purpose as “laborers together with God.” Billie and Jerry, whose stories are shared with permission, are individually gifted women who serve God, families, church congregation, and community. Individually, each is talented, smart and generous; as a pair, they are a powerhouse! Through a friendship with them that has continued for thirty-five years, I have experienced these women disciples as relational, serving, hospitable, creative and consistent. Billie and Jerry, respectively, have also experienced suffering in the death of a teenage son and a courageous walk with a spouse with vision impairment. Both continue to experience healing and exhibit courage to move forward in the Christ-life. Both offer the same to others as they welcome, teach, lead, prepare and serve—unselfishly.
Why do women seek to be disciples of Jesus? For most, it is a variety of reasons, like the teachings of Jesus or the spiritual nurture received in our faith communities. It might also be the healing we have received or the comfort provided to us from others or the gifts affirmed, including God’s call to ministry. Most importantly, women serve Jesus because we are in relationship with God, Jesus and Holy Spirit—the Trinity (God’s presence and God’s love).
Dear God, thank you for so beautifully calling women to discipleship. Amen.
Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources. Luke 8:1-3 (NIV)
Ka’thy Gore Chappell
Executive Director, Baptist Women in Ministry of NC
Winston-Salem, North Carolina