Violet Hedger, one of the very early female ministers(1922) wrote an article in the Baptist Quarterly in 1941, about the experiences of a woman minister. She begins by talking about a placard she saw that said ‘War gives woman her a chance’ – she comments that it should be ‘the church gives woman her chance’!
Today I spent some fruitful hours with a female Minister who went to college in the early 1960s. She had never considered being a deaconess, mainly because she had never met one, but she had met female ministers from the Congregational Church and they were her role model. Listening to her talk of how difficult it was in those early days made me realise again that women like her pioneered the way forward, and endured much pain, for those of us to come for which we are very grateful, yet, she and I reflected that we were sad that there were still so far to go.
It seems amazing to me that she needed permission to get married, which resulted in a discussion at Council – made more ironic by the fact that her husband was also a Minister and no such questions were asked about whether suitable for him to be married. She and her husband, eventually, went into joint Ministry but even this was queried by the then area superintendent who wanted her husband to be the senior and her to be the associate even though they had been in Ministry roughly the same length of time, both running their own churches. But then, when I was last in settlement, one person asked me whether my husband would mind me going out in the evenings to meetings – it seems the old prejudices live on.
She admitted to the feeling, expressed by some female ministers today, that she found ministers meetings very difficult, because there was always the sense of competition, and lack of openness and vulnerability about the difficulties of ministry. She had valued friendships with female ministers of other denominations within her area.
We both wondered at the too frequent lack of inclusive language when Baptists met together, that the structures of the Baptist Union, of which she had been a part, remained male dominated and male orientated. She reflected that, like many of her female counterparts, she felt forced into particular styles of behaviour in order to prove her worth, yet by doing so had colluded with the male ways of doing things, rather than transforming them into a more balanced way.
The Baptist Union has come a long way since those early struggles as a deaconess order decreased and women in accredited ministry increased but we both felt it had still had a long way to go. We were thankful to those who have struggled to support women in the past and continue this in the present but there is still work to do…
Violet Hedger, the first minister trained at a Baptist college (1922) states in an article in the Baptist Quarterly in 1941 that:: ‘I believe that the church will only be fully staffed and able to do its glorious work completely,when every community has a man and a woman minister and a doctor working together’!
I have a dream….