Growing up in church I was surrounded by dozens of strong, faithful women following the call God had put on their lives. These women taught me Scripture, led me in worship, opened up their homes and their hearts to me. They were the examples I needed so that I could see what it was like to be a woman chasing after God’s own heart. And I needed the voices and examples of those women so desperately because stories like theirs don’t always get told.
So many of the stories we hear about in Church History highlight the boldness and faithfulness our brothers. We know the names Paul, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, Knox, Campbell, Wycliff; we know their amazing stories and we see the effects of their ministries. But what about their mothers, wives, sisters, friends, Sunday school teachers? What about the women who taught them to read or raised support for their ministries? What about the women who preached alongside them?
These stories were always missing as I grew and learned about my spiritual heritage. Of course I heard stories in the Bible of amazing women but those were allotted for Mother’s Day sermons and Girls’ Retreats. We can’t miss out of the examples of faith of the countless women who came before us. They are stories of grace and love, fearlessness and martyrdom; women who wrote and spoke and proclaimed the Gospel and changed lives. We need to know their stories because they are apart of ours’. Let’s start telling them.
Here are 5 Women in Church History You Need to Know:
Priscilla was a woman who’s impact on the lives of others was written about all throughout the New Testament. The Apostle Paul mentions Priscilla and her husband, Aquilla six different times in his letters to the early churches and calls them both his “fellow workers in Christ Jesus” (Romas 16:3, NASB).
What’s really special about Priscilla is that in four out of the six references to the pair, Paul mentions Priscilla first. For both the historical setting of these letters and the instructions Paul gives about women and their place in the church, it seems incredibly unusual for this man to reference and greet the couple in this manner. This is truly a testament to the impact and gift Priscilla had in ministry.
We meet Priscilla in Acts 18 in Corinth after she and Aquilla had settled there after fleeing Rome due to their Jewish heritage. They encounter Paul and Priscilla opens up her home to him and the three begin to work, live, and minister together. Priscilla not only befriended Paul and worked along side him but she and her husband faithfully followed him on his missionary journeys, influencing the churches along the way.
On their first journey they stay behind in Ephesus where they meet a young evangelist named Apollo. Though he spoke boldly and was well learned in Scripture, Priscilla noted that he had no understanding of the baptism of Christ and was still preaching John’s baptism (Acts 18:26). Priscilla and Aquilla opened up the Scriptures to Apollos and discipled him closely, encouraging him and expanding his knowledge of the truth.
Back in Corinth Priscilla continued to gather other believers into her home as she had done with Paul and there they studied Scriptures and shared the good new of Christ’s salvation (1 Cor 16:19)
At the end of Paul’s life, in prison, awaiting the death sentence, he writes one more letter to his beloved friend Timothy. Reflecting on his ministry, the people he met, the things he taught, the churches he saw bloom, he asks Timothy to remember and greet some dear people: Priscilla and Aquilla. These friends loved him dearly, opened up their lives and home to him; traveled with him and at some points even risked their own lives to save his (2 Tim 4:19). Priscilla was a woman who impacted Paul’s life and influenced his ministry in such a way that he remembered her as he wrote the last letter the churches would receive.
With an open heart, open home, and open hands, Priscilla’s influences stretched throughout Asia Minor and reached the hearts of all believers.
2. Monica of Hippo
She was married young to an abusive, ill-tempered husband who was neither faithful to her or to Christ. Her virtue, faithfulness, and kindness to the poor was a nuisance to him and he refused their children to be baptized. Her son grew up rejecting Christ, but she would see that this was not the end of his story.
Saint Monica of Hippo lived a difficult life but a life she shrouded in constant prayer and an eagerness to win others to the saving grace of Jesus. She endured numerous heartbreaks but when her son went away to school at 17 to study Manichaeism, the new rival to Christianity, she was almost undone.
