Over the past 75 years, Canadian women have achieved significant gains toward parity with men. Yet among faith-based Christian organizations, this process was often slow. Even though women were the majority in most Baptist churches in the Atlantic region, it was not until 1954 that a woman was ordained as a minister. Little was known about the experiences of these pioneers, and it was their stories, their ideology, their churches, and the reactions they faced, that caught the attention of Dr. Melody Maxwell, Associate Professor of Christian History at Acadia Divinity College.
In 2022, Dr. Maxwell, who is also the Director of the Acadia Centre for Baptist and Anabaptist Studies, was awarded a $55,240 SSHRC Insight Development Grant to explore “Faith and Feminism: Atlantic Baptist Women in Leadership, 1950-2020” through an oral history project. The goal was to capture the rich experiences of Baptist women in leadership to further the understanding of religion, gender, and culture. Through in-depth interviews, transcribed and made available to the public, Maxwell is advancing the scholarship beyond stereotypes (or omission of) religious women into an understanding of the complex motivations, vocations, and reception of women in Canadian Christianity.
Over the past year, Dr. Maxwell and her team (Hannah Roberts and Taylor Adams, both of Acadia Divinity College) have completed 35 interviews with Baptist women with have served (or are serving) as ministers with the Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada (with 80 more to go). They have also developed the “Called to Serve” website to raise awareness of the project and recruit further participants. The website also contains podcasts (14 episodes thus far) with ministers such as Kathy Neily who was ordained in 1986 before serving at Bedford Baptist Church and First Baptist Charlottetown.
During the length of the project, Maxwell will continue to analyze the interviews, use the information for both scholarly and popular presentations and papers, and will host panel discussions at various churches in the region. This is a significant project because, as Dr. Maxwell notes, “the under-reported stories of evangelical women overcoming patriarchal challenges to serve in leadership will contribute new insights into Canadian history. We cannot fully understand the religious history of Atlantic Canada, or the story of feminism in Canada, without examining the experiences of women in the Atlantic Baptist churches.”