Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching Shifting the Culture of Our Churches

By Pamela R. Durso, Executive Director, Baptist Women in Ministry

Tina Bailey preaching at Gateway Church in Indonesia

In 2011, 184 Baptist churches joined together to observe the fifth annual Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. This yearly emphasis, sponsored by the Baptist Women in Ministry, invites churches to have a woman preach during the month of February. The Month of Preaching is named for an eighteenth-century Separate Baptist woman preacher, who preached alongside her brother and husband in Virginia, North Carolina, and Georgia, and the emphasis is both a celebration of women’s God-given giftedness and an opportunity to educate congregations about women in ministry.

The event has grown since in 2007, when 55 churches took part in the inaugural Month of Preaching. This year’s involvement far surpassed any previous year, with 77 more churches participating than last year’s 107.

This year churches in 20 states (Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia) and the District of Columbia invited women into their pulpits to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. Churches in Cuba, Indonesia, and Uganda also participated.

Two churches had a true “month of women’s preaching.” Both Crozet Baptist Church in Crozet, Virginia, and Commonwealth Baptist Church in Alexandria, Virginia, invited women to preach all four Sundays in February. Colleen Swingle-Titus and David Collyer are the pastors in Crozet, and Ben Boswell is the pastor of Commonwealth. Two churches invited younger members of their congregations into the pulpit. St. Johns Baptist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, heard sermons by two teenagers, Clara Howard and Mattie Kearse, and 12-year-old Hannah Reese co-preached a sermon with her father, Kyle, at Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida.

Jessica Margrave Schirm preached in two different Kentucky churches for Martha Stearns Marshall Month: Central Baptist Church, Lexington and Lyndon Baptist Church, Louisville. Jessica is a hospice chaplain and also serves as children’s coordinator at Central Baptist. Of her preaching opportunities, she noted, “During the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college, I served as a youth ministry intern alongside Dr. Jim Holladay at Lyndon Baptist in Louisville. I was just beginning to discern my call and was still very connected to my more conservative Baptist heritage. Back then I could never have imagined myself as a preacher. Now thirteen years later, I am an ordained Baptist minister, fulfilling my calling as a chaplain and church staff member. Being invited to preach at two Baptist churches for the Marsha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching, the two churches that represent my past and my present, was nothing short of an honor and a dream come true. I felt welcomed, affirmed, and supported.”

Keith Herron, pastor of Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, Missouri, has led his church to participate annually in this emphasis, and his response following this year’s Martha Stearns Marshall Sunday was “This is the obvious: I think the MSM emphasis is making a difference in shifting the culture of our churches. At Holmeswood, I’ve heard less and less from the old “thou shalt not” traditionalism and more and more from some even very traditional Baptists who now affirm the idea that we can be a church that encourages persons, male or female, to grow in their calling. They now see that preaching from our pulpit can be a generous way the called can stretch their gifts while we as a congregation hear a good word from God because we have ears to hear.”

Baptist Women in Ministry is grateful to all the churches and women preachers who participated in 2011. It is not too early to get Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching on your 2012 calendar.