'Listen to our stories - then choose to change'
A reflection on the recent ‘Celebrating, Surviving and Thriving: Women in Baptist Ministry’ conference. By Claire Nicholls
As women from across the UK in different forms of Baptist ministry gathered in Birmingham – the ordained, the lay, the MIT, the searching, the retired, the ….. I continually came back to the question ‘who am I?’. Who am I to be in this room, who am I to minister in a church, who am I to stand up and preach, who am I to be called by God?
Every woman at that conference has felt the call of God on their lives. Every woman in that conference was serving in different ways. Every woman in that conference has encountered walls on the way – some small and irritating, some large and imposing, some almost impossible to scale.
We told our experiences of being called by God through stories. In this 100th anniversary year, we returned to 1918, when the political climate resonated with the questions that women in Baptist churches were asking about their voice and their role in the church. Violet Hedger; Edith Gates; Maria Living-Taylor – those three women who began a new journey which meant we could be in that room in Birmingham celebrating 100 years of women in Baptist ministry.
Over the two days we told our own stories, just as we were told the stories of our forebears. Many of the stories were positive – where gate keeping male ministers opened doorways wide so we could answer our call. Stories of being thrown in the deep end and discovering that not only do we survive, but that we soar. Stories of being inspired by the female leaders who have gone before.
Yet those stories were also full of frustrations. Stories of those who push back with force as you push forward. Stories of traditional prejudices living on and limiting our potential to serve. Stories of proof texting negating our call. Stories of rumours of single female ministers being dangerous for the men. Stories of inappropriate questions about qualifications and status. Stories of questions about who ‘covers’ the woman. Stories of the woman who was told her clothes were all wrong – in love of course.
As we explored what we might say to our Baptist family, who we love and who frustrate us, who we embrace and want to step up and serve, one thing that stuck out clearly was our stories. Listen to our stories. Celebrate our stories with us. Be frustrated in our stories with us. Don’t shout over us ‘sorry’ without listening….
Because when we listen, then we will hear the stories of release, stories of despite, stories of how nevertheless, she persisted. Stories of God’s Kingdom growing and thriving as he empowers women to be who they are made and called to be.
Listen to our stories – yes apologise if you need to… but then choose to change – the systems, the structures, the processes, the talk, the traditions, the culture. May our stories, and the stories of the last 100 years of women who have been called and sent by God be stories that bring about a new and better way.
Images | Steff Wright
Claire Nicholls is minister of Christ Church, a Baptist/Methodist Community in Ramsbottom
In response to the Celebrating, Surviving and Thriving - Women in Baptist Ministry conference, the participants published the following statement for our Baptist family
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