ATLANTA — Just six years after it laid off its staff and considered closing for good, Baptist Women in Ministry has hired a new full-time executive director.
Pamela Durso, currently associate director of the Baptist History and Heritage Society, begins new duties July 1 as leader of the 26-year-old group that advocates and provides services for women ministers in moderate Baptist life.
Robin Anderson, coordinator of the Baptist Women in Ministry leadership team, called Durso's hiring a "kairos" moment — a Greek word referring to a right or opportune time.
Formed in 1983 at Crescent Hill Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., near the campus of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, BWIM moved to the campus of Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Kan., after Southern elected a conservative president who discouraged women from pursuing pastoral roles.
Facing declining membership and reduced funding, the group was forced to lay off two staff members in 2003 — the year of BWIM's 20th anniversary — and launched a study to determine if it should continue to exist.
A transition team polled constituents and found there was still a need for networking-and-encouragement organization for Baptist women in ministry. The group reorganized from a traditional board-of-directors structure to a leadership team.
In 2004, BWIM moved its offices again, this time to the campus of Mercer University's McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta. The group considered the new office more accessible to the growing numbers of Baptist women entering ministry concentrated heavily in the South and along the Atlantic seaboard.
"Over the past several years, we have discovered exactly how much potential BWIM has to connect, network, and advocate for Baptist women in ministry," said Anderson, associate pastor for education and outreach at University Baptist Church in Baltimore.
"We are now organized and focused in a way that is making it possible or us to implement many of our dreams for BWIM, yet we have realized that we could accomplish more of our goals more quickly if we had a full-time leader instead of relying solely on volunteers to coordinate our efforts," she said.
Thanks to fundraising efforts led by Reba Cobb — one of 33 women who launched the organization back in 1983 and founding co-editor of Folio: A Newsletter for Southern Baptist Women in Ministry — Anderson said, BWIM is once more in a position to hire an executive director to guide and support the leadership team
Durso, who has been an advocate in support of Baptist clergywomen since receiving her Ph.D. in church history from Baylor University in 1992, has served four years as a member of the BWIM leadership team. In that role she has compiled and co-edited an annual State of Baptist Women in Baptist Life, one new initiative coming out of the re-visioning process.
Durso said she viewed it as both an honor and a privilege to be asked to serve as BWIM's executive director. As a historian, she said she is especially glad to be a part of "a rich history" of serving individuals and congregations for more than a quarter century.
"The possibilities for BWIM's future are endless, and I look forward to working closely with BWIM's leadership team as we dream together about ways the organization can affirm the giftedness of women ministers, encourage them in their ministries, help them find places of service, and assist them in connecting with other women ministers," Durso said.
Anderson said she believes with Durso's leadership and continued involvement by the leadership team, BWIM is poised to "thrive and increase our efforts to connect, network, and advocate for Baptist women serving God in ministry."
Baptist Women in Ministry plans to hold an annual gathering and breakfast July 2 at South Main Baptist Church in Houston. The cost is $10 and by reservation.
Durso has worked at the Baptist History and Heritage Society since 2003. She said she learned much while there and cherishes opportunities she received to get acquainted with a host of Baptists from all over the world. Recently Charles Deweese, the society's executive director, announced that he plans to retire in October.
Durso, 47, is married to Keith Durso, and they are the parents Michael, 15, and Alexandra, 12.
Bob Allen is senior writer for Associated Baptist Press.