By Lynn Holmes
During the weeks leading up to Easter, I was involved in leading a study on the Gospel of Mark.
In reviewing the gospel narratives, I am always struck by new insights—things I have never noticed before—notwithstanding the number of times I have read the stories. These are two verses that seemed to leap off of the page for me from chapter fifteen: “There were also women looking on from a distance; among them were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. These used to follow him and provided for him when he was in Galilee; and there were many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”
In all of the years I have read and studied the women in the Passion story, I never noticed that Mark’s gospel referenced “many other women” who had traveled apparently from Galilee to Jerusalem and had ministered to Jesus. Of course, all of the gospel writers mention Mary from Magdala and Mary, the mother of James the younger, and even Salome and Joanna. But it seems that only the writer of Mark mentions a group of unnamed women who courageously braved the crucifixion madness and followed Jesus from Galilee to the cross, even when many others abandoned him.
This revelation has caused me to wonder, “Who were these women?” Did they have any idea who Jesus was? How did they muster the wherewithal to not only follow Jesus, but to endure what must have been an excruciating and emotional experience to see the person to whom they ministered mistreated and ultimately killed. How did they persevere? How did they persist in the face of all the uncertainty they saw?
Thinking about the women in the gospel Passion accounts has made me consider other women who have also persisted in the face of uncertainty. As I have begun to think about my next vocational steps, I have thought about the many women who have already paved the way so that I can move with courage notwithstanding any hurdles I might encounter.
One of the women who comes to mind is Addie Davis, whose ordination as the first woman as a Southern Baptist pastor occurred in North Carolina fifty-five years ago this August. It is hard to imagine the kind of barriers she faced to pursue God’s call on her life as a Baptist in the 1960s. And even though Addie Davis managed to become ordained in North Carolina in 1964, she had difficulty finding a church to exercise her pastoral gifts in the South, but because of her persistence, eventually pastored churches in the North through the American Baptist Convention.
Another woman who persisted despite tremendous hurdles is Ella Pearson Mitchell. Mitchell, only the second African-American woman to graduate from Union Theological Seminary, taught and ministered throughout the country for more than thirty years before she was finally ordained to the gospel ministry at the age of sixty-one years old. She devoted her ministry—alongside her husband, Henry Mitchell—to helping other women in ministry, especially Baptist women, find their preaching voices.
She edited several books of sermons by African-American women and continued to make the case for women in ordained ministry wherever she went until she died. In fact, she dedicated a book of sermons, Women: To Preach or Not to Preach, to “the dim but cherished memory of the untold hosts of women whose call from God to the ordained ministry was denied for generations by their own sisters and brothers.”
Indeed, it is the untold hosts of women, like the many other women who followed Jesus at the cross, from whom I find encouragement to persevere and persist to pursue all that God has called me to become. And it is the witness of the ministries of Addie Davis and Ella Pearson Mitchell that demonstrate not only courage, but hope for Baptist women.
Lynn Holmes is a CBF Leadership Scholar and she is pursuing a Master of Divinity degree from Duke Divinity School. She received her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and her J.D. from Georgetown Law School. She serves as a Divinity School Intern with the Congregation at Duke University Chapel.