This piece is based on my friends’ experiences of being on the waiting list (for non-Baptist, this is a list of potential ministers whose names will be sent to Baptist Churches). Their stories of what they encountered as they went to different Baptist Churches to discern God’s call. These people are Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) people and women some single others divorced.
So what are Baptist Churches looking for when searching for a minister? Firstly, Baptist Churches are looking for a man who is in his 50s with a settled family. Preferred will be if his children are all grown up so that the minister can focus his attention on Church rather than being distracted by children. Essential is that he is married therefore a single man is not likely to stand a chance. If he is divorced that will not be in his favour.
With this exaggerated ideal, what chances are there for women in ministry? Despite attempts by the Baptist Union and Baptist Missionary Society (BMS) to ensure and empower women to be more involved in the life of our denomination, I am afraid that many of our Churches are still far behind this agenda. Many of our traditional Churches struggle with a woman been a minister. This implies that women are not likely to be considered by these Churches. If the woman is married there could be some considerations, but if that woman is single or a divorcee, she will need God’s help to get a Church that would appoint her. If this woman is African, Caribbean or Asian, then I am afraid it is very difficult.
What about if you are an African, Asian, South American or Eastern European man? What chances are there to be called by a Baptist Church? I am afraid your accent, if you are not born in this country can stand against your chances. If you are born in this country and have the British accent so to speak, you sort of stand a chance, but your ethnicity can stand in the way. The issue of multiculturalism in our Churches, while a reality in certain parts of our Union, is still very foreign to many of our Churches. These are mostly Churches outside London, the ones in the countryside. One could understand this to some extent considering the fact that the 2001 census cited the size of the British African population at 0.9%, and the Caribbean at 1%. This means there is a majority of 98% British mostly white. But what about Baptist Churches who are in London, Birmingham, Bristol or Manchester? Do BME stand a chance in these regions? Yes they do, but not without a fight as their ethnicity will still be an issue in some Churches in these cities.
What about if you are a young male minister in his early 20s? You will probably be considered more as a youth specialist than a minister as there is the assumption that youngness means you can lead the youth. If you are not married as I mentioned earlier this could be a barrier. If you are married at that age it means you will be expecting children sometime soon or will be part of your future plan. This could be a distraction in ministry therefore your chances may be slim. On the other hand, there are some fresh expressions of Churches within the Union who will love this!
So what picture do we have here of the kind of a person our Churches are looking for? A white male in his 50s who is married and children are all grown up. May I say that there is nothing wrong with having a white male minister in their 50s, what is wrong is if every other person is judged on these criteria or is somehow expected to fit into this mould. Another issue is that this presents a colonial picture whereas our context of ministry is now post-colonial therefore this needs to change if our Churches want to be relevant.