Please see the display in the hall of the Women’s Missionary Union (WMU) and Girls’ Auxiliary (GA’s) of St. John’s.
In celebrating our 100th Anniversary, it is only fitting to celebrate one of the most important aspects of Baptist life through the years—the Women’s Missionary Union or WMU. By the time St. John’s Baptist Church was organized in 1922, the concept of the Women’s Missionary Society had become an integral part of Baptist life. In 1868 a group of women met in Baltimore to provide support for missionaries in China. One of the first of these was Lottie Moon whose service in China lasted almost 40 years.
In 1888 another group of women met in Richmond. One of the attendees, Miss Annie Armstrong, spoke avidly in favor of organizing women to support foreign missions. Despite some reluctance, a constitution was adopted, and officers were elected. Two years before, in 1886, a group of 15 women met in Raleigh for the first meeting of the NC Woman’s Central Committee of Missions. The organization soon changed its name to Woman’s Missionary Union and was built on a concern for missions through stewardship of time, gifs, and life and an awareness of the importance of teaching children and having special organizations in which they could learn of missions.
In 1907, the WMU Training School, located in Louisville KY was founded to provide theological education and professional training for women desiring to serve as missionaries or denominational servants. At the Training School, women were trained openly and freely by some of the best minds in Baptist life even though they were not permitted to attend the seminary itself. Thus, the WMU led the way in providing theological and ministerial education for women in Baptist life. Several of St. John’s early youth directors were graduates of the Training School.
The Women’s Missionary Society of St. John’s was organized by 31 women in April 1922 (only a month after the official organization of the church). The Constitution adopted stated that the object of the society was to stimulate a missionary spirit in the women of the church thru prayer, to increase knowledge of the Bible, to study missions, to perform some form of organized personal service for the needy of the community and to promote regular systematic contributions of all missionary causes fostered by the SBC. A further object was to see to the religious s training of the children and young people of the church by means of the Woman’s Missionary Union and young people’s organizations.
When the first officers were elected, the first vice-president was Mrs. M.L. Ross grandmother of Sally Young. The group was organized into circles. They kept incredibly detailed minutes of attendance, minutes of meetings, and collections of money. Most of these minute books and treasurer’s records are in the Heritage Room. At the second meeting of the group, they voted to “support for a session, a girl at South Mountain Institute” (a foster children’s facility in Morganton NC).
The programs were specific to various missions. They followed the plans of study of the Southern Baptist Convention, had all day mission studies three times a year, entertained and supported home and foreign missionaries, and conducted personal Service assignments which rotated among the circles each month. These assignments included flowers and program, Men’s Club Supper, County Home, Sunday School Council Supper, Mecklenburg Sanitarium, Crittenton Home, South Mountain School, Visiting and Transportation, Florence Brown Mission, and Red Cross. Days of prayer were urged for local, state, and foreign missions at various time during the year. In the early history of the church, it is sometimes difficult to separate the WMU activities form all the other things that needed to be done – just like the women in this church continue to do.
The St. John’s women also contributed to the $75 Million Campaign which was instigated by the SBC to raise money for the Home Missions Board. Each component of Southern Baptist life was assigned specific goals. The WMU not only provided the most solid support for the $75 Million Campaign, the forerunner of the Cooperative Program (established in 1925), the WMU continued to provide most of the funding that came to the Cooperative Program in its early Years. The Cooperative Program became the umbrella fund for all mission work funded by the SBC.
Throughout the 1930s and 1940s the minutes show the WMU members continued to support missions, teach children, perform personal service, and raise money for mission projects. Delegates were also sent to State meetings at Ridgecrest and the State Convention. Mission support continued each year through the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for Foreign Missions, and the Annie Armstrong offering for Home Missions. Early on, there were “days of prayer” with all-day meetings. These were later expanded to church-wide promotions of a Week of Prayer for Home Missions and a Week of Prayer for Foreign Missions. Their service projects were continued and expanded based on the needs of the community.
The WMU was the sponsor of the Forward Steps program for girls to learn about missions. Recognition services were held to recognize participation in the GA (Girls in Action) groups. The first Ga coronation recognition service was held in 1953 with 19 girls participating. During the decade of the 1960s, the GA Forward Steps program was a major part of the life of the young women of the church. Coronation programs were held each year with recognition given to each level of service- maiden, lady-in-waiting, princess, queen with a scepter, and queen regent. (Photos of many of these recognition services are in the display)
In 1963, the women of St. John’s joined in the Diamond Jubilee, celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the WMU. In 1967, the structure of the WMU was reorganized under which the name WMU as an umbrella was retained. The groups became Baptist Women, Baptist Young Women, Girls in Action, and Mission Friends. The women of St. John’s participated in celebrating the Centennial of the WMU of North Carolina in 1986 by having special events including a WMU coffee, two prayer retreats, and the compilation of a history of the WMU at St. John’s.
Despite efforts during this period at the Convention level to lessen the strength of the WMU by merging it with the Home Mission Board or making it an agency of the Convention, the WMU retained its independent status. After the church parted ways with the convention in the 1980’s, the WMU remained since it had maintained this separate status and the St. John’s women persevered doing what they had always done. There were new mission projects such as school uniforms, Easter outfits, and Salvation Army stockings at Christmas. They continued to be the organization responsible for the special mission offerings-Foreign, State, and Home.
As lifestyles changed so did the formal organization of the WMU. When the Women of the Church group was formed, the WMU and its projects were absorbed into the new organization. Even though the WMU name is no longer part of our church life, we should not forget the powerful influence of this group in Baptist life. We remember and are grateful to all those women throughout our history who were part of this group.
There can be no dispute that a lot of the “doing” of things at the church was and still is undertaken by women.