by Kyle Kelley, 6-27-17
As the CBF family gathers this week to celebrate 25 years, we fondly remember CBF-LA's Dr. Sarah Frances Anders, who died this month at age 90. Beloved Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Louisiana College, she was an early Moderator of CBF national and a founder, shaper, chronicler and mentor to scores in the Baptist Women in Ministry movement.
As Communications Coordinator, I am keeper of the CBF-LA archives, where I discovered she was also CBF-LA's first Treasurer as indicated by her neatly handwritten figures and a letter to officers about where we could get the best interest rate for our early modest reserve. Among her many gifts and traits were indeed minding the details and a dogged perseverance to her calling.
She was the recipient of numerous awards, one it seems, not well known. News of her death got me poking around in old Louisiana College yearbooks, where I found a picture of Dr. Anders apparently receiving "The Deviancy Award" at the 1976 LC faculty roast. Dean Heath, to her left along with another staff person on the podium are choking on laughter as Dr. Anders deadpans on the great honor she has received.
Hysterical, yes, this woman of unique grace, generosity and even eloquence, the "deviancy" award? Were they on to something? To deviate is to depart from the norm. This tongue-in-cheek accolade gives us truth in jest. It seems deviant grace led her on a life path of many firsts and abundant irony.
When she was setting the top of the curve at Southern Seminary in the 1940's, it was a time when women were ineligible to earn the MDiv degree, so like Evelyn Stagg (wife of Frank Stagg) she completed the Master of Religious Education, while taking theology courses and pacing and exceeding the preacher boys.
While never ordained, she served as assistants to pastors in Texas and in Florida, where likely no one dared call her a minister. Yet she inspired numerous women to ministry and ordination. It was Anders who started the database of Baptist Women serving in ministry, which continues to be used and updated. She summarized 50 years of women in ministry for the Baptist History and Heritage Society and edited an excerpted version for CBF-LA.
My path first crossed with Dr. Anders in 1975 as a student at Louisiana College when I had a vague notion of God's calling on my life. I found myself drawn to a ministry to inner city children in Pineville. Dr. Anders showed me what a disciplined and well-informed ministry of help to others looks like. She inspired me to pursue social work integrated with my Christian faith and calling.
Her classes were challenging. She came prepared and meticulously organized. I suspected she had read every book ever published. She invited questions and surprised us with her interesting slant and perspective. The sociologists and social theorists she described and discussed seemed like friends of hers. Her connections no doubt helped land the most famous sociologist of our time Margaret Mead as a special speaker at LC. It was a big deal to bring such an icon to our backwater Baptist school.
She turned down offers to go to bigger places and teach graduate students. Her deviant calling was to go outside the norm of the upwardly mobile academic track to focus on the undergraduates entertaining important life choices.
With some of us, it was pearls before swine. She accepted my late papers, with only minor deductions, and words of encouragement written in the margin or discussed after class. She never scolded me for chronic tardiness to her 8:00 classes. She simply cheerfully instructed the students to "leave the desk by the door vacant for Kyle, he'll be coming along" without a hint of shaming me.
Her lists of firsts were many and impressive, and sometimes sneaked up on us. When I lived in New Orleans, she accepted our invitation to speak at an ethics conference at St. Charles Ave Baptist Church in 1984 and then to preach the Sunday service. An old-timer noted she was the first woman to preach in that church. St. Charles is now pastored by a woman, Elizabeth Lott, a fact that would certainly make Anders smile.
Alzheimer's has taken her from us for now, but her holy work of deviant grace among us, gently moving and pushing us past the edges of the norms to a higher calling remains.