What can we do to move our congregation further toward affirmation and elevation of women in ministry?” This is a question that BWIM is often asked and which we think about constantly.

For some, the question is about how to make the case for women in ministry in a congregation that has placed limitations on women’s roles. For others, this question is about moving beyond a head-knowledge which understands that women can be in leadership, toward becoming a place where women do thrive and flourish in every aspect of ministry and leadership in the church.

For congregations and ministry leaders from either perspective, one suggestion we offer for moving a congregation further toward gender equity is to preach and teach the stories of women in the Bible.

Telling women’s stories is vital so that our congregations will know that God loves, values, redeems, and wants to partner with women to do God’s work on earth.

The author of a forthcoming children’s Bible, Mariko Clark Straton, tells the story of how her young daughter asked her if God loves boys more than girls, and how her question arose when the young girl realized her children’s Bible only included two stories of women.

Whether conscious or unconscious, when women’s stories are ignored, the premise that God does not value women as much as men becomes an underlying assumption for both children and adults alike. We must challenge this premise by preaching and teaching the women of the Bible not only to advance the cause of women in ministry, but also so that we may more faithfully represent God’s desire for relationship with all humanity.

Since the days of the early church, lectionaries have provided gatherings of Christ-followers with biblical passages on which to center their worship. In many ways, following the lectionaries helped congregations ensure that a variety of biblical texts were heard and taught. But unhelpfully, the lectionaries have also perpetuated the obscuring of women’s stories.

In the past year, Dr. Wilda Gafney published a new lectionary resource to help congregations and ministry leaders center women’s stories for an entire liturgical year. We have learned of several congregations in our BWIM community who are using this lectionary for the 2021-2022 liturgical year, and we whole-heartedly encourage others to do the same.

Because we truly believe that telling the stories of women in the Bible can make a difference, BWIM will be joining in this effort as well by posting weekly devotionals on one of the passages included in Gafney’s A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church, Year W(Church Publishing, 2021).

The gospel passage for the first week of Advent in Year W is Luke 1:26-38, the story of the angel, Gabriel, announcing Jesus’ divine conception to Mary in the town of Nazareth.

In May 2018, I was fortunate to spend two weeks in Israel and Palestine as a part of a Logsdon Seminary study abroad course. Because of a partnership our faculty had with an evangelical college in Nazareth, we spent quite a bit of our time in the hometown of Mary and Jesus.

One of the greatest sights to see in Nazareth is the Basilica of the Annunciation—a magnificent place of worship built on top of the traditional site where Gabriel appeared to Mary.

At the end of a wonder-filled first week in the holy land, we wound up with a free Saturday evening in Nazareth, and our faithful tour guide, George, happened to mention that there was often a candlelight processional at the Basilica on Saturday evenings.

With a spirit of adventure, I wrangled three willing seminary students into traipsing across Nazareth with me to the Basilica that evening just before dusk only to realize that we had arrived early since darkness is pretty important for a candlelit service. But rather than leaving, we decided to wait.

And in our waiting, a mistaken early arrival turned into the experience of a lifetime as a series of events led to me being asked to serve as the English reader for the tri-lingual service (Latin, Arabic, and English).

The attendant who helped the readers was very kind and showed me what to read, when to read, where to go, who to follow, and more…even when I revealed to her that I wasn’t Catholic.

Being a processional, the service began outside, moved through the streets, and ultimately led into the Basilica. As we moved, I followed just behind the icon of the blessed mother herself, read when I was told, and prayed with my fellow pilgrims.

While this was all happening, what I didn’t realize was that because I was with the worship leaders, the processional was leading me to the holiest place in the Basilica. I would end up standing in a normally gated area just across from the very location venerated as the site of Gabriel’s visit to Mary.

As service continued inside the Basilica, I couldn’t stop staring across into the venerated site just steps from where I was, and I couldn’t stop thinking about two things.

First, I thought about Mary, a young woman who was not much older than my daughter, being told that she was about to bring the Christ-child into the world. She was chosen to join God’s work in a way that only a woman could.

In a world where Abraham, Moses, and David had been the “heros” of her faith, SHE would deliver salvation to a world in need.

Second, I thought about the fact that if anyone knew that I, a woman, was an ordained Baptist minister, they probably wouldn’t have let me into this most holy space. They would have thought I was tainted, that I didn’t belong, that I wasn’t fit to participate in this way.

As the tainted outlier, the one who didn’t belong, I thought about all the ways Mary’s story spoke to me. Mary was a tenacious woman who dared to step forward in a faith-world dominated by men, and so maybe I and other women can continue her story and do the same.

Advent is about waiting. Waiting with expectation for the hope that comes with the arrival of Jesus.

Because I waited on that warm Saturday evening in Nazareth, I came face to face to a woman who was unafraid of being chosen by God, a woman who inspires other women to courageously deliver salvation to a world in need.

This blog series made possible in part by a gift from Myers Park Baptist Church, Charlotte, NC.

If you or your congregation is also using Year W this liturgical year, we would love to hear from you. Please email us at meredithstone@bwim.info. Further resources and online conversation about using the Year W lectionary can also be found at Wilda Gafney’s website: https://www.wilgafney.com/womenslectionary/