Waco church believed first in Texas to call woman pastor

WACO, Texas (BP)--Calvary Baptist Church, Waco, Texas, has called Julie Pennington-Russell as pastor in a 190-73 vote June X.

Pennington-Russell, 37, believed to be the first female senior pastor of a church affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas, has been pastor of Nineteenth Avenue Baptist Church in San Francisco since 1993 and was its associate pastor from 1984-93.

The Waco church's vote followed almost a week following a series of get-acquanted meetings. She will begin her pastorate there in early August.

About 75 women now serve Southern Baptist churches as pastors, said Sarah Frances Anders, an emeritus professor at Louisiana College who has kept tabs on women in ministry for about 40 years. Around 30 states have at least one female Southern Baptist pastor, and most of them are in the East, she said, and about 1,300 Southern Baptist women have been ordained. But many of them have found places of service in denominations, such as the United Methodist Church, that are more open to their ordination, Anders said.

Some Baptists say the Bible forbids women to serve as pastors. Others say those apparent prohibitions refer to specific situations in the early church; they cite other passages that, they believe, affirm all God-called people in ministry.

Pennington-Russell said she hopes the issue of her gender will fade into the background quickly, noting her gender "has been a non-issue for a long time" with the San Francisco church.

Pennington-Russell said she has been impressed by the church's commitment to remain in its transitional neighborhood. "They have chosen to stay and do mininstry to the people around them," she said. "Calvary wants to be a place where all manner of people will feel welcome, regardless of race or economic status. They want to be home for all who follow Christ, and for me that strikes a chord."

"I'm very pleased that the church voted overwhelmingly" to call the new pastor, said Tom Purdy, chairman of the church's pastor-search committee. "In most cases, it would be considered a landslide."

Pennington-Russell and Purdy acknowledged some church members expressed reservations about electing a woman pastor, but they cited a positive spirit among the congregation. "We had an amazing spiritual renewal last week," Purdy said.

Calvary is "a mainstream traditional Texas Baptist church," he added. "Our ad in the phone book shows that we are affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the Southern Baptist Convention, (and) we are a Texas Baptist church."

The church allows its members individually to decide how the portion of their gifts that goes outside of Texas is channeled, he reported. About 85 percent of out-of-state contributions go to the Fellowship, and 15 percent are sent to the SBC.

The church ordained its first women deacons in 1990 and called and ordained Fran Porter as minister to senior adults in 1995.

Pennington-Russell is a graduate of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., and the University of Central Florida.

She has been an associate Baptist campus minister at San Francisco State University and a supervisor of field education at Golden Gate Seminary.

She is a member of the board of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs and has served on the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship's Coordinating Council.

Her husband, Tim Pennington-Russell, develops Internet websites for various companies. They have two children, Taylor, 7, and Lucy, 3.


Toby Druin contributed to this story.

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