I spent last evening with about eighty Baptist women (and two brave men) at the Dartbridge Inn in Buckfastleigh. The evening was entitled Stepping Up, aimed at ‘women in leadership and women who may have the potential for leadership in the future’.
Over a meal together we listened to women’s personal stories. We were reminded of some of the incredible women in the Bible who are sometimes overlooked. And we were given a brief but startling rundown of women leaders through 2000 years of church history, most of whom have been airbrushed out. I like to think of myself as a Feminist, believing God created us as different beings to men, but equal to men. Jesus knew our potential and I don’t believe he appeared first to a group of women after the resurrection by accident. (Nothing he did was by accident.) It was the women who stayed with him by the cross and the women who faithfully went to the tomb early on that first Easter Sunday. He told Mary Magdalene to go and tell everyone that he had risen. He gave her that authority and through her it has been handed down the ages.
And what about those other women who have carried on this tradition? We may know of St Hilda of Whitby and Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army, but what about Lizzie Hodgson who according to a Baptist Times article of 1911 filled the 1400 seat Lyric theatre with her preaching? Why had I never heard of her until last night?
There are many other important women who led from the front, using their gifts to glorify God. So why are they largely forgotten?
We don’t all have to preach but we can be leaders in the field where are gifts and talents lie. Think of Fanny Crosby ‘the premier hymnist of the gospel song period’ (circa 1870-1920). She also wrote over 1000 secular poems, had four books of poetry published plus two best-selling autobiographies and was a proficient public speaker. And she was blind.
In Britain now about 25% of trainee Baptist ministers are women. Exciting times. And not just for Baptists. This summer the Church of England General Synod will vote on whether women can be ordained as bishops. Wouldn’t that be something? Especially as Dawn French has hinted that she may return to do a Bishop Of Dibley…