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Oct. meeting may give indication of BWA women’s auxiliary future

McLEAN, Va. (BP)??An early October meeting could offer the first indication of the direction the women’s department of the Baptist World Alliance will take in filling key leadership positions following the resignation of Willene Pierce as executive director amidst controversy this summer.
As an auxiliary organization to the BWA, the women’s department promotes fellowship and understanding among Baptist women throughout the world, encouraging them to band together for Christian service and exchange of information. The auxiliary also promotes the BWA’s objectives and ideals among Baptist women globally.
In addition to the offices of president and secretary?treasurer, the women elect six vice presidents representing each of their continental unions and an executive director who administers their work out of a BWA office in McLean, Va. This group forms the executive committee which governs the BWA women’s department.
One of the new vice presidents was named in August at the annual meeting of the Baptist Women’s Union of Africa. Alice Donkor, a nursing educator from Ghana was named to fill the expired term of Dorothy Selebano of Africa.
A new vice president representing the North American Baptist Women’s Union (NABWU) will be named during the union’s Oct. 1?4 meeting in San Diego.
With all but one of the officers expected to attend the NABWU assembly, the process for electing Pierce’s successor also could get underway, since the executive committee is charged with appointing the executive director, acting upon the recommendation of their own search committee and the general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance.
A week after the BWA general council met in Vancouver, British Columbia, the women’s department executive committee and Pierce issued a joint statement July 15 reporting the executive director’s resignation resulted from “differing perspectives regarding ministry philosophy and leadership style.”
Giving no further explanation in what some observers described as a forced resignation, the statement said, “Any further comment regarding the nature and substance of these differences would disserve the women’s department ministry, the individuals involved and the cause of Christ.”
Prior to leading the BWA women’s department from 1995?97, Pierce had served 13 years with the Woman’s Missionary Union of Maryland/Delaware. She was director of Baptist Women and Baptist Young Women for Arkansas WMU from 1975?82.
Pierce’s tenure at the BWA auxiliary was characterized by an emphasis on women?to?women projects for evangelism and ministry.
BWA women’s department officers have maintained their resolve in refusing comment on the matter, as has Pierce, following her departure from the office. However, Pierce has received high praise for her tenure with the BWA women’s department.
Woman’s Missionary Union Executive Director Dellanna O’Brien of the Southern Baptist auxiliary told Baptist Press of the “superior job” Pierce did as executive director. “She sensitized us all to the need for the Christian message by women around the world,” O’Brien said, “challenging us to pray for those who need special prayer, such as women in Cuba and in the nations of Eastern Europe.”
Pierce’s travels on behalf of the women’s department provided “encouragement and assistance,” O’Brien added, as she “brought hope and comfort,” then shared her experiences through speaking engagements and BWA publications.
With the WMU producing material for the Women’s Day of Prayer, the SBC auxiliary is an important partner in the BWA women’s department event held the first Monday of each November. An offering taken as a part of the annual day of prayer is divided equally to fund the work of the women’s department and the continental union from which it is received.
Those funds serve as the main source of income for the BWA women’s department. In addition, receipts are contributed to world relief through BWA as well as programs of the BWA’s evangelism and education divisions.
“The offerings that come from Southern Baptist women are by far the largest of all the contributing bodies,” O’Brien explained. While offerings on the Women’s Day of Prayer grew rapidly in the early years of the decade, from $112,317 in 1990 to $175,264 the following year, it peaked in 1995 at $218,095 and dropped to $179,871 last year.
The executive director’s position at the BWA women’s department requires both cross?cultural skills and “above all, a heart for God’s plan for the world,” O’Brien reflected. In reviewing the work of past directors, O’Brien said, “Both Beth McClaren and Willene Pierce had those requirements down pat.”
McClaren, an American Baptist missions leader who preceded Pierce as executive director from 1987?94, also praised Pierce’s leadership. Following the executive committee announcement of Pierce’s resignation, McClaren referred to it as a firing and labeled it cruel and unjust, according to Capital Baptist editor Robert L. Maddox.
Maddox weighed in editorially, calling the action “another of our unconscionably inept, unchristian, and maybe even illegal ways of handling difficult human problems that arise in the religious work place.” He added, “I am pained and disgusted at the process, if, indeed, there be a process.”
Jennifer Sudderth, the vice president for North American Baptist Women’s Union, refused to discuss the action of the executive committee with Baptist Press. An ordained American Baptist minister from San Diego, Sudderth’s term expires in October, with her replacement to be named during the NABWU assembly.
BWA women’s department President Mercy Rao, an educator of more than 30 years in Vishakapatnam, India, has not responded to requests for further comment on Pierce’s tenure or the process for naming a successor. Rao travels extensively on behalf of the BWA women’s department, most recently speaking in China, accompanied by her predecessor, Catherine Allen.
Allen, a former associate executive director of WMU, served as BWA women’s department president from 1990?95, the year Pierce assumed her duties as director. She described Pierce as “a highly qualified professional with proven devotion to the lofty purposes of the BWA women’s organization.” Allen praised Pierce’s management of the Buenos Aires meeting of Baptist women in 1995 in spite of it being “an incredibly complex and sensitive task.”
Allen said, “It is a very great loss to the women of the Baptist world and beyond that she is no longer serving in her capacity as director of BWA women. I feel certain that God will open other avenues for her to accomplish her high calling of winning and mobilizing women for service to the Lord Jesus Christ.”
Membership in the women’s auxiliary is open to all national Baptist women’s organizations affiliated with a continental union or regional federation of national or ethnic Baptist unions which are member bodies of the BWA.
BWA draws from 191 conventions and unions with ministry in more than 200 different countries with more than 42 million members. As the largest body numerically, the Southern Baptist Convention membership amounts to more than a third of that membership. In the upcoming year, Southern Baptists have budgeted $417,838 for BWA. In its recent meeting in Vancouver, British Columbia, the BWA council approved an 1998 operating of more than $1.5 million.

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  • Tammi Ledbetter