I am blessed to pastor a church where it is not unusual for women to preach. I am blessed to be married to Alicia Davis Porterfield, an outstanding preacher. It has been my privilege to preach with Alicia on occasion at our church and to hear her preach in our pulpit. It has also been a great joy to invite other women to preach at various times in the six years that I have been at Winter Park Baptist Church in Wilmington, North Carolina.
Because we have a tradition of women preaching and because I had often invited women to preach in the past, I confess I initially shied away from embracing Martha Stearns Marshall Month. I rather arrogantly thought this emphasis was for churches that were not “as far along” in their support of women in ministry as my own. And then I started counting; as the male senior pastor I did most of the preaching each year. We have male associate pastors who are excellent preachers and who preach each year as well. Two realizations followed: first, though women have preached often in the past, the overwhelming majority of our sermons are preached by men. Second, if we were not intentional and disciplined about inviting women to preach, we could easily go a long time with no female voice proclaiming God’s word from our pulpit.
Given those realities, I have come to fully embrace Martha Stearns Marshall Month as a discipline and an accountability practice. I know I will be inviting a woman to preach every February, and our church knows that a woman will preach for us each year at this time. We are in a rhythm now, and that is a good thing. I certainly want to invite women to preach at any time of year, but now there is a pattern in place that makes sure a woman will preach at least one time every year.
I am also thrilled to share that this year an African American female preacher helped us celebrate Martha Stearns Marshall Month. The Rev. Danielle Glaze is on staff at Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church in Wilmington, a church with whom Winter Park has a very close relationship. I do a “pulpit exchange” every other year with their pastor, the Rev. Dr. Terry Henry, and our churches have come to treasure that experience. Now we have broadened our shared worship experience and deepened our fellowship through Rev. Glaze’s pulpit ministry among us, thanks to the discipline and the structure the Martha Stearns Marshall Month provides.
Thank you, Baptist Women in Ministry, for giving us this annual push! Thank you for giving us a discipline that helps us embrace the gifts of women in ministry and a discipline that helps us support the call of women to preach.
Eric Porterfield is pastor of Winter Park Baptist Church, Wilmington, North Carolina.