By Steven Norris  

     2024 is an important year for our church. This year marks the 40th anniversary of FBC Griffin’s decision to ordain women to serve as both deacons and ministers of our congregation. While the actual anniversary is not until November, I felt that it was important to note this given the ongoing conversation of this topic at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention in Indianapolis.

     This year’s convention opened with delegates voting to remove First Baptist Church of Alexandria, VA from “friendly cooperation” with the convention because it supports the full inclusion of women in pastoral roles of leadership. The church, founded in 1803, is one of the oldest churches in the Southern Baptist Convention.

     Women have played a significant role in Baptist life since its beginnings. Broadmead Chapel in Bristol, England was founded in 1640, only three decades after the first Baptists had left England as a persecuted minority. Dorothy Hazzard was the wife of an Anglican minister who had become concerned that the political control of the English church and their dependence on the prayer book were unscriptural.

     After gathering a group of like-minded individuals around her, they decided to form a church and call a minister. Even though Mrs. Hazzard did not serve as a minister, she is credited with being the church planter behind that congregation.

     In America, one can hardly tell the story of Southern Baptists without mentioning Lottie Moon, an American missionary to China who, for 39 years, faithfully proclaimed the gospel. Though initially rejected, Moon adopted traditional Chinese dress and she learned the local Chinese language and customs. She didn’t just come to serve the people of China, she identified with them and became one of them. Such “incarnational” ministry produced much fruit in her lifetime. The annual Southern Baptist offering for foreign missions is named after her.

     Likewise, one thinks of Annie Armstrong, a lay Baptist woman born in 1850 in Baltimore, Maryland. She was a tireless advocate for missions, especially the role of women in missions. Armstrong fought to form the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) in the face of fierce opposition from male leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention. As an advocate for missions, she visited missionaries serving throughout the United States and shared their letters to various churches. The annual SBC offering for North American Missions bears her name.

     For FBC Griffin, the journey to full inclusion of women was not an easy one. It began when a few females were nominated to serve as deacons in 1983. Much like the apostles in Acts, the community recognized that there were women in this congregation gifted for service. Therefore, it only made sense to “lay hands” upon them and commission them to use those gifts in ministry.

     The initial vote did not pass and everyone thought the matter was settled. However, through prayer, scripture study, preaching, and courageous conversation, the deacons changed their recommendation a year later and the church followed their lead. In the midst of this week’s distressing rhetoric, I choose to celebrate the courageous and thoughtful decision FBC Griffin made forty years ago and the bountiful fruit that has resulted for the Kingdom of God.