When we Forget our History : Thursday Thoughts
     Phillips Memorial Baptist Church

Phillips Memorial Baptist Church
565 Pontiac Avenue
Cranston, Rhode Island  02910



Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton: phillipsmemorialpastor@gmail.com

  Pastor Amy's Thursday Thoughts

When we Forget our History

by Rev. Dr. Amy Chilton on 06/13/24

For the past few years, every time June comes around I find myself caught up in the dog and pony show of the Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting. As you know, the SBC is often in the news for its very conservative stances on just about everything. You may not know that once the Baptists in the North (many of whom are now part of ABC-USA) and the Baptists in the South (many of whom are now the SBC) were once part of the same loosely affiliated movement. The Northern and Southern Baptists split in 1845 over the question of whether a slaveholder could be elected as a Baptist missionary. Now we still share a name, which can be very confusing to outsiders. (This is a very loosely summarized history.)

Word has just come out that the SBC convention delegates voted 91% in favor of ousting First Baptist Church of Alexandria because the church affirms women in ministry. Although their Senior Minister is currently male, they affirm that women can serve as senior ministers. And although on paper the SBC shares our history of affirming local church autonomy, they continue to disfellowship churches for being in disagreement with denominational polity that prohibits women ministers.

Oh how easy it is to forget what movements the Spirit has already made in history! The first SBC woman to be ordained, Addie Davis at Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham, NC, happened in 1964 - 60 years ago![1] The first Baptist woman known to be ordained was M. A. Brennan in 1876 at Bellevernon Freewill Baptist Church in PA (Phillips was Freewill Baptist at its founding) - 148 years ago! Baptist women were, of course, preaching and teaching long before those first ordinations.[2] But, Baptists are just babies in the history of the church - we weren’t born until 1500 years after Mary Magdalene proclaimed Christ risen!

The history of women in ordained ministry is complicated, ebbing and flowing alongside patriarchy. In the ancient catacombs in Rome, there are numerous painted frescoes depicting women praying publicly and breaking bread (what we call communion). Women are recorded in ancient writings as missionaries, ministers, and partners with Paul and other men whose names we remember. 34% of the women the apostle Paul commends by name are women![3] Mary Magdalene was the first at Christ’s tomb in all four Gospels, which means the first person to proclaim the risen Christ was a woman. Women clearly served in many leadership capacities in the generations of the church that are remembered in Scripture and even a few hundred years into church history - until patriarchal power structures tried to shut them up.

Obviously our congregation doesn’t need convincing that women should be in ministry - y’all unanimously voted to call one as your minister two years ago. And as I come upon my two year anniversary of serving as your minister (June 26th!), I am reminded that while the Spirit continues to call women (and men) to serve in various ministerial capacities, the complicated history of the church recognizing the Spirit’s freedom to call whoever the Spirit desires to call continues.

When the Spirit fell on that room of scared disciples on the first Pentecost, Peter stood up and proclaimed that despite public perception, the disciples were not drunk - they were simply filled with the Spirit. He recalled for them the words of Joel 2:28-32 - reminding all who had gathered that the Spirit would be poured out on “all flesh.” This included sons, daughters, young men, old men, and male and female slaves. These folx would then prophesy and preach the good news. All of them.

Friends, my prayer is that we would never limit the Spirit’s work by pretending that it is our responsibility to determine who God calls, who the Spirit fills, and whose voices are worthy of proclaiming the risen Lord. That’s not our job. Our job is only to be open to the Spirit’s presence in the lives of those whom the Spirit has called.

I would ask you all to be in prayer for our sisters in the SBC and other spaces where they have been called and yet are being silenced.


Pastor Amy

[1] For the history of women’s ordinations in the SBC see Elizabeth H. Flowers’ Into the Pulpit: Southern Baptist Women and Power since World War II (Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2012).

[2] For our early history of women preachers see Curtis W. Freeman’s edited volume, A Company of Women Preachers: Baptist Prophetesses in Seventeenth-Century England: A Reader (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2011).

[3] Elizabeth Gillan Muir, A Women’s History of the Christian Church (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019), 5.

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