In 1991, at the conclusion of an evening of worship during one of the early meetings of Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a woman was in tears sitting alone on the back pew of the sanctuary. I knew her and sat down on the pew in front of her just to offer a presence. As she gained her composure, she said, “Dennis, God has called me to serve the church. I have completed seminary and I am gifted for ministry. But, my home church refuses to ordain me.” I tried to offer encouragement, suggesting that she was a pioneer and that pioneers often move forward without the blessing of others, without being understood. Pioneers never live in structures already constructed by others. They make trails which others eventually find and follow.
This past Sunday, August 4, 2013, it was my blessing to gather with others in the sanctuary of Central Baptist Church, in Richmond, Virginia, for the ordination of Mary Beth Gilbert Foust, our daughter-in-law. She was set apart to a life of vocational and professional ministry through Christ’s church. Mary Beth is married to our son, Caleb. They both graduated from Baptist Theological Seminary in Richmond this past spring. Along with her family and close friends, Paula and I have witnessed her commitment to a life of servitude, experienced her concern for the poor, discussed her call to vocational ministry, and noted her desire for congregations to pursue excellence. So, when Central Baptist approached Mary Beth to discuss ordination, it was no surprise to us.
Last year, Mary Beth read scripture for Caleb’s ordination. Last Sunday, Caleb read scripture for her service. Laying hands on Mary Beth last Sunday were her sister, Katie, and her mother, Karen, both ordained ministers of the gospel and active members of Baptist Women in Ministry (BWIM). BWIM emerged as an inspired idea in the spirits of some brave women in the 1970s and found its organizational legs in the early 1980s. Here is the rest of this story!
On October 3-5, 1982, St. John’s Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, hosted a national conference entitled, “Theology is a Verb.” One report during that conference was, Issues Affecting Women. As a result of that conference, wheels began to turn and soon thereafter, BWIM became an organization.
One of the many wonderful characteristics about St. John’s is that the congregation is supportive of women ministers. In fact, long before most congregations of any denomination–and way ahead of most Baptists–St. John’s ordained women for ministry. Our church is so accustomed to women ministers that we cannot fathom why some narrow-minded congregations consider us to be odd at best or ungodly at worst for embracing women ministers.
So, last Sunday, as I worshipped God in Richmond, our associate minister, Martha Kearse, proclaimed from the St. John’s pulpit. And, last Sunday, as I walked forward to place my hands on Mary Beth’s head to offer a word of blessing, I also saw the face of my pioneer friend from twenty-two years ago. In fact, I saw her footprints on the trail which passed through St. John’s in 1982.
Shalom to all the pioneers out there and to all those who pick up their trail along the journey!
Dennis W. Foust is senior minister of St. John’s Baptist Church, Charlotte, North Carolina.