Women Pastors: Baptists' Loss Is Others' Gain

Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young, pictured, was installed as senior pastor of University Place Christian Church in Enid, Okla. (Inset photo: ok.newbaptistcovenant.org)
While March 21 may be remembered in U.S. history for the passage of health care reform, the day will always mean something different for me. It was the day that I witnessed a miracle.


In a medium-sized church in Enid, Okla., I saw history made as Thelma Chambers-Young was installed as the senior minister of University Place Christian Church.


As I sat through the long investiture program, my first thought was that it was a shame that Thelma was being "lost" to the Disciples of Christ denomination. She has been a leader in national and international Baptist groups while remaining active in her local church. As I pondered this "loss," God then began to open my eyes as to what this service and event were really about.


This service was a clear confirmation that God had called this gifted woman to ministry. In too many Baptist circles today, such a calling is still denied or dismissed. I am happy to be a part of those Baptists that not only believe in women in ministry but encourage it.


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God was not only confirming Thelma's call to ministry, but her call to the pastoral ministry. While Baptists struggle even more at this point, another Baptist principle was at work here: autonomy of the local church. And here I was participating in the installation of Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young as senior minister.


All of that would be enough to make it a historic day, but then I thought about University Place Christian Church itself. It is an integrated congregation, though with a majority of white members. On this day, the church was calling a black Baptist woman as its pastor. Incredible.


As someone who grew up in Atlanta in the 1950s and 1960s, I am still shaking my head in disbelief. Such a thing was unthinkable not too many years ago. We whites think that we have come a long way in America in terms of race. As white men we believe that gender equality is a done deal. The truth of the matter is that the installation of Dr. Thelma Chambers-Young as senior pastor still seems like a miracle.


So tonight when you say your prayers, thank God that miracles of grace, gender equality and racial reconciliation are still happening. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you get to be a part of it.


T Thomas is coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma.

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Tags: Church Autonomy, Race, Racism, T Thomas, Women in Ministry

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