By Micah Groves
There is an anonymous quote that says, “The mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” But at this moment, I feel like my words are utterly and entirely lacking when it comes to trying to express that of which my heart is full.
I write these words following the final night of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly. A night on which Dr. Jerusha Neal powerfully challenged the Fellowship to live the sacred values that make up the Baptist perspective. A night on which faithful leaders, female and male, were commissioned to carry out their diverse callings to chaplaincy, pastoral counseling, church starting, and missions. This powerful, moving evening of worship however was just the icing on the cake of what was, for me, a life-changing, perspective-altering event.
The diversity that is represented, encouraged, and celebrated within our Fellowship is both encouraging and life-giving. From the beginning of General Assembly, the celebration, acknowledgement, and promotion of women in ministry was powerfully expressed. But it wasn’t until this final day that I experienced first hand the power and influence women called by God have on the worlds around them.
My day was bookended by two conversations. Conversations I will cherish, recount, and hold on to for as long as my memory will allow. Conversations with two champions of not only CBF life, but pillars and examples of what genuine Jesus following can and should resemble. It just so happens that these two powerful, influential leaders are women.
My day began with sharing breakfast with the president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, (the seminary I just so happen to attend) Dr. Molly Marshall. While I have been a student at Central for almost two years now, this was my first one-on-one interaction and conversation with Dr. Marshall. However, anytime I ever mention to someone that I attend Central, nine times out of ten, the next words out of their mouth go something like, “oh, you attend Molly Marshall’s seminary. That’s wonderful! She is something special.”
Well, after almost two hours of breakfast and genuine conversation, describing Dr. Marshall as “wonderful” is as much of an understatement as one can make. She has this unique quality about her that draws people in and makes them feel genuinely comfortable and appreciated for the unique person they are. Never have I come away from a conversation feeling more like I am exactly where I am supposed to be, when I am supposed to be there. Rarely have I come away from a conversation feeling more like I have been heard, understood, and encouraged. Dr. Marshall’s reputation precedes her for a reason. And now I know that reason is because she is genuinely, honestly and unabashedly who she claims to be.
I was blessed to get to hear a little about what Dr. Marshall experienced coming up as a woman in the male-dominated settings of the churches and academic life of Baptist environments. I got to hear a little about the challenges she faced and overcame. But I also got to hear about the genuine and meaningful relationships she built and maintains to this very day. I saw how she interacted with other members of the Central family. Members including colleagues, staff, faculty, and students. My love and appreciation for my Central family was already well established, but the time I was blessed to spend with Dr. Marshal, Dr. Terrell Carter, Dr. John Park, Robin Sanbothe, and Amber Simpson helped to reaffirm in me the desire and commitment to live into my sense of call from the Creator God. And for that, and our time together, I am grateful.
Toward the end of the day I was blessed to meet and visit with another leading light in Baptist life who’s reputation also preceded her.
Being involved with CBF life for several years, and more recently Central, it is impossible to navigate through the Fellowship without hearing the name Helen Moore-Montgomery. I had recently become “virtual” friends with Helen through FaceBook, but when she approached me just prior to worship, I was legitimately starstruck. I don’t know how else to describe it except to say that I was truly overwhelmed by the spirit of this trailblazing, 90-something-year-old, Jesus-following, genuine, powerful woman. Helen Moore-Montgomery is not just an inspiration, she is a model for how one should love God and love her or his neighbor.
Thursday night after worship, Dr. Marshall took part in a short discussion panel with two faculty from other theological schools in our country. The prompt for their discussion was something to the effect of, “what are five things congregations need to know about the leaders currently finishing and journeying through seminary at this time?” Dr. Marshall’s first answer was prophetic. She responded with a simple, “the women are coming.” Well Dr. Marshall, I have to tell you, that thanks to individuals such as yourself and Helen, the women are already here. More needs to be accomplished for certain, but please do not underestimate the impact that you all have already, and continue to have on those around you right now. And thanks to your leadership, our Fellowship will continue to experience more and more women embraced and placed in positions of ministerial and pastoral leadership.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship is not a perfect community. It is challenged by various and diverse viewpoints and opinions. But what makes our Fellowship different is the effort that continues to be put in to encourage, accept, and yes even celebrate the diversity that exists among this beloved community. For that I am grateful. And for the amazing past few days which I struggle to find the words to describe, I am grateful. My prayer is the words I have written have adequately expressed the fullness of my heart.
Grace and Peace.
– Micah Groves is a CBF Leadership Scholar and is currently pursuing a Master of Divinity from Central Baptist Theological Seminary. He received his Bachelor of Science in Mass Communication from East Central University and currently serves as an Officer on the CBF Oklahoma Coordinating Council.