I am the archivist in my family. The historian. I have all the old black and white photos, including those from my great-grandparent’s wedding. I also love to hear all the old stories from family members. I am naturally curious about all the pieces that make up a person and a family.
It was this interest in knowing the stories of the past that prompted me to want to learn the stories of the women who serve and have served the PCA in women’s ministry.
The PCA was born two years before I was born. Yes, if you know how to do your math, you know that the PCA and I are both middle aged. Though I have been in the PCA since my early college days, there is little that I know about the first years of the denomination. In fact, for many of us, there’s probably a lot that we take for granted about our denomination. Things that many people worked long and hard to bring to fruition.
I recently had the opportunity to talk to one of those people who was there in the early days, who had a front row seat to some of the discussions and decisions that took place, particularly about women and women’s ministry.
Meet Barbara Thompson
When I called Barbara Thompson for the interview, I immediately felt like I was transported to Louisiana. Her soft southern drawl was hospitable and inviting to this girl who grew up in the mid-Atlantic. All I needed was a sweet tea and a chair on the front porch. And maybe a crawfish boil to round it out—a girl can imagine can’t she?
Barbara explained to me that she arrived in the PCA a few years after its birth. New to the faith and the PCA, she was not “the saint on which you would build a women’s ministry.” She describes herself then as “rough around the edges.” But a friend who was on the PCA women’s advisory subcommittee invited her to serve. The other women serving in women’s ministry at the denominational level took her under their wings and mentored her, women such as Georgia Settle and Susan Hunt.
She described the women she served with as “strong women, not weak willed, but women who were intentional to submit to their husbands and the church.” Barbara believes that God placed her with these women to mentor and disciple her and had it not been for that discipleship, she says, “I would have gone the way of Biblical feminism, which isn’t Biblical at all.” Serving with these women in ministry was also pivotal in giving her a desire to pray. She said they had an “amazing commitment to prayer.”
Barbara served on the subcommittee for six years and then worked on staff alongside Susan Hunt and Jane Patete for ten years. It was during that time that she co-wrote A Legacy of Biblical Womanhood with Susan Hunt. I asked Barbara what prompted them to write the book. She responded, “For years, Susan and I had partnered – she wrote drafts, I read them, reacted and responded. As Susan says in intro of Legacy we literally talked for hours about biblical concepts related to women – creation design, the fall, the church, redemption in the relational spheres of a woman’s life (this was more my interest and emphasis)… She proposed the concept and I glibly said, “Well that could not be too hard!” WRONG! The experience for me was and is a watershed sanctification event during which I came to the end of my self-sufficiency and belief that I know something worth putting in print.”
It was also during that time that she helped to develop the training team which serves the women’s ministry by training local churches and presbyteries in women’s ministry. I asked her how the women’s ministry trainers started, “One of Susan’s most valuable contributions to PCA Women’s ministry – pedagogy and curriculum. The most valuable philosophy and structural concept for women’s ministry in the PCA – connectionalism and networking… Trainers were a next step in using the denominational/regional/local network to equip women in local churches. Bear in mind, that the largest majority of PCA local women’s ministries are in churches with congregations of 500 or less. With trainers and the resources of CDM, all churches have access to these equipping resources – personnel and printed.”
Throughout our conversation, the one theme that kept recurring was that of real life gospel relationships. Georgia Settle was one such friend. A spiritual mentor. Barbara was terrified on one occasion when she learned she was to room with Georgia at an event. She thought of Georgia as a spiritual saint. “I was afraid I might say a bad word in front of her!” But Georgia opened her heart to Barbara, revealing her own struggles. “I’ll never forget that. She shared with me her own brokenness. It was a watershed moment for me.”
It was relationships like this that shaped Barbara’s life. She described her friendship with Susan Hunt as “iron sharpening iron.” In those early days when Barbara was learning and growing in the Reformed faith, it was gospel relationships where women invested in her and spoke the truth to her that spurred her on in faith. Barbara believes this is what gospel friendship is supposed to look like. She says that even today she is rich in such friendships, those that are “Life on Life, Heart on Heart, and Soul on Soul.”
Women’s Ministry Today
We talked a bit about the church and the needs of women’s ministry today. She sees the challenges in women’s ministry today as twofold:
1). The number of “Christian” options available today to women in the church. Between the number of Christian celebrities, social media, parachurch organizations, and technology, there are numerous options for women to choose from. Barbara believes that there is a gap in how the church equips women in how to navigate all those options. She said it is as though women are entering the largest department store in the world and they are not equipped to know what to do. And even worse, they see the church as just one of the many options to choose from. But, as Barbara asserts, “The church is plan A.”
2).The second challenge Barbara sees is that millennials in the church have not been given the tools to understand how Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration relates to their womanhood. She said, “It’s not about what we can or cannot do as women. It’s about our creation design and how it was affected by the Fall and how our creation design is being redeemed and the creation order restored through Jesus Christ to the glory of God.” She believes this issue is key to understanding and dealing with the questions today concerning gender, identity, role, and purpose.
Barbara entered the PCA knowing nothing of Reformed doctrine but older women entered her life and discipled her. It was these gospel friendships which shaped her and helped her to become an influencer in the lives of other women. Barbara today serves in a facilitator, coaching role with women’s ministry in her local church (Plains Presbyterian in Zachary, Louisiana) where her husband, Mark, serves as ruling elder. They have attended Plains Presbyterian for thirty-five years. They have one son, Greg, and one grandson, John Gordon (10).