BY Win Dolan
Highlights of Our Story First Baptist Church: 1867-2007
A year long series originally printed in the Tidings (article #7)
“Women should be silent in churches,”. . . wrote the apostle Paul in one of his less perceptive moments-and then compounded his problem by bidding the ladies, if they wanted to know anything, to ask their husbands. And further, “What I am writing you is a command of the Lord.”
Whether silent or not, women played mostly subordinate roles in our own early church. Dr. Jane-Claire Edmunds’ history reports that “in those early years, by and large, men ran the church and the homes as well.” Nevertheless, late in the 1800s women were actively involved in music, in Sunday School teaching, even as church treasurer, and of course in preparing church suppers (and presumably washing the dishes). In 1902 there were already two women on the 7-member Advisory Board. When Charles Rutherford was appointed as official church missionary to India, his wife went with him and assumed a large share of his ministry, as countless other women have done in mission fields.
The Communion service was prepared by the board of deaconesses but served by the deacons. A rather sad recollection of my own shows that Paul’s admonition was still alive, the board decided that women might also serve Communion. One woman whom I knew quite well abruptly resigned and walked out of the meeting. I tried to persuade her to reconsider, but to no avail. She insisted that it just wasn’t right, and she would have no part in it.
One area where women have been in leadership roles for a long time is the Sunday School. Generations of devoted women have taken the responsibility for “raising a child in the way he should go” through Bible stories and appropriate age-related activities from earliest childhood through the teens. Dr. Colena Aderson taught the large ‘Conqest Class’ of college students for many years. Our present Christian Education program is directed by exceptionally able and dedicated women.
As early as 1882 the Women’s Union was formed, and has persisted in one form or another to the present American Baptist Women. A mission emphasis from early times was the White Cross work – the preparation of bandages, hospital supplies, layettes and other items for use in mission fields.
In 1969 a new church constitution was adopted, under which the chief authority of the church resides in an Official Board (now called Church Board). It was in 1980 that Dee White became the first woman to be elected Board Chairman, the top leadership position in the congregation. Today there are eight women on the 12-member board, and (sorry, Paul) no one expects them to be silent!