Trustees of Central Baptist Theological Seminary have selected Pamela R. Durso, a Baptist historian who for the last 11 years has led Baptist Women in Ministry, to succeed Molly T. Marshall as president of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship-affiliated school in Shawnee, Kansas.
Durso, 58, begins duties June 1. Like her predecessor, who retires at the end of the current academic year, Durso has worked for decades on the leading edge of advocacy for women’s ordination and ministry jobs in moderate Baptist life.
Her Feb. 24 election caps a 14-month search aided by a professional search firm. “We engaged in a national public search that resulted in a number of qualified applicants,” presidential search committee chair Jim Cook said Monday. “Dr. Durso was the candidate recommended by the search committee to the board of trustees.”
Marshall, who is traveling abroad, said March 2 she is “delighted” by the search committee’s choice. “She is eminently qualified to take up this position, and I celebrate her election,” Marshall said in a press release. “She will lead the seminary toward new horizons of flourishing.”
Marshall, an Oklahoma native, was the first woman to teach theology on the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. After being marginalized in the Southern Baptist Convention for being a preacher, she resigned under pressure in 1994.
A decade later Marshall became the first woman elected to lead any Baptist seminary accredited by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Today about half of Central Seminary students are women.
Durso is a 1984 graduate of Baylor University. She earned an M.Div. at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1987 and the Ph.D. in church history from Baylor University in 1992.
Early in her career Durso worked as associate executive director-treasurer of the Baptist History and Heritage Society and taught on the faculty of Campbell University Divinity School as assistant professor of church history and Baptist heritage. In 2009, she was hired as full-time executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, after serving four years on the BWIM’s leadership team as a volunteer.
Founded in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1983, Baptist Women in Ministry struggled financially in 2003, laying off two staff members and doing a self-study to see if the organization should continue to exist.
Starting with a small budget, no programs and limited support, Durso expanded fund raising and grew the annual budget by 300 percent in 10 years. In 2005, she and scholar Eileen Campbell-Reed released the first of five “State of Women in Baptist Life” reports compiling statistics about the number of women serving as pastors and in other ministry jobs in various Baptist groups including the Alliance of Baptists and Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
In 2016 Durso initiated a task force cosponsored by Baptist Women in Ministry and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship to produce educational and prevention resources for churches dealing with the issue of clergy sexual abuse.
“It is hard for many of us to think of Baptist Women in Ministry without thinking simultaneously of Pam Durso,” said Courtney Allen Crump, a member of the BWIM leadership team and chair of a committee named to search for her successor.
“She is a cultivator of gifts and convener of graces, and we give thanks for her transformational leadership over the last 11 years,” Crump, senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia, said on the Baptist Women in Ministry blog. “Just as Pam has invited many in Baptist life to reimagine their futures, we now have an opportunity to reimagine the next season of leadership at BWIM so that the landscape for Baptist women ministers and the congregations and communities they serve will continue to be transformed for the good of God’s world.”
Durso said working at Baptist Women in Ministry “has been a gift of grace in my life” and “for me the best job in the world.”
“In these last months as I have paid close attention to the movement of the Spirit in my own life, I discovered that God was calling me to something new, something unexpected,” said Durso, who was ordained to the gospel ministry in 2015 at Cornerstone Baptist Church of Snellville, Georgia.
Durso said in a Central Seminary press release announcing her election she is “truly humbled” by the opportunity to lead “a school I have long respected and admired.”
Central Baptist Theological Seminary started out as a joint venture between Northern and Southern Baptists to train church leaders in the growing Midwest. In 1956 trustees strengthened ties with what is today American Baptist Churches USA. Two years later the Southern Baptist Convention opened Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri.
In 1994 Central Seminary endorsed the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate group formed in 1991 over issues including the direction of theological education in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Today Central Seminary relates to a number of denominational and non-denominational groups. In 2015 it ranked second among the fastest-growing seminaries in North America in a report by the Association of Theological Schools.
Durso has written, edited and contributed to several books including “The Story of Baptists in the United States,” which she co-wrote in 2006 with her husband, Keith Durso, who has a Ph.D. from Baylor in ethics. They have two adult children.
She been teaching as an adjunct professor for McAfee School of Theology since 2008.