Women without walls
Baptist minister Mary Cotes introduces her new book, which looks at women as bringers of God’s Kingdom, both from the gospels and in Christian history
Over the last few years my ministry has taken me, both in person and virtually, to French-speaking Europe. I am currently a team member of the French association Servir Ensemble and look after the Biblical exegesis page of its website. I am also a tutor for the ministry training course for women offered by Lifesprings International in Lyon. My book Women Without Walls first emerged out of this context. I wrote it initially in French, and it has now appeared, updated, in English translation.
Based in Matthew’s Gospel, the book looks at women as bringers of God’s Kingdom. Offering a fresh reading of each Bible passage concerned, every chapter presents a woman from the Gospel and pairs her story with that of a woman from Christian history. In one chapter, for example, the Canaanite woman is twinned with Sojourner Truth, the 19th century freed slave turned evangelist and abolitionist.
In another, the mother of James and John is twinned with Alice Domon, the 20th century French religious sister, active in Argentina with the mothers of the disappeared. The interwoven stories are explored together in the light of one of Jesus’ most dynamic parables of the Kingdom: the parable of the yeast (Matt.13:33). The common themes that emerge are seen against the backdrop of Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom, while the women themselves are revealed as strong, visionary and prophetic characters, inhabiting public spaces as much as private ones. The book asks what they might have to teach us today.
It is now over a hundred years since the congregationalist pioneer Constance Coltman became the first woman in Britain to be ordained to a Trinitarian denomination. It is over 90 since the Baptist Madeleine Blocher-Saillens became the first woman ordained in France. Since those momentous events, and in recent decades especially, considerable work has been done by female and male scholars alike to explore the stories about women in scripture.
Their work has not only shed new light on Biblical texts, but has also freed interpretations from the traditional, gender stereo-typed lenses through which they had been read for centuries. Historians have also been at work, uncovering and rehabilitating stories of Christian women which long lay lost or forgotten, and bringing to light stories hitherto untold.
Those with theological formation are undoubtedly familiar with their work. However, in recent years I have become increasingly concerned that – for whatever reason – the kind of Biblical insights that can dramatically change our perceptions of women do not always reach the grassroots of churches. This is not just true of certain churches on the continent. I find that on both sides of the Channel, there are churches where women’s gifting is often still painfully underestimated, undervalued and under-encouraged. I also find that still – with the exception of Roman Catholics who usually come up in a flash with the name of a woman saint - many worshippers have trouble naming more than a very few Christian women from history whose stories really inspire them.
I wrote Women Without Walls in response to this. If members of our churches are to understand women to be strong ambassadors of the Kingdom in today’s world, both women and men need to see those strong ambassadors modelled in the Gospel texts. If women are to understand themselves fully not as those who stand on the side-lines of God’s purposes for the world but, alongside men, as pro-active players at the very heart of them, they need to own the stories of women who have made Christian history before them. They need to be inspired and energised by them.
With this in mind, I chose to draw on a range of different stories for the book, each remarkable woman from history coming from a different church background. I hope that many of the stories will be new to most readers, and that any which are already familiar will come across in a fresh way, thanks to their being twinned with a woman from the Gospel. The powerful testimonies and stories I have explored have stuck in my own mind and heart, and I hope that they will stick in the minds and hearts of readers also.
The book can serve as a resource for anyone looking for insights into the women in Matthew or seeking biographies of women as sermon illustrations. However, my intention from the first was to write in such a way as to appeal to a wide readership, and I have endeavoured to make the style easy-going and accessible. My prayer is that through the stories and reflections in the book, God will empower women - and men - on their Christian journey. Standing side by side as Christian disciples, we are all called out of our comfort zones to be ambassadors of God’s Kingdom in the world. And that Kingdom is a kingdom without walls.
Mary Cotes is a Baptist minister and writer living in Milton Keynes. She is a team member of the French association Servir Ensemble and tutor for the bilingual Lifesprings School of MInistry/Formation Zoé, based in Lyon.
Follow Women Without Walls on Facebook
 Quand les femmes se mettent à l’œuvre, Farel, Charols, 2017.
Do you have a view? Share your thoughts via our letters' page.