In the 1950s, long before the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) schism of the 1970s, the chance of a Southern Baptist woman becoming a deacon–much less the lead minister of a local church–was unthinkable. Regardless of her qualifications, women were barred from teaching Bible at the university level, and women could only become a church secretary or a minister of education. Hopefully, in the latter two roles, a woman wouldn’t infringe on God’s masculine pecking order.
Nowadays, the environment has changed for women in ministry, and more women are rising to prominent roles. I often think about the Baptist trailblazers like Martha Stearns Marshall who set a positive tone for future preachers and ways of worship while facing constant religious persecution and scorn. Nevertheless, she persisted.
I see that same perseverance now in my fellow Baptist sisterhood. I recently interviewed nine multi-generational women, included three ordained ministers. Like me, their experiences have varied, but our focus remains the same: to encourage Baptist women ministers. We yearn for the day when it will no longer be an anomaly to have a woman as the pastor of a Baptist church.
One of my fellow First Baptist Church of Chattanooga members, Mary Jayne Allen, pointed out that more young women are indeed being ordained and serve as pastors and associate pastors.“I am hopeful for the future of Baptist Women in Ministry. While a lot of those called as pastors are serving new or small congregations, several women now serve as senior pastors of larger churches. I would like to see Cooperative Baptist Fellowship congregations be more intentional about considering calling a woman as senior pastor,” she said.
Faith is a multifaceted experience involving complete trust rooted in our belief in Christ. We talk of being on a faith journey, and on that journey we are shaped by experiences and encounters with a variety of people. Who we see in various positions in our church influences that journey.
My personal advocacy began sixty-five years ago when I became a strong supporter for women’s and African-American’s civil rights. My husband was a Baptist minister, and, in tandem with his preachings, I continued to expand my faith journey. This involved leaving the Southern Baptist Convention behind and embracing a spiritual home in a church affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. While I don’t have a daughter, I do believe women are the future of our church.
I’m fortunate in that the timely presence of strong women is a common thread woven throughout my life’s story. The immeasurable, deep-shaping influence of crucial people at critical points in my personal journey cannot be overstated. Knowing how essential these relationships and role models were for me drives my ongoing wish to see expanded opportunities for women in church roles.
My First Baptist friend, Betsy Kammerdiener, has specific wishes for her daughter: “My daughter is currently at Brite Divinity School. I wish a world for her where she can joyfully serve out loud wherever God sends her. And I thank God that she has role models of Baptist women serving together with men in ministry. That is where I find my hope.”
The faith path for Maggie Quisenberry, the wife of our senior minister at First Baptist, shifted after she found a woman-supportive CBF community. “I grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist church, and I didn’t see a place for women ministers in that congregation. It took me leaving that church and finding a CBF church in Birmingham, Alabama to see that women could be called to be ministers in the church. I have always found it important that Baptists believe individuals should have a direct relationship with God and that we can responsibly interpret Scripture for ourselves,” she said.
Like most things in life, there is room for improvement with regard to Baptist women in ministry, but as we all blaze our own trails we remain united on paving a solid path toward female faith leadership. It’s woven into the very fabric of who we are as a body of believers, and we will persist.
“She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.” (Proverbs 31:25)
Lynelle Mason is a retired Georgia school teacher living on Signal Mountain in Tennessee. Lynelle holds a master’s degree in religious education, and she’s also a Stephen Minister. She’s currently a member of First Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee. She served many years in various church communities with her pastor husband, Claude. Additionally, Lynelle is the author of eight published books, and she just released her third tome in a historical fiction trilogy through Nurturing Faith. She’s now busy writing the memoirs of a prominent female Baptist doctor. Visit her website at http://lynellemason.com/home.html