Posts Tagged ‘deacon’

A Few Good Women

Story and photos by Jeannie Dortch.

A Few Good Women

Buddy Hamilton (left) and Meredith House were among the early supporters of women deacons.

Sometimes it takes a few good men to recognize the value of a few good women. Ezra Stith (1918-1998), a younger member of the mostly elderly group of deacons, introduced a motion in the mid-1970s to add women to the deacon fellowship. Meredith House and Buddy Hamilton were among those who wholeheartedly supported it. “Women were the rejuvenators that the board needed. These changes were good for everyone,” Meredith remarked recently. Buddy echoed that sentiment: “The addition of women was a massive and profound change.”

Ezra and others lobbied for women deacons, despite controversy and contentiousness. But when the vote finally came up the first time, only five people supported it. It was another few years before it became a reality.

In 1976 the first three women were elected: Ginny Sanders, Betty Allen and Alma Snowa. Meredith said, “Our hesitancy was rooted in differences among the men about the interpretation of scripture related to leadership roles of women in the church. When the motion did carry, it carried substantially. I think the literal interpretation of the verses had been rooted in people for so long that they just needed time to think about it.”

Betty Allen stated that “FBC’s affiliation with the Southern Baptist Convention slowed progressive thinking in regards to women even though women were beginning to serve on deacon boards in other denominations across the nation. Many churches had a glass ceiling when it came to women and the last bastion came from those in the South.”

Betty’s joy was to provide flowers in the Esther women’s Sunday school classroom every week, but what spotlighted Betty as a deacon candidate was her work as a teacher with children and youth and as president of the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU). Initially, Betty was asked what she thought about having women deacons at FBC. “I said that in the Bible the Lord doesn’t distinguish between men and women (Galatians 3:28), and I remember thinking that my grandmother would have been proud of my answer.”

Alma was serving as the supervisor of the baby nursery and beginners’ department when Noralee Stephenson, president of the WMU, and deacon W. Irving Dixon visited her at home. “I was in awe that I was being considered because I was so flattered that they thought I was capable. Irving asked me if I would agree to refrain from imbibing alcoholic beverages during my tenure, and of course I said yes, because I didn’t drink.”

But once the congregation was made aware that women had been nominated as deacons, Alma received a phone call from a friend telling her that she had reservations about Alma’s serving as a deacon because she had short hair. Alma replied, “So do you!” to which her friend retorted, “But I’m not going to be a deacon!” Alma clarified the story by saying, “My friend was referring to 1 Corinthians 11 where it says that a woman’s long hair is her glory and is given to her for a covering.”

Ginny Sanders served as WMU secretary and as Superintendent of the Youth Division, where she continues to take attendance as she has for 57 years. “Incorporating a woman’s viewpoint and influence on the board was a farsighted shift for our church, as it brought women from the kitchen to the boardroom, so to speak.” Ginny remembers drawing straws to determine their committee assignments. “I drew the finance committee and continued to enjoy that placement even after I rotated off of the deacon board.”

A Few Good Women

In 1976 Ginny Sanders, Betty Allen and Alma Snowa (left to right) were the first women ordained as Deacons at Richmond's First Baptist Church.

Betty, Alma and Ginny were told that the older deacons didn’t feel comfortable having them serve communion for the first year. When the acceptable day finally came, Ginny, dressed conservatively in black, was understandably nervous. A sharp, grating sound was heard when Ginny accidentally scraped one communion plate against another, and a female congregant complained that only a woman could mess up communion. Total acceptance was to be an uphill battle.

Buddy shared his strong feelings: “Up to that time, the operation of the church was like a book that required a key and only certain people had that key. Once women had access to the inner workings, it was like a window had been opened to fresh thinking from a different perspective. The environment of the meetings changed from outspoken aggressiveness and sometimes obstreperous behavior to that of civil discourse.”

Alma professed, “We were like trailblazers, and it fills me with pride to be considered a pioneer. It was so much harder for us than for the women today, and it makes me feel so good to know that I played an important part in that outcome.”

Since 1976, more than 75 good women have served on the deacon board.

Editor’s note: The genesis for this article came from page 311 in The Open Door, the history of Richmond’s First Baptist Church, which is available for purchase in First Word, FBC’s library.

icon-dortchJeannie Dortch joined FBC in 1974 after being lovingly mentored by the members of Buddy Hamilton’s Sunday school class. A grandmother of four, Jeannie has served as a deacon, taught in our children’s, youth, international, and adult Sunday school departments, but attends the Journey class presently. Recently retired from 16 years of teaching at Rudlin Torah Academy, Jeannie enjoys exercising, cooking, reading, tutoring New American students at Maybeury Elementary, and writing articles for FTF.

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