By Robert Dilday
Anne T. Neil, a former Baptist missionary whose advocacy for women ministers led to her own ordination to the ministry at age 80, died June 8 in Raleigh, N.C. She was 94.
Neil’s passion for gender parity in Baptist pulpits was a driving force in her role as a founder of Baptist Women in Ministry, the Alliance of Baptists, Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond, the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School and the Baptist Peace Fellowship.
She was a “game changer for Baptist women,” says Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry.
For 27 years Neil and her late husband, Lloyd, served with the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign (now International) Mission Board, first in Nigeria and later in Ghana. In 1982 they retired and moved to North Carolina. For the next 30 years she was a tireless campaigner for the recognition of women as pastors.
Nancy Hastings Sehested, a co-pastor at Circle of Mercy in Asheville N.C., recalls receiving a supportive note from Neil at a time when women ministers were struggling for recognition in the SBC.
“For many of us, Anne offered wise and encouraging guidance in coming home to our true selves, in living with some measure of hope and courage out of our own center. Even with all the choking restrictions Anne found space to lift her own prophetic and compassionate voice. She insisted that all of us lift our voices as well. She knew that our voices were a sign of the renewing work of the Spirit.”
In 2000, then living in Raleigh, N.C., Neil was approached by members of her church, Millbrook Baptist, about being ordained to the ministry.
She told ABP in an interview that year she wondered whether ordination was appropriate for an 80-year old retired missionary. Never during her years of Christian service had she sought to be ordained. But knowing it might encourage future women in ministry, she consented.
Eight years later Millbrook called a woman as its senior pastor.
Neil is survived by two daughters, Becky Albritton and Elaine Orr; three grandchildren; and one great-granddaughter. A memorial service will be held Saturday, June 21, at 1 p.m. at Millbrook Baptist in Raleigh.
Relma Hargus, a retired journalist with the Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate, contributed to this story.