The Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching Emphasis
The Bible records numerous stories of women who, when called by God to play an important role in salvation history, answered the call. Miriam, Moses’ sister, was herself a prophet (Exodus 15:20) and one of the three key leaders of the Exodus (Micah 6:4). Deborah was both a prophet and a judge who called the Israelite’s general into battle and led the celebration of victory afterwards (Judges 4-5). The daughters of Philip the Evangelist preached the gospel alongside their father in Caesarea (Acts 21:9). The list goes on.
Within our own North Carolina Baptist family tree, the name of Martha Stearns Marshall belongs on the same honor roll of women leaders. In 1755, Martha moved to North Carolina with her husband Daniel and her brother, Shubal Stearns, who founded the Sandy Creek Baptist Church near Siler City. Sandy Creek became the center of a major spiritual awakening in central North Carolina and ultimately helped to create 42 other Baptist churches in the state. Eventually, Daniel and Martha moved to Georgia, where they founded the first missionary Baptist church in that state. Throughout her husband and brother’s significant ministry careers, Martha played an important role as an organizer, deaconess, and a very well-known and effective preacher.
In 2007, Baptist Women in Ministry launched an annual focus on women preachers in Baptist churches and named it the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching. The focus grew out of an awareness that many Baptist women may experience a call from God to ministry, but often have experienced no visible role models of women serving in all forms of the church’s life, especially in the pulpit.
Forest Hills is glad to participate in the Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching this year in both of our worship services. On February 9, the Rev. Donna Battle, campus minister at Meredith College, blessed the worshipers in the contemporary service with her inspired and inspiring preaching. On Sunday March 11, Dr. Jennifer Garcia Bashaw, assistant professor of Christian Studies at Campbell University, will preach in the traditional service. Dr. Bashaw came to Campbell from East Texas Baptist University. Before that, she was an associate pastor at First Baptist Church of Pasadena, California.
Forest Hills has been blessed over the years with many excellent women ministers on our staff, including some who were pioneers and role models for Baptist women ministers in times when women were actively discouraged from following a call to ministry. We have also had the blessing of supporting, affirming, and ordaining women from within the congregation who have answered a call to ministry.
Sometimes, however, it is hard to imagine yourself to be called to something if you have never seen anyone who looks like you do it. When the pulpit is occupied exclusively by only male ministers, it can send an unintended message about who can be a minister that is contrary to the grand story of the Bible and to our greater history as Baptists and as a congregation. The Martha Stearns Marshall Month of Preaching is a visible reminder for all worshipers that God “pours out his Spirit on all flesh” (Acts 2:17), and that God’s call can come to anyone who is sincerely listening and seeking to do God’s will. We are grateful to God for all the ministers who have responded to God with the words “Here I am, Lord. Send me!”