Woman named pastor of historic church

Richmond, Va., pastor Betty Mills starts May 15 as senior pastor of the historic Hampton Baptist Church.

By Bob Allen

The 222-year-old Hampton Baptist Church has called Elizabeth “Betty” Pugh Mills as senior pastor, making it likely the largest Baptist church in Virginia led by a woman pastor.

The 1,100-member church (about 500 active) voted March 3 to extend a call to Mills effective May 15. Mills, 49, comes to Hampton from Grace Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., where she has been on staff 23 years and pastor since 1997. Her last Sunday there is April 28.

betty millsA native of Staunton, Va., Mills is a graduate of the University of Richmond, Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Center, Mass., and the Samuel E. Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University in Richmond.

Hampton Baptist, organized in 1791, is affiliated with the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. It has long placed women in leadership positions, electing its first woman deacon in 1972 and ordaining its first woman to the ministry in 1993.

“We are thankful that God has led us to Betty and honored that she has accepted our call,” deacon chair Matt Harlan said in a press release. “We look forward to her leadership as we worship and humbly strive to be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ.”

In a farewell letter to Grace Baptist Church, Mills said she departs with mixed feelings. “I feel a very strong sense of call to a new place of service, but it makes this decision to leave Grace no easier,” she said.

“I thank you for your time, for your commitment to Grace Baptist Church, and for the greatest gift you can give to me: a successful, strong movement into your life as a congregation,” she wrote. “I pray that God will continue to bless you with everything you need as you prepare for new opportunities.”

Organized while George Washington was president, Hampton Baptist Church was among downtown buildings burned by Confederates during the Civil War to prevent the city from falling into Union hands. The current sanctuary, its fifth, was built in 1883.

-- Robert Dilday of the Religious Herald contributed to this article.