When the search committee from Monroe Corner Baptist Church first phoned, Martha said to herself, “This is never going to happen. They are not going to call a woman!” Nevertheless, she took a risk and entered the search process with them. To her surprise, she and the committee “had a wonderful experience” and they “clicked.” Armed with worries from her friends that only dying churches call women as pastors, Martha wondered what might be “wrong with a church” that would call her. Although she looked around and saw “many better preachers, better qualified people,” somehow the “right place and timing” converged, and the church called her as their first female pastor. Despite the demise of local industries, and the church’s declining membership, Martha still rejoiced: “I knew for women in ministry in 2001, this is great! I mean this is as good as it’s going to get.”
–from the introduction to Anatomy of a Schism
Martha’s story is oh so familiar to many new pastors. It’s an emotional roller coaster of doubt and joy, questions and confirmations. Being called to a church for the first time is exciting and ground-breaking for Martha, a “wonderful experience.” But it is also something less than wonderful when she sees the decline of the community, and she wonders what would be wrong with a church that might call her, a woman.
Anatomy of a Schism is about the split that Southern Baptists negotiate in the closing decades of the twentieth century. The book is also about women who experience the divisions of Baptist life in an immediate way — in their own relationships, stressing their family loyalties, and even in their own minds and bodies. When social bodies are rent apart, the experience is not merely felt by the organization or institution. The fracturing is also experienced by the individuals caught up in and shaped by those institutions.
Martha’s brief story of calling by Monroe Corner raises questions beyond the Baptist context. What is happening in rural congregations across the US, which are struggling to keep their doors open due to changes brought by economic decline and growing mobility? Why do more and more of these churches find themselves pastored by women?
To learn more about Martha’s story and the questions it raises for contemporary pastors, read chapter two of Anatomy of a Schism. And share with us how your experience resonates or challenges her story here in the comments.
Join us for the launch of Anatomy of a Schism on May 15 2-4PM at Scarritt Bennett Center, Nashville, Tennessee.