This article first featured on the WEBA Website, we thought it was such a great reminder of what it looks like to follow in the footsteps of God, that we’re reposting it here at Seventy-two for your encouragement:
1918 is the year that a woman, Edith Gates, was first recorded as being in pastoral charge of one of the churches in our Baptist family. (Read more about Edith here)
We’d like to celebrate this centenary by sharing a little about four women who have been called to ministry in our region. One of them, very sadly, is not here to tell her own story, even thought it’s not long since we heard her voice on this website.
Two of the others were at Celebrating, Surviving, Thriving – a conference for women in Baptist ministry held in Birmingham in June 2018. You can read more about the conference, and some commitments made there, in this article.
Only just beginning: Margaret Blakey
Attending the recent ‘Celebrating, Surviving and Thriving’ conference for women in Baptist ministry was an amazing experience. Coming from a brethren background, I’ve had very little experience of seeing women preaching, teaching, pastoring and evangelising, so the opportunity to spend a couple of days celebrating the diversity of the contribution of women to Baptist ministry was inspirational. One of the best aspects of the conference was acknowledging the breadth of skills and experience amongst those present and those we represent, recognising that Christ calls us as individuals, with all our many differences, and shapes us and forms us to be part of his one mission.
As we reflected upon Edith Gates, pastor in Little Tew and Clevely, Oxfordshire in 1918, and Violet Hedger, who entered training for Baptist ministry in 1919, we reflected on those many women who through the years have courageously and steadfastly followed their calling into ministry, exhibiting grace and tenacity in abundance. Pat Took, a former Regional Minister with the LBA, shared with us from Philippians, encouraging us to know ourselves and understand our particular calling and to have a deep love for our respective communities. Listening to the stories of such mature and experienced women of faith, as well as sharing our own stories with one another, was empowering and gave me the deep assurance that none of us are walking alone, we are standing on the shoulders of giants, and we can learn from one another and support one another in a much wider community of common purpose, sharing Christ’s love with our communities.
My own journey is marked by a significant theological journey from a strict brethren understanding of keeping silence in the church, to being encouraged into leadership, given opportunities to preach, both in my own church and other churches, nurtured through and into pastoral caring, and then affirmed to follow my calling to ministry. As I am at the beginning of the next chapter, I have little idea of where the path may lead. I am passionate about those on the margins of church life and wider community and look forward to exploring and developing models of ministry to the marginalised, but above all, I look forward to God leading me and developing me, just as he has with women before me, to prepare us, women and men together, to further his kingdom.
As I am only just beginning my formation at Bristol Baptist College in September, alongside an MA in Theology, Ministry and Mission, I have much to learn about ministry and about myself, but I have the assurance that putting our trust in Christ, and taking a step into the unknown as Christ has called us, his plans for our individual lives are part of a much greater purpose and ‘with him, all things are possible’.
Keeping on striving: Beatrice Anayo
Beatrice Anayo grew up in Cameroon and attended both Baptist and Presbyterian churches, neither of whom ordained women ministers at that time. At the age of 14, she was cleaning in a local church when she heard a voice saying ‘keep your body for my use’.
In a variation on the famous biblical precedent, when she had heard this voice three times, she ran to the Pastor’s house and told him she thought the church might be cursed because of this strange voice.
He said ‘I think you are being called to ministry’.
‘What is ministry?’ was her reply.
Years later, Beatrice moved to the UK with her husband and four children (her fifth child was born here) hoping to gain experience in mental health nursing because she longed to work for improvements in mental health care back home. This heartfelt desire supressed her call to ministry for years, as did the fact that one of her daughters has severe disabilities.
“But God who gave her to me is the same God who has called me to his service, so with God I am rising above so many challenges!” she proclaims.
A succession of ministers and others confirmed Beatrice’s original call. “The call dominated everything” she remembers. “Even people on the bus would ask me ‘are you a pastor?’”
In the end it was Chris Powell, then minister of Stapleton Baptist Church in Bristol, who persisted until Beatrice picked up the phone and spoke to Bristol Baptist College’s principal Steve Finamore.
She was persuaded to try the college’s PFS course (Prepare, Feed, Sustain), and further affirmation there led to Ministerial Recognition, ministerial formation, a placement at Fishponds Baptist Church, and finally a call to the pastorate of her home church at Stapleton. Since then, Beatrice has helped this small church develop strong links with the local community, especially its dog walkers who have formed a supportive community of their own based around the church’s weekly coffee morning/breakfast, where dogs are welcome. A Wednesday morning ‘Dog Blessing’ service gave Beatrice a unique opportunity to share a gospel challenge with this group with whom she has developed a deep and supportive relationship.
Beatrice thoroughly enjoyed the conference at IMC. “It was a good opportunity to hear the stories of the first women in ministry. So many of us are coming behind them!” she commented. She was particularly inspired by the video of Margaret Jarman, the first woman to serve as President of the Baptist Union, filmed shortly before she died this year. Margaret recalled the sacrifices she had to make to pursue her own call to ministry, including not having children of her own. What message had she come away with?
“Just keep striving for what God has called you to.”
Equipping the next generation – Helen Paynter
The story of my journey into and through ministry has been a series of surprises. I sometimes talk about ‘dangerous prayers’ – the sort of prayers that say your will, not mine, whatever that means. I suppose I’ve prayed a few of those in my time, so I guess I shouldn’t be taken aback to discover God taking me at my word. But I regularly am caught unawares by the way he leads me.
