Tasmanian State Leader Jenny Baxter explains why Australian Baptist Women began, and how things have changed.
In the early days in Tasmania, there were some heroic women who led the ministry in during the depression when cars were still few, telephones a luxury item, and most communication was done by mail!
Setting the scene
Australian Baptist Women (ABW) has been an entity since the 1930s. When the national body began, it aimed to provide opportunities for Baptist women to gather and connect. ABW was formed separately to the infant Australian Baptist Ministries, which began a few years earlier in 1926.
Nationally, ABW State leaders were appointed. This handful of women oversaw the ministry in each state and territory, gathering annually until 2020. Around that time, independent of one another, the states/territories gradually ceased those positions, with the exception of Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania.
After over a decade with no Tasmanian leader, I was appointed in 2017. By then, many Tasmanian Baptist women’s ministries had wound down. I soon discovered there was little appetite for returning to 20th Century-style women’s ministry.
Nationally, things were moving. Covid disrupted plans for the ABW national meeting in 2021, and then came a series of online discussions, think-tanks and brainstorms. But nothing seemed to fly. The question was: How do we continue to support Baptist women, when state Unions are less inclined to appoint ABW state leaders?
THE QUESTION: How do we continue to support Baptist women, when state Unions are less inclined to appoint ABW state leaders?
Moving onto 2023
In May this year, the National Council Taskforce gathered in Sydney. There was intense and robust discussion about women and women’s ministry. However, good decisions were made.
Soon afterwards, National Ministries Director Mark Wison, made an official announcement.
As a result of this announcement, ABW officially ceased to exist:
The clear decision of National Council is that ABW, as a delegated body, is not the desired way forward for the State Leaders and National Council Taskforce. This decision is due to a number of factors including lack of agreement on purpose/scope, lack of buy-in from state associations [unions], changing understandings of needs and the inconsistency with how other delegated bodies operate. National Council has a desire to bring this group to an end well and recognises there might be different responses from current ABW group members. Some may feel disappointed or hurt, others relieved or even excited about the change.
Mark Wilson continued …
I want to affirm that this in no way says National Council is not committed to developing and supporting women leaders . . . National Council is creating a new delegated body, specifically focused on Women in Leadership. This is a new group and will involve representatives appointed by each state association [union].
What does this mean for us?
In God’s goodness, we Tasmanians were ahead of the curve!
Since 2021 a statewide team consisting of Wendy Marston (Newstead), Jenna Blackwell (City, Launceston), Gabe Fife (Ulverstone), and myself (Hobart) have met, mostly on Zoom (and very rarely in-person!)
EmpowHer became our new name.
A network of women growing and encouraging each other in their God-given potential.
Providing community, training, and support for Tasmanian women to empower them to move into leadership, and to take their God-given place within the Baptist churches of Tasmania.
I look forward to this new era as we further develop EmpowHer.
Here is what’s happening next …
Day of Courage
The Day of Courage in November will be the first statewide event in this new paradigm. We are looking forward to hosting as many women as possible at Riverlnds (Longford). All women are welcome!
Women’s National Taskforce
I will also work with the National Taskforce to help develop the newly delegated body, focussing on women in leadership.
The team and I value your prayers as we lead and encourage women around Tasmania.
State Director, EmpowHer