By Meredith Holladay
In the span of one week last November, three women were named as coordinators of state and regional CBF organizations: Terri Byrd (Alabama CBF), Phyllis Boozer (Baptist Fellowship of the Northeast) and Trisha Miller Manarin (Mid-Atlantic CBF). Prior to their selection, no woman held the position of state/regional coordinator. Carolyn Anderson served as coordinator of CBF of Florida from 2003 until 2007, but no woman has held this role since her retirement.
These women represent intergenerational women’s leadership within the Fellowship, and the timing of their appointments marks a shift and movement to a new era of Fellowship leadership.
On November 8, 2013, the Coordinating Council of Alabama CBF unanimously voted for Terri Byrd as its coordinator. Previously, Byrd served as Alabama CBF’s associate coordinator for congregational life and as a minister in local congregations in the areas of worship leadership and student ministry.
Byrd, a born-and-bred Baptist and daughter of a Baptist minister, attended Mercer University in Macon, Ga., and Beeson Divinity School at Samford University in Birmingham, Ala. She remembers being told as a young girl that “there were parameters to how [God’s call] was fleshed out, especially for women.” Byrd’s call to ministry came in her late 20s when she “realized the call of God on [her] life was deeper and more involved” than she understood earlier.
Byrd holds her Baptist identity near and dear and believes that being Baptist is about being a member of a particular family.
“I’ll never forget the first CBF General Assembly I went to,” said Byrd. “When I walked into the main room for worship, I knew right away that I had found my new Baptist home.”
She looks forward to opportunities to lead, not just within her own specific context of Alabama, but contributing to the collective vision of the larger Fellowship movement.
As Byrd begins her first full-year leading Alabama CBF, she feels blessed by those with whom she works, a group of folks “who hope for continued and renewed connections to young Baptists, for new ways of being church together and [who] are dreaming of ways to bring sustainable economic growth to the areas of greatest poverty.”
Meanwhile, some 1,100 miles northeast and just a matter of days prior, Phyllis Boozer was named coordinator of the Baptist Fellowship of the Northeast, which includes nine states: Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont. Boozer, who had been serving as interim coordinator, resides in Wilton, Conn., a place she has called home for nearly 40 years.
The northeast is not a geographic region known for a significant CBF presence, though Boozer is a lifelong Baptist. She moved to Connecticut in 1974 after visiting her sister in the area many times and falling in love with the region. For 38 years, Boozer taught high school math before retiring in 2006, and since 1976 has been a member of Wilton Baptist Church, where she became the first female deacon ordained by the congregation.
As the Northeast coordinator, Boozer emphasizes that much of her work is “trying to make connections with churches so they know one another and are familiar with like-minded Baptists in the area.” She is also working to establish relationships with chaplains and connect them with one another.
The region that Boozer leads faces the unique challenge of its diversity and geography. Her three primary goals are to nurture and support CBF’s partnership with American Baptist Churches USA, strengthen relationships with chaplains throughout the area and focus on assisting church starting efforts.
“The leadership of CBF is doing a tremendous job in being a fellowship, by doing things cooperatively,” Boozer explained. “The leadership talks once a month on a conference call to share what’s happening in our areas and ways we can partner with one another.”
Boozer expresses excitement and hope for all that it will continue to mean to be a Fellowship.
Trisha Miller Manarin echoes these words of hope farther down the East Coast. Manarin, who began her duties as Mid-Atlantic CBF coordinator in February, claims a diverse Baptist background growing up in Southern Baptist and National Baptist churches and attending an American Baptist seminary. As a student at Palmer Theological Seminary at Eastern University in the mid-1990s, Manarin was awarded one of the first CBF Leadership Scholarships.
Manarin was ordained in 1997 at Trinity Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pa., and has served as associate pastor of McLean Baptist Church in McLean, Va., since 2012.
Her hopes for CBF include increasing and fostering connections across states and regions, as well as enriching diversity across CBF life, particularly the geographic diversity represented by the Mid-Atlantic region which includes West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and the District of Columbia. Manarin is excited to join in as CBF continues to set a forward-looking identity and is hopeful that the Fellowship “will continue to see ourselves as kingdom people by connecting to the world in true partnership work.”
With a deep and abiding heart for missions, Manarin has traveled and worked in Zambia, Uganda, India and Macau, and has a passion for making connections between needs and resources around the world, fulfilling the kingdom vision of Baptists as an ambassador for Christ’s work. She finds “great joy in seeing lives transformed by the power of God while growing in faith and serving in mission and ministry side-by-side.”
2013 certainly marked the beginning of a new era in Baptist life as we witnessed women gaining a greater presence in the leadership of the Fellowship movement. This shift, according to Pam Durso, executive director of Baptist Women in Ministry, reflects a new wave of leadership from CBF Executive Coordinator Suzii Paynter.
“I don’t think it’s a coincidence that three women in the last few months have been named as leaders,” Durso said. “Suzii Paynter’s style of leadership, both her warm personality and her informed, intentional and fearless method of decision-making have…reshaped Baptist perceptions.”
Durso is hopeful that Paynter’s leadership, followed by these state and regional leaders will encourage openness to “embrace a new model of leadership and ministry” at the local and congregational levels.
This is indeed a new era in the Fellowship. These women, representing multiple generations, bring new life into the Fellowship, and along with the leadership already in place, they will guide us into a vibrant future.
Meredith Holladay is associate pastor of spiritual formation at First Baptist Church, Lawrence, Kan.