Calvary Troublemakers: Bettina Gilbert

by Rev. Eric Bebber

If you’ve had a chance to walk through our church’s library downstairs, I’m sure you’ve noticed that it’s not like most libraries.  Ours doesn’t have any books!  Instead, it is full of fascinating information about Calvary’s history, most of which consists of a bunch of holy trouble-makers who held some deep convictions about the gospel of Jesus Christ and who were unafraid to live out those convictions even when they were unpopular.

There are newspaper clippings about events, photographs of huge Sunday school classes, details of the installation of our new steeple, and large paintings of many of Calvary’s greatest pastors and ministers: Homer Councilor, William Abernathy, Samuel H. Greene, and Clarence Cranford.  But what you won’t find are any paintings of Calvary’s female pastors and ministers.  Well, not yet, at least. 😉

Whereas Amy is Calvary’s first female senior pastor, Calvary called their first female to the pastoral staff back in 1947, Bettina Gilbert.  If you think being a woman in ministry is met with criticism today, you can imagine what it was like for Bettina in 1947 when she became the first ordained woman to serve on the Calvary staff.

At a time in our culture when it was customary for most women to look after the home and take care of the children, Bettina decided to follow the call of God in her own life and lead the church in ministry.  She inevitably became a holy trouble-maker because she had some deep convictions about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and because she was unafraid to live out those convictions even when they were unpopular.

Rev. Gilbert’s title as the first female ordained to the pastoral staff wasn’t her only claim to fame here at Calvary.  She was also the church’s first Minister of Christian Education, the only other title on the Calvary staff other than senior pastor that has survived continually since 1947.  She led the church in going from one Sunday morning service to two.  She led the missions committee in developing new community outreach programs.  She encouraged people to attend training conferences with the American Baptist Assembly.  She set up leadership trainings for Baptists here at Calvary.  And she even rallied Sunday school attendance to over 1100 at one point.

After all that, maybe we should have a painting of her hanging downstairs in the library.

The Rev. Bettina Gilbert was a holy trouble-maker of her day because she decided step out into unpopular territory for the sake of the Gospel.  Through her, may we find encouragement in our own lives to speak up, to step out, and to do the will of God – no matter the cost.

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