When her son returned home with his knew teachings and continuing to deny the faith she had tried to raise him in, Monica turned him away from her table, a table few people had ever been barred. He left for Rome and Monica did some soul searching and received a vision to reconcile with her son; like any good mother, she went after her boy.
After trailing him throughout Italy, Monica reunited and reconciled with her son. After several months of peace between the two and fervent prayer her son, Augustine (now known as Saint Augustine), finally accepted Christ. He went on to spread Christianity and has had influence over some of Christianity’s greatest theologians.
A mother’s faithfulness, generosity of spirit, and boldness in the face of her adversity, brought a wandering son to his knees and changed the world.
3. Selina Huntington Bakewell Campbell
Selina Campbell was the wife of The Stone-Campbell Movement founder, Alexander Campbell. Much of what we can know about Alexander’s personal and family life is thanks to Selina’s writings and her book Home Life and Reminiscences of Alexander Campbell. The scope of Alexander’s influence and contribution to the Church is deep and wide and this fervor for evangelism did not end with himself; Selina had a passion and a fire for spreading the Gospel all over the world.
Her strength was in her pen as she not only recorded the work of her husband but she wrote to raise support for her friend Mary Williams, the only missionary of the Stone-Campbell movement at that time. Her writings were published as an article “To My Christian Sisters in the Common Faith” in the Millennial Harbinger.
Selina also served as the president of the West Virginia chapter of The Christian Women’s Board of Missions. This grassroots organization served to provide both Christian education and social services to women and children all over the world in areas where men were unwelcome.
Selina Huntington Bakewell Campbell used her strengths as a writer to rally support for Christian missions and preserved her husband’s work and story. She was a leader in the Stone-Campbell Movement and an example of how a woman’s words can ignite the world.
4. Sadie McCoy Crank
In the middle of a hot debate in the Stone-Campbell Movement regarding the role of women and their ability to preach, Sadie McCoy Crank rose above the noise and followed God’s call into ministry. Early in life Sadie became a school teacher and used her salary to help support her mother and brothers and sisters; support that was neglected by her abusive and alcoholic father.
With her gift of teaching Sadie became a Sunday School Evangelist in Illinois. During a meeting in Marcelline, Illinois 96 individuals came forward to accept Christ. The leaders of the meeting begged her to keep preaching, but after running out of prepared sermons she insisted she could not go on. An elder approached her and told her that people were interested that had never been interested before and if she left their blood would be on her soul.
With a challenge like that who could say no? Sadie continued to preach. With a desire to baptize those she was preaching to she was ordained in 1892, one of the earliest women to be ordained in the Stone-Campbell movement.
After she married, many people urged her to retire from her preaching, since she was now a wife and her husband was also an evangelist. She didn’t.
Over the course of her life she baptized 1000s of people and she and her husband planted Christian Churches throughout Illinois and Missouri.
Sadie McCoy Crank persisted in her ministry and her preaching even when her contemporaries didn’t think it proper. She couldn’t help but to speak.
5. Sarah Lue Bostick
Not enough is written about Sarah Lue Bostick. She was a contemporary to Sadie McCoy Crank. During the same time of debate and difficulty facing women in ministry, Sarah also faced the ugliness of bigotry and hate that continued to brew throughout the country.
Despite this Sarah Bostick was the first African American woman to be ordained by the Disciples of Christ. Sarah worked tirelessly to spread the Gospel and was a proponent to establishing an African American chapter of the Christian Women’s Board of Missions. Sarah worked to raise funds for missions in Jamaica and Liberia. She and her husband and fellow Evangelist, founded Mount Sinai Christian Church in Little Rock, Arkansas.
She collected a huge amount of literature on missions and the collection was donated to the Disciples of Christ Historical Society after her death. It is because of these materials that much of the history of women and African Americans in the Stone-Campbell Movement was preserved.
Sarah Bostick changed history and blazed a trail for others to follow. Through her example of discipleship, fearlessness, and faithfulness, the Church continued to grow, reaching beyond social, economic, ethnic, and gender boarders. One Body.