By Kate Hanch
Martha Stearns Marshall Month, sponsored by Baptist Women in Ministry each February, celebrates the voices of women in the pulpit. Martha Stearns Marshall lived during the 18th century. Along with her husband, she provided leadership and preaching for Baptist churches in North Carolina and Georgia, and even founded the first missionary Baptist church in Georgia.
I first participated in Martha Stearns Marshall month in 2010 at Holmeswood Baptist Church in Kansas City, where I have served on staff for two years. This year, I was honored to be the Martha Stearns Marshall guest preacher at Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo.
While I am blessed to be in a church and network of churches that regularly feature women in the pulpit, for many women, this may be the only time they get to preach for the entire year. And for many people in our congregations, this may be the only time they hear a female voice preach God’s word.
Women who preach are sometimes held to different standards than their male counterparts. Perhaps this is because of the novelty of women in the pulpit or false stereotypes of women who preach. Do congregations and leadership take them as seriously as their male preachers? Martha Stearns Marshall Month allows for these perceptions to be reconsidered and shaped differently.
The proclamation of Baptist women in the pulpit affects our theology more than we realize. When we hear people from all walks of life proclaim how God works through them and through Scripture, we testify to a God who transcends our perceptions and our claims. We proclaim a God bigger than we can imagine.
While God transcends gender, God’s essence embodies both genders. This connects with Scripture in creation — God made people in God’s own image. When we allow the Body of Christ to function according to each individual’s gifts, we are challenged, encouraged and we participate more fully in the movement of a Triune God.
The celebration of women in the pulpit does not mean that Christianity or the church is feminized. In fact, it means that the body of believers trusts God’s working in the lives of fellow Christians, both men and women.
Hearing a variety of voices invites us to be more fully the body of Christ. To pigeonhole women to certain roles and styles of preaching is to limit God’s power to work in our hearts.
Martha Stearns Marshall Month is more than an obligatory calendar item to appease women or a denomination. The potential for hearing different voices can spark the congregation’s imagination and sense of calling, particularly in the lives of young women. Had I not heard the voices of female pastors in our church from the pulpit or not been allowed to preach on Youth Sunday my senior year of high school, I likely never would have realized the possibility that I could someday be a minister.
As I preached at Martha Stearns Marshall day at Second Baptist, my mentor and supervisor filled in for our senior pastor, who was sick. She presided over a baptism, delivered a well-prepared sermon on short notice and led in the ordaining of two women deacons.
I am grateful for both colleagues and a community of faith who embrace the fullness of God’s transcending nature, allowing us all to live out our God-given gifts and call.
Martha Stearns Marshall month testifies to a Bible where women announce the good news of the Resurrection, risk their lives for God’s people and serve together with males in proclamation of the gospel. As Paul exclaims in Romans 10, “How beautiful are the feet of those who proclaim the Good News!”