Women in ministry, long kept in the shadows by many Baptist churches and organizations, surged into the spotlight recently.
"In this journey of calling to ministry, women are alone where sometimes men are not," said Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. (Photo: J.V. McKinney)
The reflections on a cultural shift took many shapes and forms at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas assembly April 27-28 at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock.
"In this journey of calling to ministry, women are alone where sometimes men are not," said Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, a national organization headquartered in Atlanta.
Durso said 145 women are currently serving as pastors or co-pastors of Baptist churches.
She also noted that when the Martha Stearns Marshall Month that highlights females in the pulpit began in 2010, 54 Baptist churches participated. That grew to 185 in 2011, and Durso said she thought that would represent a peak. Then, 218 churches participated in 2012.
"I believe God gives women special gifts and people are realizing they need to hear the gospel in their voice," she said.
Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, was another featured speaker.
Marshall talked about an almost total resurrection of that institution in eight years – from being almost completely bankrupt to becoming one of the fastest growing and most progressive Baptist seminaries with new buildings in a new location in Shawnee, Kan.
Marshall noted that when she took over as president of the seminary, one board member said, "We have just thrown her the keys to the Titanic."
Marshall said another told her, "A seminary has to be in a real mess before they'd call a woman to clean it up."
She said that when she studied theology in order to become an educator, she never realized she would have to deal with issues such as deferred maintenance.
"You cannot spiritualize certain problems," she said.
When Marshall assumed the presidency, Central Baptist's original campus, built in 1922 on 16 acres in downtown Kansas City, had a chapel floor slanting toward the altar, "which was one way to get people down the aisle," she quipped.
As the seminary has grown in a modern setting with a contemporary focus, Marshall said CBTS is "thoroughly ecumenical" while maintaining "the best of Baptist traditions."
For example, the seminary now has curriculum in missions and social justice while offering a degree in fine arts.
Carolyn Staley, CBF of Arkansas moderator and minister at Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, noted: "This is really not about women, but what God can do through all of us. We are endowed with gifts that transcend gender. What we need to do is take off the blinders and see who God can use."
David McCollum is a contributing editor to EthicsDaily.com.