Together: Re-imagining, Re-reading HERstory in the Church
A reflection by Gale Richards on the recent Baptist International Conference on Theological Education
I had the privilege of attending the recent Baptist International Conference on Theological Education (BICTE) entitled ‘Together: Re-imagining, Re-reading HERstory in the Church.’ One hundred and fifty delegates drawn from all corners of the world gathered over three days. The gathered included Baptist women and men who were pastors, university tutors and professors, Baptist Union or Baptist Federation leaders. There was a wealth of knowledge and experience in the room every time we gathered.
We owe a lot to the Baptist World Alliance team led by the Revd Dr Trisha Miller Manarin for developing a programme that inspired so many of us to make the journey to Nassau for this conference.
We sat around tables as we sang together, prayed together, ate together and heard presentations together, exploring teachings and practices that have prevented women from having full access to all roles in church life.
We reflected on the fact that despite Christ being the head of the Church and a great emancipator of women, unhelpful bias in Bible translations, and unhelpful understandings of men being innately better suited to particular ministry roles have emerged. Further, these understandings continue to be passed on through our church traditions and continue to disempower women.
It became clear at the conference that Baptists’ starting point on the ongoing work of dismantling unhelpful teaching and practices depends on geography, or more accurately, the cultural context in which individuals are being formed spiritually.
I became more aware that while I came to faith in a British Baptist church led by a woman, and I belong to a Baptist Union that has a woman as its General Secretary, in other contexts these events would seemingly be impossible.
In my formative years I had the opportunity to serve as a deacon to help me learn about leadership in a local church, and build on that as I journeyed towards ordained ministry. In contrast women in many different cultural contexts find their only hope of exercising church leadership is through a Women’s group or by virtue of being a pastor’s wife.
There was something powerful about this global exchange of stories and experiences that underpinned the theological reflection that occurred at this gathering. The realisation for some that women can be as much the gatekeepers of traditions in church life that limit roles for women, as men can be. The further realisation that these church traditions can potentially be as limiting and unhelpful to men as they are to women.
For British Baptists, our challenge is to address the multiple cultural lenses underpinning teachings and practices that prevent full access for women, to all roles in our churches, in a multicultural Britain.
Finally, I left the gathering with a sense of the significant roles sung worship and art forms can play in ‘Together: Re-imagining, Re-reading HERstory in the Church.’ The songs we sang such as A Prophet Woman broke a jar and A place at the table undoubtedly inspired and gently moved us towards further dialogue and action. The mosaic created during the conference by the Revd Ali Taylor inspired by the theme of daughters prophesying found in Acts 2:17 captured the Spirit-led journey many Baptists across the world are on. A journey of seeking to remove barriers to women having full access to all roles in church life as embodied in the trajectory of Christ’s ministry.
Image | On day two of the Baptist International Conference on Theological Education, Valérie Duval-Poujol (Baptist biblical scholar and President of the Protestant Federation of France) shared about the increasing number of biblical translations available and the importance of translating without sexist bias | Baptist World Alliance | The session can be viewed here
Gale Richards is minister of Zion Baptist Church, Cambridge, and coordinator of the BME Women Ministers' Network
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