My call into ministry was a big surprise, when it came. I’d wrestled previously about whether I had a vocation to some sort of church leadership, but knew it wasn’t the time and dug into my career in hospital medicine and having a family… and put it far to the back of my mind. At the close of 2008 my husband and I, and our three small daughters, were raw and hurting from a failed attempt to adopt twins from Ethiopia. So when I had a coffee with my minister in April the following year, I was certainly not expecting to be asked whether I felt called into ministry. It was a classic vicar of Dibley moment, where – over the course of about half an hour – I said ‘no, no, no, no… yes!’
Another surprise came when I arrived at Bristol Baptist College, and found that I took to theological study like a fish to water. As someone who had previously thought of theology as abstruse and inconsequential (how many angels can dance on the point of a pin?), I discovered how important and relevant it is. I was astonished to discover in myself both a passion and a disposition for biblical study, and even more amazed to sense a growing desire to obey my call to ministry partly through the theological education of others, and therefore to equip myself to do that by obtaining a PhD.
Surprise number 3 was when I did my first year placement at Victoria Park Baptist Church, which is in a relatively deprived area of Bristol, and felt myself utterly consumed by a sense of call to serve there – even though they were not looking for a second minister! Two years later I was inducted as associate minister there, to work alongside full-time minister Brendan Bassett, and have been utterly blown away by how much I have learned and received from this congregation.
There have been many, many other surprises and blessings along the way, of course. I am fortunate to have had very few negative experiences as a woman in what has traditionally been a man’s role. I am very grateful for the untiring support and encouragement I have received from many men along the way – my husband, my minister, my ministerial colleague, regional ministers, and College staff.
And the latest surprise (I’ve lost count of numbers now) has been that from September I will be in two new roles: Associate Minister at Westbury on Trym Baptist Church, and the Director for the Study of Bible and Violence at Bristol Baptist College. This is in addition to my roles at Bristol Baptist College looking after our community learning programme (PFS), and helping with the ministerial formation programme. It is great to be part of equipping and releasing the next generation of (male and female) church leaders and pioneers.
What’s further ahead in the future for me? I have no idea, but I think I’d better expect the unexpected. After all, he is a God of surprises!
Willing to go on a journey – Anne Dunn
Anne Dunn, minister of Stonehouse Baptist Church in Gloucester, died on the 28th June 2018 after a short and unexpected illness. She became Minister in Training at Stonehouse in 2013, when the church had just 13 members, and by the time she died, the church had outgrown its building and begun to meet in a local secondary school. Regional Minister Alisdair Longwill shares his thoughts about Anne’s ministry:
As Baptist Christians in the west of England, we give thanks to God for the life of our colleague, Anne Dunn. As I reflect on Anne’s life and ministry, several characteristics come to mind. Firstly, Anne had a real and a deep experience of God. She loved Jesus and had personally experienced his forgiving and transforming love. This shaped who she was as an individual – and consequently, shaped her ministry. She had experienced the activity of the Holy Spirit in her life and believed he continued to be active within the world, touching, changing, and inspiring the lives of men, women and young people today. Anne had a deep belief in the power of prayer – she had a personal commitment to prayer and believed that God still answered prayer today. This was recently evidenced when Anne made it known that the church were gathering to pray for her on Sunday 29th April. She invited fellow Christians in and around Stroud to join them, and that evening Stonehouse Baptist Church was packed to capacity, with myself and others standing in the wings.
Anne’s relationship with God was expressed in her dedication to ministry. She genuinely viewed this as a life vocation – never merely as a job. [She wasn’t perfect in this respect – I would have to remind her (as I do myself) of the importance of taking a day off]. She and her husband Peter worked avidly in the life of Stonehouse Baptist Church – sacrificing hour after hour.
Anne cared about people and made time for them. She wanted to put herself in a place where she encountered the people in her local community. She was delighted when they moved from Gloucester to Stonehouse, as this opened up the possbility of basing herself in a coffee shop, where she could be available to others in the to-ing and fro-ing of daily life. Sadly, due to her illness this aspiration was never fully realised.
I could say many things about Anne, but there is one particular thing that I’d like to highlight. Anne was willing to go on a journey of personal and ministerial development. She was willing to be shaped and to be developed – she wasn’t too proud to listen to others and learn from them. She had an appetite for learning, discovering, and experiencing fresh and developing ways of glorifying God in his mission to the world. She and her leadership team signed up for ‘Re-imagine’, WEBA’s Learning Community for church leadership teams. She wanted to understand how best to show and share the good news of Jesus within today’s diverse and very different culture(s); and explore how she might help her people to grow in their discipleship, to become more effective in the mission of God, and help herself and her leaders to be growing and developing in their ability to lead and in their likeness to Jesus.
Anne will be greatly missed, particularly by her children and her husband Peter who served as a great partner in ministry. We give thanks to God for Anne and pray that we too may be willing to go on a journey of personal and ministerial development for the glory of God and the transformation of the world.
If any of these stories leave you with questions about your own sense of God’s calling, here are some ways you could take that forward:
- Talk with your local minister or leadership team
- Sign up to the Seventy Two newsletter which is all about finding our way in the mission of God
- Find out about opportunities such as Prepare, Feed, Sustain (PFS), Forge, and Invest, which might be a good starting point for your journey