‘A Day of Celebration, Confirmation and Challenge’
A report and reflection by Clive Burnard about the recent event celebrating 100 years of ordaining women to Baptist ministry, which took place at Wakefield Baptist Church (Saturday 5 October, 2019)
“Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2:18 NIV)
A Day of Celebration
We gathered at Wakefield Baptist Church, hosted by their pastor, Keziah Robinson, my team-mate in the Yorkshire Baptist Association (YBA). The day was facilitated by Mary Taylor, my fellow Regional Minister with YBA. We gathered in celebration of the 100 year landmark of the ordination of Baptist Women Ministers, also marking the life, ministry and witness of Violet Hedger.
She was born in London, converted and baptised at Ferme Park. A convinced pacifist, Violet’s preaching debut was from a soap-box, aged of 14 in 1914, just as the first world war broke out. After peace had resumed, Violet entered Regent's Park College, then still in London. She was the first woman to enter a Baptist college for ministerial training, at a time in which women’s rights and abilities were at the very forefront of public debate, she ‘made waves’.
Interviewed aged 90, Violet described how she had faced fierce opposition from family and colleges, declaring that: “Getting into Regent's Park was a miracle”. Her Principal had refused to pay her final examination fee on the grounds that it would be a waste of money, having told others “(she) was no good and would fail her exams”. The College presented Violet with an apology on her 90th birthday along with a framed cheque for £5, as a humorous way of affirming the ministry of women and celebrating Violet’s own lifetime of ministry.
Violet had been the first female sole pastor in charge of a Yorkshire Baptist Church (North Parade Baptist Church, Halifax). She was the first woman minister to conduct a broadcast service in the British Isles in March 1937, receiving letters of support from across the world.
At Halifax her ministry broke new ground, with Violet encouraging God’s people to face a changing world with creative courage. My friends and colleagues Mary (Taylor) and Kez are still doing that today. At times sadly, like Violet, they still experience some of the challenges she faced a century before.
A Day of Confirmation
The sad confirmation of continuing rejection came as part of the day – hurtful words, filling slips of paper for our reflection, recorded some sad and unbelievable comments made to female Baptist ministers. Further confirmation of such continuing challenges were shared through the moving and inspirational personal stories of a panel of six ordained women, serving within our Baptist family.
Abundant evidence of calling, giftedness, dedication, anointing and humble service was, as expected a confirmation of their calling and ministry. Ordained women were encouraged to press on by the only female Regional Ministry Team Leader, Beth Powney (Eastern Baptist Association), who spoke with great passion, Biblical clarity and prophetic insight about continuing challenges.
Lisa Holmes (Senior Pastor of Skipton BC, and key leader of Spring Harvest North), led us in a moving time of communion after inspiring worship led by ordained women ministers. Although no further ‘evidence’ should be required to establish the calling and hand of God upon my sisters, amble ‘confirmation’ was present for anyone whose heart is open to God’s Word and purpose, as recognised all those years ago when Violet was first called and trained.
A Day of Challenge
Andy Goodliff (described with his prior ‘un-offended’ consent and agreement as ‘The Token Man’), had brought a real challenge to those present earlier in the day. Both Beth and Andy’s challenges: were extended to both men and women.
Their challenge and encouragements were to male ministers, as well as female ministers.
I felt personally challenged, in a positive way, to continue being an ‘advocate’ for Women in Ministry. My doctoral research into what I defined and described as Transformational Servant Leadership (TSL), revealed that women leaders gain higher scores on average than their male counterparts for both the Servant Leadership components and also the Transformational (Visionary) Leadership components of TSL, on standardised tests which measure such traits. I was not surprised! My own personal experience of serving alongside and under the leadership of women has been both positive and shaping.
At the end of the day we were asked, as part of prayerful worship, to write positive responses to counter some of the ‘negatives’, which had been aired earlier. I felt moved by The Holy Spirit to declare, in adding my own note to a piece of art, that I would continue to be a positive advocate for my fellow (female) ministers and colleagues. My colleague, Mary, asked me to write this report soon after the day – as if Father God was testing my declaration and conviction. It is a privilege to have been asked to do so.
So, my own challenge to brothers reading this report is this: go back (if willing), to review your position as discerned in the Word of God, and allow it to speak afresh. If necessary, please do go back and apologise for providing discouragements or for failing to provide encouragements to women ‘candidating’, training or exercising ordained ministry, or any other ministry or mission for Jesus. Please do consider passing on a challenge to others.
To my sisters and fellow ministers (and with my humble, prayerful hope that this does not sound patronising in any way): please be encouraged and accept the challenge to never give up: but rather to press on and press in.
Please forgive us where necessary. Please help us to change. We need you. God has called you. God bless you.
Images | Polly Lambert
The Revd Dr Clive Burnard is a regional minister with the Yorkshire Baptist Association