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Barbara O’Chester receives award at Ministers’ Wives Conference

INDIANAPOLIS (BP)–A woman who has served as a spiritual mentor to thousands of Southern Baptist women was recognized at the annual Ministers’ Wives Conference in Indianapolis June 15.

Barbara O’Chester of Austin, Texas, received the 2004 Mrs. J.M. Dawson Award for “distinct denominational contribution beyond the local church,” which honors “outstanding Christian character and service to others,” according to Lynda Estep of Columbia, S.C., who presented the award.

The South Carolina pastor’s wife spoke of O’Chester’s 35-year commitment to retreat ministry for women. The mother of three and grandmother of five, along with her staff, has ministered to thousands of women, Estep said, citing programs offered in 10 states and two countries outside the United States.

The wife of retired Austin pastor Harold O’Chester, Barbara was his partner in ministry at Great Hills Baptist Church of Austin for 35 years. Additionally, she served with him in Mississippi where he endured public criticism for his opposition to racism.

“Few pastors’ wives have done so much for Southern Baptist women as Barbara O’Chester,” Estes told the crowd of thousands. “She is a mentor, a spiritual mother, a godly wife and a role model for women everywhere. She has unselfishly invested her life and energy in ministry to women.”

A graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary with a degree in church music, O’Chester assumed her role as a minister’s wife after on-the-job training. She decided there had to be a better way to train young wives for a lifetime of serving in ministry.

“I was on my way back from a retreat, praying about the ministers’ wives I’d met and the Lord began to speak to me about the challenges of ministry,” she told Texas Baptist Crossroads in an interview last year. “Ministers’ wives face the same situations that other women do, but they have additional challenges.”

From 1975 to 2003, Great Hills Retreat Ministry incorporated into their retreat line a weekend of training specifically for ministers’ wives. O’Chester sought to teach staff wives “that there is joy in serving the Lord and being in the ministry,” she said. “That one thing carries a wife through a lot of challenges.”

O’Chester noted that after the conservative resurgence within the SBC, all six Southern Baptist seminaries now offer training for the wives of ministers.

“The seminaries are doing a much better job of preparing women for ministry than when I was in school,” she said. Several of the wives of current seminary presidents benefited from O’Chester’s teaching during years when their own husbands were engaged in training for ministry.

In receiving the award from Southern Baptist ministers’ wives, O’Chester said her basic philosophy has remained the same throughout 46 years of ministry. “Love the Master, love the man and love the ministry,” has been her mantra.

Looking out over the capacity crowd at the luncheon, O’Chester concluded: “I can assure you today even though I don’t know what you’re walking through that God is faithful and He will never let you down.”

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  • Tammi Reed Ledbetter