Originally created 09/23/99

Dispute over female pastor divides Baptists

SAVANNAH -- Carolyn Hale, senior pastor of Savannah's Memorial Baptist Church, will concentrate on shepherding her flock during the next month and beyond, despite a vote by a local Baptist group to withdraw its fellowship from the church.

"We'll just commit this to a matter of prayer that the right decision will be made in October," the Rev. Hale said after this week's vote by the Savannah Baptist Association. "Right now, we need to go about the business of church and do the things we need to do."

The association's membership committee voted to send a motion to its annual session on Oct. 19 to withdraw fellowship of Memorial from the association.

At issue is whether a woman can be a senior pastor of a church. Baptist churches are independent organizations that hire their own pastors, tend to their own finances and enter into multiple Baptist affiliations.

Memorial Baptist is not only a member of the Savannah Baptist Association but also the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Georgia.

While the Rev. Hale said she is disappointed by the outcome, she sees some signs of support.

"There were 111 votes, 65 to recommend withdrawal of fellowship and 46 against that," the Rev. Hale said. "I thought that was a pretty strong vote of support for the church.

"We got support from different realms, some who agreed we should have called a woman and supported that. Some thought that women shouldn't be called as pastors, but thought we had the right to make that decision. I really would hope that when the final decision comes in October, we can stay in the association."


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