I have in recent days been re-reading BWIM’s founding documents. (Some people binge-watch movies on Netflix in their spare time, I pull out dusty papers and binders of old newsletters and binge-read).  One of the documents that I keep coming back to was written by Nancy Sehested.

Nancy had a vision, one shared by the thirty-two other women who gathered on March 20, 1983 in Louisville, Kentucky. At this meeting, Nancy presented an address in which she set forth a vision for a new organization. This organization would encourage women to fuller ministries in churches and in the denomination; provide an avenue for sharing “the joys and struggles as disciples of Christ;” instill in women courage, insight, and strength; and explore, discuss, and form new paradigms of leadership, paradigms that encourage empowerment rather than control. And with those words Baptist Women in Ministry was birthed.

Thirty-six years later the organization lives on. The executive director in me takes great pride in knowing that BWIM survived lean years and hard times and now is thriving. The historian in me (the one who loves reading through dusty founding documents) is grateful to those thirty-three women who dreamed the dreams AND who also kept good records. The strategic thinker in me ponders about how well BWIM has lived into Nancy’s vision.

In these past four decades, Baptist women have indeed been encouraged to fuller ministries in churches and in denominations. In the early 1980s, fourteen women served as pastors of Southern Baptist churches.  In 2019, just over 200 women serve as pastors or co-pastors in churches that affiliate with the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, and the District of Columbia Baptist Convention. Progress for Baptist women pastors has been slow but steady in these past thirty-six years. In 2019, Baptist women are also seminary professors and president; hospital, military, and prison chaplains; executives of non-profit organizations; and denominational leaders. Baptist women are flourishing in fuller ministries than even dreamed about in 1983! 

Every day I hear stories and see social media posts that tell me that Baptist women ministers in 2019 are sharing “the joys and struggles as disciples of Christ.” Baptist women ministers gather in peer groups, mentoring groups, study groups. They go together on retreats, pilgrimages, and fun adventures. They attend each other’s weddings, host baby showers for one another, and show up on the hard days for a ministry friend. For all that social media isn’t, it IS a beautiful way to share joys and struggles. 

 Measuring progress when it comes to instilling in women courage, insight, and strength seems like an impossible task. There are no numbers, no graphs or charts, no visuals that point to BWIM’s success in giving courage, insight, and strength to women ministers. But oh my there are stories that convince me that Baptist women in 2019 are courageous and insightful and strong. This past Sunday Jacquline A. Thompson was named as pastor-elect of Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, California, and Katie Callaway said “yes” to co-pastoring a historic church in Savannah, Georgia. On Tuesday, Leah Grundset Davis celebrated the publication of her book: Believe the Women: A Study of Liberation with Alliance of Baptists’ Women, and Emily Harbin preached her John Claypool Preaching Award-winning sermon in chapel at McAfee School of Theology. And those are stories only from the last few days!  Women of courage, women of insight, women of strength. 

Nancy’s final challenge for a new organization was that it explore, discuss, and form new paradigms of leadership, paradigms that encourage empowerment rather than control. And this is where I had to stop and ask some questions. Has BWIM in this past thirty-six years helped shape new leadership paradigms, or are Baptists still stuck in out-dated, top-heavy patriarchal leadership modes? Has BWIM challenged Baptists to work more collaboratively and to welcome all the voices at the table? Has BWIM empowered women to believe in themselves, to embrace their giftedness, and to step fully into their callings? I know deep in my heart that there is still much work to be done for BWIM to live fully into its founding vision, but I am ever thankful for Nancy’s capturing words that continue to challenge, inspire, and push us forward in this work.

Pam Durso is executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, Atlanta, Georgia.