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Women in Ministry

Baptist Women in Ministry
Tambi PictureBy Tambi Swiney

A year after I graduated from seminary, my pastor presented me with a very appealing opportunity. Our congregation had been asked to serve as one of the future host churches for the Festival of Homiletics, an annual week-long event featuring some of the nation’s most gifted preachers and outstanding professors of homiletics. No one in our congregation had ever been to one of these events. My pastor wondered if I, as a layperson, would be willing to attend the upcoming Festival of Homiletics in Atlanta on behalf of our church and report back to the staff. Having already seen the roster of featured Festival preachers – which included Barbara Brown Taylor, Tom Long, and William Willimon – I readily agreed.

When I arrived at Peachtree United Methodist Church thirty minutes before the Festival was scheduled to begin, I discovered that the sanctuary was already packed with attendees enjoying a pre-service organ concert. After I finally found a seat, I surveyed the assembly. The pews were filled with roughly equal numbers of women and men, all eager for the Festival to begin.

Having learned my lesson, the following morning I arrived early at the church to secure a seat near the front of the sanctuary. Once again, I surveyed the assembly and thought to myself, “Isn’t it wonderful that so many wives could attend this conference along with their husbands.” Moments later, when a speaker encouraged festival-goers to stand and introduce themselves to one another, I experienced a moment of revelation: The women in attendance weren’t preachers’ wives, they were preachers!

I cringed inwardly as I realized the gravity of my mistake. After all, I was a seminary graduate! I considered myself to be gifted to preach, although I had not yet had an opportunity to do so at my home church. I had absolutely no doubt that God could call women to be pastors, although I certainly didn’t aspire to be one at that point. So why in the world did I look at a group of men and women at a preaching conference and automatically assume that the men were pastors and the women were their wives?

That was the day when I realized just how profoundly I had been shaped by my particular Baptist upbringing. I had never heard a woman preach or met a female pastor until I began my seminary studies at the age of 35. In the five churches where I had been a member over the course of my life, women had served in very limited roles on staff, and none of them had been ordained. My lack of female role models in ministry had left me with an impoverished vocational imagination.

Three years after attending that Festival of Homiletics, I responded to God’s call to leave behind my “freelance” ministry as a layperson and become associate pastor at another church. It took me a long time to get used to hearing people call me “Pastor Tambi,” for I was unaccustomed to hearing the title “pastor” applied to a woman. Each Sunday as I help lead worship, wearing my robe and stole, I am particularly mindful of the watchful eyes of the children and youth in the congregation. I am grateful that the sight of a woman leading worship is normative for them. I am thankful that they regularly hear a woman’s voice proclaim the gospel from the pulpit. I hope that my presence in their midst has opened their minds to possibilities for service that I could have never imagined at their age.

Since 2007, Baptist Women in Ministry has encouraged Baptist churches to participate in the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching by inviting a woman to preach during February.Women who have been called by God and trained in seminaries to preach often lack opportunities to exercise and hone their homiletical gifts. Although progress has been made in recent years, female preachers still remain an anomaly in most Baptist churches. Will your church provide a woman with an opportunity to preach in February? Let’s celebrate the gifts and callings of women and inspire the vocational imagination of the next generation.Learn more about Martha Sterns Marshall Month of Preaching here.

Tambi Swiney is the Associate Pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee. She currently serves on the Baptist Women in Ministry Leadership Team.

 

Resources

  • Baptist Women in Ministry aims  to be a catalyst in Baptist life, drawing together women and men in partnership with God, to illuminate, advocate, and nurture the gifts and graces of women.
  • Since 2007, Baptist Women in Ministry has invited Baptist churches to participate in Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching by having a woman preach during the month of February. This annual event has been a deeply significant source of joy and discovery for many women and churches. Learn about how your church cam paritcipate.
  • The Young Clergy Women Project is a network of the youngest ordained clergy women, defined as those under forty. Learn more about them here
  • RevGalBlogPals is an online resource that offers support and resources to women in ordained Christian ministry. The community is not limited to bloggers and includes clergywomen, women church professionals, and women discerning a call to Christian ministry, as well as supportive male clergy and lay people

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