Every couple years I put on my accountant hat and crunch numbers. Not the tax-paying accountant hat I put every year by April 15 and sweat over numbers. My number-crunching-accountant hat is the one I put on when I start counting up the number of women pastors and co-pastors.
In 2005, I started keeping this list—a list of all the women I knew who were serving as pastors or co-pastors of Baptist churches. I am an obsessive list-maker, and so it seemed like a really good idea to have a women pastor list. Okay, the truth is that I am a researcher and a historian, so I didn’t just one day wake up and decide to keep this list. Rather my list-keeping grew out of research that Eileen Campbell-Reed and I did in 2005 for the first State of Women in Baptist Life report that was commissioned by Baptist Women in Ministry. I cannot remember why I was the lucky one to get the pastor list assignment, but somehow I beat Eileen out of that task.
I have kept this list ever since—faithfully updating it every time a woman is called by a church, deleting names of women who have retired or moved to a new church position or walked into a new season of life outside ministry. When I started keeping the list in 2005, we chose to research women affiliated with four Baptist bodies: the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Association of Virginia, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. We did not add American Baptist women pastors to this list—the ABC-USA keeps really good records so there was no need to duplicate their really good work. And we did not add Southern Baptist women to this list—although some of the women on my list are in dually aligned churches and thus are still part of SBC life.
When I began my list-keeping in 2005, I emailed and made phone calls and discovered that 102 women were pastoring or co-pastoring churches in the four denominational bodies mentioned above. Eight years earlier, Sarah Frances Anders, who was the long-time list keeper for Baptist women, had found only 85 women serving. So I felt pretty good that the number had grown to 102—until I crunched the numbers and discovered that the percentages of churches was low — really low. The Alliance was the only bright spot in the number crunching — with 22 percent of its churches being pastored by women. CBF had at best 5.5 percent, and the BGAV (1.1 percent) and BGCT (.19 percent) almost didn’t even make it on the chart.
The next year Eileen and I completed another report , and the overall number of women pastors increased to 117. In 2007, we wrote yet another report, and the number fell to 113. Looking back I don’t know if it was because of tiredness (gathering all that information was a huge, huge task) or depression (due to the decreasing numbers), but for the next two years there was no State of Women in Baptist Life report.
I took those two years as a vacation from number crunching—but not from list keeping. I kept adding to my list and discovered that Facebook makes Baptist statistic keeping so much easier. In 2010, I crunched numbers once again, and Amy Shorner-Johnson and I worked together on another State of Women in Baptist Life report . My depression was lifted. My tiredness dissipated. My list now had 135 names!
Throughout 2011 my list kept growing. I discovered a few new sources for obtaining information, and I kept scanning Facebook, pestering seminary friends for names of women graduates called as pastor, and gathering information from state BWIM organizations. The list kept growing.
Last week I was polishing up a journal article that I have been working on — I read my list, checked it twice and few more times for good measure. And on Aug. 14, 2012, I looked down at my list and saw that the number of women currently serving as pastors and co-pastors in the Alliance, BGAV, BGCT, and CBF is . . . drum roll please . . . 150.
The number is up. The overall percentage of churches calling women is rising. Progress is being made. List-keeping makes me happy in so many ways, but my women pastor list has this week made me especially happy and thankful. I thank God for 150 women pastors and co-pastors. I thank God for the churches that listened to the Spirit and followed where the Spirit led them in their search for a pastor. I am thankful for the working of God among us.
Editor’s note: Click here for a related news story.