February is Martha Stearns Marshall month in historic and Cooperative Baptist circles. During this month, Baptists celebrate the courage and commitment of women preachers in Baptist life. This month of preaching is named after Martha Stearns Marshall, who served alongside her husband, Daniel, in a Separate Baptist congregation in the late 1750s in Sandy Creek, North Carolina. The Marshalls were part of a Baptist sect that allowed women to pray and speak in church, a stance that put Martha and her husband at odds with local regular Baptist ministers.
The Marshalls established the first Baptist church in Georgia in 1771, located in Kiokee. Daniel Marshall’s “truly apostolic record” was praised alongside the following notation: “Almost equally useful was his wife, a sister of Shubal Stearns.”
At Smoke Rise Baptist Church, we proudly affirm women as equally qualified and called to serve in any and all ministry roles among us. Dr. Molly Marshall reminds us that the story of Baptist women in the pulpit is still being written.
Even though the Baptist experiment has been going on for more than 400 years, we know that receptivity to the ministry of women is far from robust. The default position for many congregations seeking pastoral leadership is to consider only men. Baptist identity, with its emphasis on freedom in scriptural interpretation, freedom in church governance, freedom in religion, and ‘soul’ freedom or liberty of conscience, however, stands as witness to the appropriateness of women serving in every avenue of ministry. *
Where do women stand at Smoke Rise? Women stand in the pulpit, and in every other position of leadership where the Spirit calls them to use their gifts. “I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Joel 2:28-29. May God’s Spirit continue to pour out among us as we bear witness to the gospel truth that in Christ there is “neither male nor female,” for we are all one. Galatians 3:28.
*The Rev. Dr. Molly T. Marshall, Responding to God’s Call: Freedom for Baptist Women