Baptist women pastors reach milestone

‘Phenomenal’ growth seen in the the number of moderate Baptist churches calling women as pastor or co-pastor.

By Jeff Brumley

It took Pam Durso a few minutes to comprehend the number the number that came up during her recent count of women leading Baptist churches: 150.

The number had been 102 in 2005 and 135 in 2010 said Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry. The numbers include the Alliance of Baptists, the Baptist General Convention of Texas, the Baptist General Association of Virginia and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

Previous numbers represented progress, Durso said, but hitting 150 was something else.

 “I think it’s pretty phenomenal.”

Durso said she knew something was up beginning in early 2012 when she had to start updating her list every month. It turns out Carol McEntyre was the 150th in July when she became pastor of First Baptist Church in Columbia, Mo.

“That feels much better than in the past,” Durso said.

It feels good to some of the women hired in recent months, though they acknowledge a lot of work needs to be done.

McEntyre exclaimed that it was “neat” to be the 150th, but added she hopes it’s a sign of a brighter future for women in the pulpit.

“I hope that’s a sign that we’re turning a corner and that the next 50 or 100 are going to come much more quickly than the first 150 did,” McEntyre said.

Charity Roberson said the number signifies that women pastors are becoming less of a controversy or novelty.

“To me there’s a peace in that because it means not having to wait to see how the town is going to react ,” said Roberson, the pastor since April of the CBF-aligned Sharon Baptist Church in Smithfield, .N.C.

Hence it’s easier for everyone to just get down to the business of running the church must faster.

“It doesn’t feel as frontier when you’re hearing about more women all the time who are being hired,” Roberson said.

women150renfroKyndall Renfro, the pastor at Covenant Baptist in San Antonio since September, said it’s good to know the numbers are increasing but she still feels isolated sometimes.

“I don’t have any other female Baptist ministers even close to me,” Renfro said. “There is still a lot of isolation.

Renfro said she feels at home with her congregation, but outsiders sometimes are astonished to meet a woman pastor who is Baptist.

Durso acknowledged there’s a lot of room for improvement in moderate and progressive Baptist churches.

Even with the growth, they lag behind other Protestant groups that ordain women. Approximately 27 percent of Presbyterian churches are pastored by women and it’s 29 percent for Methodists. By comparison, just under 7 percent of CBF churches are led by women, Durso said.

“But I’m feeling good,” Durso added. “I think it will continue to increase the next 10 years.”

Durso said she doesn’t count American Baptist Churches because that denomination does a good job tracking its own figures. The number of ABC/USA women pastors or co-pastors currently stands at 485, Durso said.

Durso credited Facebook with enabling her to obtain most of the numbers, which are not provided by the denominations. Her tally comes from messages from Facebook friends, following status updates and fans who post news of installations on the Baptist Women in Ministry fan page.

Other noteworthy trends include:

  • Most of the women pastors are being called by churches with 100 or fewer members.
  • The number of women pastors in Texas is rising, and they are made up of several Latinas and African-Americans.
  • Most of the women being called are in their 20s and early 30s, including several who are “right out of seminary.”

Durso added she’s getting more calls from churches asking for candidates than ever  before, which boosts her confidence in the future.

“I think we’re at a tipping point in Baptist life where churches are starting to embrace the idea of women pastors.”