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Project lists obstacles faced in women’s ministry, and calls for change

17 May 2024

It is named after the first woman to study at a college for Baptist ministry, 100 years ago

Violet Hedger

Violet Hedger

A PROJECT named after the first woman to study at a college for Baptist ministry, more than 100 years ago, has produced 57 “requests for change” after a three-year study of the “theological, missional, and structural obstacles” that women ministers face in the Baptist community in England and Wales.

Project Violet, launched in 2021, is named after Violet Hedger, who became the first woman to study at a college for Baptist ministry, when she entered Regent’s Park College, Oxford, in 1919. By 1926, three women had been received as accredited Baptist ministers, but it was not until the 1980s that their numbers grew significantly, a project podcast records. Today, there are more than 2000 Baptist women ministers.

The project has been co-led by the Revd Jane Day, centenary development enabler for Baptists Together, and Dr Helen Cameron, Research Fellow at the Centre for Baptist Studies at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. Over the past three years, 16 pieces of research have been undertaken by Baptist women ministers

Last month, they met at Laude Abbey to agree the requests for change. These, and the research findings, were released on 2 May.

The requests include a call for male ministers to be “allies in private and public”, including “noticing when they are in a space where women are absent or silent and pause to ask why”. The creation of a guide on inclusive language is requested, as is a short video for local churches on supporting the training of ministers financially. The report notes that “not all women are in a position to take out personal loans to pay for their training and not all churches are in a position to help with the training costs of Ministers-in-Training on placement with them”.

The report observes that “the call to ministry experienced by women is often preceded by a whisper that can be drowned out by other voices without a safe space in which to discuss what they are hearing from God”, and suggests the exploration of women-only discernment events.

The research includes reflections on the Anglican experience, including its approach to holding together disparate theological views on the ministry of women. Local Baptist churches retain the freedom under the Declaration of Principle to interpret scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and this includes the freedom to adopt a complementarian and headship theology that restricts ministry positions for women.

In her report, the Revd Claire Nicholls, Minister of New Addington Baptist Church and a lead for gender justice on the London Baptists Women’s Justice Hub, calls for: “Some reflection and theological thinking on how complementarian views affect Baptist life and values, particularly in regards to women in leadership, and some work on how much of this comes from institutionalised and historical patriarchy and sexism rather than theology, whilst recognising that we can hold both complementarian and egalitarian views within the union and still work together.”

The advocacy part played by the C of E’s diocesan advisers in women’s ministry could be “ mirrored” by the women’s-justice subgroup of London Baptists, she suggests.

When the co-researchers met last month to agree the requests for change, they were “overwhelmed with sadness at all they had read in each other’s research”, the report says. “They are calling for a season of lament to enable the wider Baptist family to acknowledge all that has been shared.”

All of the research is available online, and a final report, following responses, will be discussed at the Baptist Union Council on 23 October.

www.projectviolet.org.uk

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