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In The Calm Center of the Storm

by Anna Griffith

In the calm center of the storm surrounding issues of “women’s role in the church” sits a cadre of women actively involved in ministry. Often creative, routinely effective and occasionally dramatic, they are presently advancing the front lines of the kingdom alongside their brothers with a minimum of controversy and friction.

In every period of church history, women have filled a critical role and no doubt will continue in these same capacities. Indeed, the church in some localities would not even exist if women had not taught and la­bored in volunteer roles. But the numbers of women in paid positions of ministry are growing and these will be considered in this article. Several fields are already open in which women are serving and others are opening even as this article is being written.

Children’s Ministries

Children’s ministries presently comprise the largest area of women’s participation in ministry. For seven years, Marti O’Rear has served as children’s minister at the Highland Church, Abilene, Texas. She oversees children’s education as well as coordinating their social functions. She reminded us that many women now return to school to train for this kind of service. When the Highland elders were consider­ing hiring Marti, there was some discussion as to her appropriate title-­”coordinator. . .” or “director of children’s ministries”; but elder John Willis simply stated, “She’s a minister.”

Joyce Davis, director of children’s education, has served the May­fair church, Huntsville, Ala., for 10 years. When asked to describe her job, she replied, “. . . everything the children need. . .” which includes social activities and benevolence as well as supervising and training the teachers and overseeing the curriculum. At Mayfair, women also chair several ministry committees and a woman coordinates the office secre­tarial staff.

Wendy Ogren, coordinator of children’s ministries for the South MacArthur church, Irving, Texas, has much the same assignment as these others, but she also is on the worship committee.

Suzie Winnett has worked for the North Atlanta church, Atlanta, Georgia, as director of children’s ministries since December 1994. She directs the Bible school and children’s worship, directs a summer camp, and is in the process of starting an elementary school. Children are her “true love,” but Winnett says she wishes she had had more women in ministry as role models growing up.

A number of other women serve in similar capacities for some larger churches, but this list is representative.

Counseling

Another area of women’s ministry is the field of counseling. Bev­erly Becker, Wichita, Kansas, and Peggy Blaton, Amarillo, Texas, as well as a number of others, have served on the staffs of their repre­sentative congregations. Beth Wade (author of another article in this issue) has worked in this field for three years for the Memorial church, Houston, after serving four years at the Westbury church, Houston. Her official title is counselor on staff, where she counsels all ages and addresses “all kinds of counseling needs.”

Her workshops and seminars on family issues for the church and the community have served as an extremely effective outreach tool. Beth is an “ordained minister,” a pragmatic action taken originally by her Westbury elders in order to qualify her for their insurance pro­gram; but her off1cial ordination document very carefully states her po­sition:

 

We, the elders of the Westbury Church of Christ, do ordain Beth Wade for the work of ministry with the authority to teach the Bible in women’s classes, children’s classes, and seminars, to do pastoral counseling, and to develop community outreach programs. . .

 

Benevolence

In the area of benevolence, Jan Johnson directed the Community Enrichment Center for the Richland Hills church, Fort Worth, Texas. In her six years there, the center became an umbrella for ministry to battered women (the “Open Arms” program), for distributing food and clothing to those in need, for “Adopt-a-Family” (a holiday relief pro­gram), and for numerous programs which coordinate relief efforts with other groups and community agencies.

 

Youth Ministry

In quite a different area, we have an increasing number of female youth ministers. Usually working alongside their male counterparts, churches employ these young women primarily because elders recog­nize the need for role models of both genders.

 

­Missions .

Women have served in mission fields almost since there have been missions and have done much of what Christian women do in their home communities. But missionary wives and single women on the field usually have much broader responsibility than those at home-­adopting teaching, organization and administrative roles. Diane Walsh, Oshkosh, WS, ably represents these women.

The Oakhaven church was planted in Oshkosh in 1976 by a team of three families. At the time, Diane was a teacher at Harding Acad­emy, but in 1979 attended a youth camp in Wisconsin where she came into contact with vocational missionaries from Oakhaven. One of them suggested that she move north because ” . . . a lot of people where you are can do what you are doing, but there are not a lot of people in Wis­consin doing what you’re doing”.

Walsh approached her elders at the White Station church, Mem­phis, TN, and they agreed to support her for two years. “And, I am still here,” she said. They have continued to support her since that time. Part of the reason, she says, is that she has been so determined to stay, so persistent in her belief that her being there lay within God’s providence. Her official title has been office manager, but soon she was “helping anyone with any ministry project.”

When someone walked through the door, Diane was the first to meet them, to assess their need and then to address it. She regularly greets people new to the community and helps them become oriented ­in the church and in their neighborhoods.

She became various children’s “emergency friend.” If the child needed attention at school or whenever the parents could not be reached, the school contacted Diane. She has taken people to the emer­gency. room, helped them move, taught Bible school (grades 6-8), served as a youth minister and began a community ministry for bat­tered women.

 

She says this has been” . . . the best decision I ever made in my life. . .” because it has exposed her to many diverse ways of looking at Jesus and of approaching Christianity.

 

Outreach

In spring 1995, Billie Silvey was appointed coordinator of involve­ment ministries at the Culver Palms Church, Los Angeles, which placed her in charge of involvement and publicity. To expedite this broad directive, she prepared an involvement form listing 200 activities in which members may participate.

 

Silvey coordinated a worship and potluck for a recent “Friends Day.” The publicity for this included a brochure for the church de­scribing Bible classes and areas of ministry, with a map of the building. She “uses everybody–artists, writers, printers–the church is really working together. . .”

In June, Los Angeles scheduled a campaign entitled “No to Vio­lence.” Silvey was Culver Palms’ coordinator, involving the congrega­tion in a joint effort with the whole community–businesses, hospitals and media–to target violence in schools, homes and the world.

 

Parachurch Ministries

Women are active in key positions of leadership in all the para­church ministries–hospital and prison chaplaincies, adoption agencies, maternity and children’s homes and Christian colleges.

Kim Pendergraft coordinates the women’s prison ministry at the Oak Hills church, San Antonio; and Susan Gilbert is active in the same work in the Fort Worth area.

Writing

Our fellowship is blessed with a number of talented, qualified fe­male writers who have contributed books and study guides for all dif­ferent age levels and classes, as well as contributing to our periodicals.

Especially noteworthy have been. Sandra Humphrey’s work with Christian Woman magazine and Billie Silvey’s with 21st Century Christian.

Anyone can be effective in ministry if she or he, even with imper­fections, strives to be God’s person. But if a man or woman further prepares himself or herself, God will use that preparation for His glory, regardless of gender. We would like others to join us in offering a hearty salute to all those glorifying God in the broadening of the boundaries of his kingdom!

— From March 1996 Christian Chronicle, by permission. Copyright 1996.




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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10