Each week Baptist Women in Ministry introduces an amazing minister. This week we are thrilled to introduce one of the founding mothers of Baptist Women in Ministry, Reba Cobb.
Reba, tell us about your ministry journey.
Having grown up in the deep south I was steeped in layers of faith. My grandparents helped build Pine Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Rosa, Alabama. It sits on a hill by the Little Warrior River, surrounded by pine trees. I was baptized in that river while the congregation stood on the banks and sang “Shall we gather at the river?”
From this environment, at age fourteen, I experienced the call of God on my life. It was a specific call: to prepare myself for foreign missions. From my vantage point in rural Alabama, I didn’t know women could be called to anything else. Thus began the journey of my ministry.
Pursuing this divine nudge involved college, summer missions, and seminary in Louisville. Arriving at the seminary, I met a woman who felt she had been called to be a pastor, a preaching minister. Seriously? The rest of us women just wanted to be missionaries, youth ministers, and maybe, children’s ministers. One lone woman was in the M.Div. track at Southern Seminary when I arrived in 1965: one. The idea of ordination never occurred to me, but as my horizons expanded, my view of ministry expanded along with my call. Everything was falling into place, including marriage and family, but all of these rich, diverse experiences had challenged my childhood theology, sometimes painfully so.
How did you become involved in Baptist Women in Ministry?
We could not have known in the sixties that the women’s movement of the twentieth century was about to alter gender roles for all of society and shake the foundations of the church, especially those of the Southern Baptist Convention. Therein grew my passion for Christian Justice–and it was personal.
My role as an activist in the Baptist women’s movement began in the early 1980’s when I was minister of younger youth at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. As one of the founding mothers of Baptist Women in Ministry, I was devoted to women ministers becoming all that God had called them to be. In 1983, I was on the original steering committee of BWIM as well as co-founder and coordinator of the Center for Women in Ministry, where we published our newsletter, Folio, for six years.
When and why did you move from local church work?
Upon leaving Crescent Hill Baptist in 1986, I could not find a church position in Louisville, even though I searched vigorously. If I were going to be employed, I reasoned, I would need to move to a secular setting. That’s when I entered the local political arena as campaign manager of a candidate for state attorney general. After his victory, I ran for State Representative to the General Assembly of Kentucky. Politics, I had read, was social work with power. That would be my ministry. While I lost the race, I could not have imagined the future before me.
During the next two decades, I was privileged to serve as executive director of the Louisville Library Foundation, where I ran the campaign for a taxing district for the library. I was president of the Center for Women and Families, providing social services to battered women and victims of rape; executive director of Kentuckiana Interfaith Community, where I led the interfaith efforts for Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims; and resource coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, overseeing program coordinators, finance, and communications.
Through the years my calling had expanded from foreign missions to managing four non-profits, running for public office, raising two sons and now enjoying two grandsons, becoming a civic activist, serving on numerous boards and commissions for the mayor and state attorney general. Not to mention Baptist work: serving two local churches, midwiving Baptist women in ministry, serving on the original steering committee for CBF, serving on the boards of Georgetown College, Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond, and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
What were your greatest joys?
One of my greatest joys is that thirty years after graduation from seminary I was ordained to the Gospel Ministry by Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. The ordination was an outward demonstration of an inward call and it was a significant high point of my life. By this time I had transcended my eighth grade understanding of God and had become a woman my fourteen-year-old self would hardly recognize. Yet, she is still with me!
Perhaps the ministry I loved the most was in the local church. In 2005 I finally had the opportunity to work in a church in Louisville! Broadway Baptist Church called me as associate pastor for spiritual formation. This job used all my gifts and skills and allowed me to love the people through pastoral care, worship planning, and leadership, as well as organizing and leading small groups and Sunday school. It was a joy. I retired from Broadway in 2012 at the age of sixty-nine.
Tell us about your retirement.
After such an active life, what I wanted in retirement was “more being and less doing.” These days I lead a more contemplative life, where I continue to flourish and grow, reading authors like Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Richard Rohr, and Mary Oliver. Richard Rohr’s book Falling Upward was a tutorial for me on moving into the second half of life. The first half of life is about building our container, he writes, and the second half is about the contents. I am working on the contents! And this, dear friends, is the richest part of the journey.