by Rev. Laura Barclay
This is What a Preacher Looks Like: Sermons by Baptist Women in Ministry is a wonderful compilation of sermons from amazing female ministers. The book, published by Smyth and Helwys and edited by Pamela R. Durso, is divided into two sections. The first section, entitled “Sermons by Baptist Women at Historic Moments in Baptist Life” has homilies by noted women who gave courageous sermons during crucial moments in our Baptist history. Nancy Hastings Sehested’s sermon, “We Have This Treasure,” was delivered in 1983 at the first meeting of Baptist Women in Ministry. She likens the path of women in that moment to the Israelites being freed from Egypt, and needing the faith, fortitude, and courage to keep moving forward.
The most compelling sermon in the first section, however, is a sermon that was never given. F. Sue Fitzgerald was an alternate to give a sermon at the 1996 Baptist State Convention, entitled “The Kingdom of God Is Among You.” The elected male preacher, while having many personal difficulties, attended the convention and gave his sermon instead, leaving this inspiring homily to remain unpreached. Fitzgerald implores us to hear that the Kingdom of God is among us, rather than inside us, which encourages hard communal work over the individualism of personal spirituality so indicative of American culture. She attempts to heal the wounds of the time by encouraging listeners to acknowledge their pain and choose the love and power of God over “the power rooted in our desire to make something happen a certain way” (23). Her healing way with words, charming personal anecdotes, and deep rooted wisdom leave the reader sad that sermon was not preached.
The second section, entitled, “Sermons by Women from Beginning to End” contain sermons preached by women from texts throughout the Bible. Humorous, powerful, and challenging, these sermons demand the reader’s attention. Amber Inascore Essick’s text from Genesis 18 calls us to make time for strangers and make room for hospitality, despite our fears and of vulnerability. Essick states, “To open ourselves to the other is scary and risky. But it just might hold redemption and life for us” (37). Amy Butler delivers her Exodus 14-15 sermon as Moses’ sister, making the message of God’s eternal presence all the more realistic and meaningful. Isabel N. Docampo connects the Luke passage of the hemorrhaging women, oppressed by societal views on cleanliness, to her chronic illness and the treatment of minority women in society in “Women: Beloved, Brave, Bridge Builder.” She encourages listeners to tell their faith story, which will build bridges to peace and progress. Molly Marshall pushes us to proclaim truth, faith, and freedom from fear in a post-9/11, MTV generation world in “Living in Our Own Time…Wisely,” as she weaves together texts from Chronicles and Matthew. Lisa Thompson encourages us to participate in God’s redemptive story in, “Yes, God,” grounded in Isaiah 6:1-13. Bonnie Oliver Brandon shares the good news of “A Homeless Jesus," preaching from Matthew 8. The good news keeps on coming with sermons from Pamela R. Durso, Andrea Dellinger Jones, Suzii Paynter, Julie Merritt Lee, Joy Yee, and others.
From beginning to end, this book brought me on a journey through the faith and strength of these ministers. My only wish was that this work was published years ago before I ever went to seminary (I’d never heard a women preach before my years at Wake Forest University School of Divinity), so that I could be more confident in my path. I hope that many of you will get to enjoy this fine book, and that our notions of what a preacher looks like are continually expanded. In my lifetime, I have found that God has no limits for who God can use to bring a message of salvation, renewal, and announcement of the kingdom of God, if we are willing to have faith and listen.