Baptist Church of the Covenant calls Shelton as first woman pastorcomment (0)
August 15, 2002
By Jack Brymer
Sarah Jackson Shelton has been elected the first female pastor of Baptist Church of the Covenant in Birmingham. Shelton received an overwhelming majority vote of 131–2 at a special business meeting following the Aug. 11 morning worship service. Shelton had served the church as an intentional interim pastor last year.
Shelton, who was not present at the business meeting, said she is thankful for the opportunity to serve with the membership of Baptist Church of the Covenant. “I am excited that, together, we will touch lives with the love of Christ,” she said.
Alerted to the decision by cell phone as the vote was announced, Shelton was reportedly “moved to tears.” She received a standing ovation from the crowd.
Shelton had experienced the same response July 31 when her name was announced as the pastor nominating committee’s selection for pastor. Spontaneous applause erupted across the sanctuary at the announcement, and Shelton received a standing ovation when she came to preach that night.
Betty Bock, chair of the pastor nominating committee and an ordained minister, said Shelton received the encouragement from the congregation “for her preaching skills and her pastoral care.”
“She really connected with us,” Bock said of Shelton’s interim pastorate experience at the church. “She brings a sensitivity and a warmth that fits in well with our church. And the kids love her.
“There is an air of excitement of being at church we’ve not had for a while,” Bock noted.
Previously, Shelton had served on the staff of Brookwood Baptist Church for 11 years, first as minister of youth and later as minister of education, and then for six years as associate pastor at Riverchase Baptist Church. She was ordained to the gospel ministry by Brookwood Church in 1992.
Shelton earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from the University of Alabama (1977), and both the master of religious education (1979) and master of divinity (1981) degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. It was during her seminary years that she felt “a clear call” to pastoral ministry. She was the first woman to receive first place in the Clyde T. Francisco Preaching Award at the seminary.
Bock reported to the church that the committee had conducted a national search after receiving 52 resumés. A mandatory questionnaire resulted in 26 potential candidates. The committee then narrowed the search to four candidates that resulted in a unanimous decision by the committee to recommend Shelton.
Bock noted that while the candidate list consisted primarily of white males, the 26 candidates did include three couples and three women. The final four consisted of three men and Shelton.
“We are grateful that God led us to her,” Bock said. “She is a gifted preacher and compassionate pastor. Her giftedness was recognized while she was still in seminary and was the recipient of the Francisco Preaching Award in 1981.”
Bock said the fact that Shelton is a woman is “no big deal.” “She had been with us for a year. It was natural,” Bock said. “We never talked to her about being a female. It wasn’t an issue.”
Noting the nominating committee did not decide ahead of time it was going to hire a woman, Bock said the church, which averages almost 300 in membership, does not intend to be controversial. “The whole bottom line of presenting Sarah is that we felt this was God’s leadership.
“Why would God give someone the skills and gifts and not want them to use them,” Bock said.
Shelton has been a frequent writer, doctrinal reader, worship and conference leader for Woman’s Missionary Union, SBC. She is a member of Southern Baptist Women in Ministry and was a member of the 1991 Coordinating Council of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. She has been selected four times to the Outstanding Young Women in America and was chosen as the Outstanding Woman Leader Award in 2000 by the American Association of University Women of Alabama.
A native of Birmingham, Shelton is the daughter of Lamar Jackson, longtime pastor of Birmingham’s Southside Baptist Church, and the late Hermoine Dannelly Jackson.
Shelton is married to Lloyd Shelton, a certified public accountant, and they have two sons: David, 13, and Dan, 8. She will begin her ministry at Covenant Sept. 3. Her first Sunday in the pulpit will be Sept. 8 as she and the current interim pastor Chris Hamlin participate in a combined, transition service. (Jennifer Davis Rash contributed)
Woman pastor served in state 1971–85The news of Sarah Shelton being named pastor of Birmingham’s Baptist Church of the Covenant may make some believe she is the first woman pastor to serve a Baptist church in Alabama.
However, records indicate Ruby Welsh Wilkins served as pastor of Antioch Baptist Church, Wadley, from 1971 to 1985. (TAB)