“God is for women, and His women are mighty women who do great things for him.”
These are the words of Susan Cossgrove, a former director of the Baptist Association’s ministry ‘Women2Women’ (W2W), and currently on the group’s executive team.
A century and a half ago, ‘Baptist Women’ (BW) came together on a global level to form Baptist associations and unions for women doing ministry in the Baptist church. In the 1900’s there were focus groups, and these groups decided to come together to have a united platform for women. In keeping with the time and context in which they found themselves, BW has gradually changed in name, format, and relevance. Up until about 20 years ago, the main focus was business-like fortnightly meetings within churches, which happened in order to achieve their agenda: to affect ministry in their communities and abroad. But as women started to engage in leadership in the denomination, they were being integrated into the Association – who relaunched Baptist Women as Women2Women in the 90’s.
Over the years, the W2W ministry has done many things: They’ve connected with women’s groups and events in other countries and states. They’ve supported Baptist initiatives such as the ‘World Day of Prayer’, fundraising the mission field in the Northern Territory. They’ve taken their ‘Coffee Connections’ events around to different regions in order to bring women together to build each other up – hosting the event, in some format, at every church in NSW over a six-year period. They’ve put on training for PlayTime ministry, as well as an afternoon tea for Morling students. And they’ve run ‘Ladies Day’ at Assembly, and held annual ‘Time Out’ retreats. Susan summarizes W2W as “a safe place where, even for someone who is having issues within their own church, they’ve got an outside group of women who can listen and pray for them.”
The ministry also ran two retreats at Ridgecrest, Wellington with special prices for those affected by the drought. “We decided to do something for the country women who were struggling…farmers’ wives and daughters, as well as ministers’ wives,” explains Joy Arnold (who was first involved in the early 1970’s, and is currently a Co-Director). “We provided pamper packs for all, had a hairdresser who worked non-stop the whole weekend, a fashion shop, and many prizes including an outfit from the shop. We also arranged some time for ministers’ wives to get together.”
For Susan, who has been on team since the year 1999, there are many memories from over the years: She has loved the fun leadership planning weekends, the joy of seeing women who thought, ‘Oh, I don’t think I could do that’ grow through mentorship and step out in faith to follow God’s calling, and meeting women in churches who respond to their visits with comments like, “Please thank the Association for sending you out”. She has also enjoyed doing “stupid fun things on Saturday night” at the retreats – but jokes, “What goes on at retreat stays at retreat, so I can’t really tell you about any of that, sorry!”
Susan also reflects on the people she has seen make ongoing connections through Women2Women events. “One woman, who was a domestic violence victim that left her husband without anything, came to a retreat. She has attended the retreat almost every year since, and still calls me at times when she needs to offload or be encouraged. We had another girl come along who was a street kid and led a dysfunctional life. She is now financially responsible enough to be able to attend camp without any sponsorship. The two have built a relationship so strong that the younger woman calls the older one ‘mum’.”
Several years ago, W2W was the recipient of a generous bequest. In keeping with the intent of the legacy of that gift, the finances were distributed for the support of individual women through The Baptist Women of the Pacific (for a Scholarship for a young leader ), GIA (to support a field missionary ), and Morling College (for two one-off leadership scholarships).
This year, Director Linnah Hahn has been working hard to discern a future path for this women-driven ministry movement, but acknowledges the challenges involved. “It’s being seen as a bit old-fashioned, which is not what people today need,” she explains. In consultation with the Association Leadership Team , and after much prayer and reflection, it was determined that the end of 2020 was time for this chapter of women’s ministry to come to a close.
This closure invites an opportunity for a new women’s ministry group to launch. “In the world there is a gender conversation, and a whole women’s sector in government social services. The church can’t walk away from that,” Linnah says. “It might be easier and more convenient for there to be nothing, but our society and culture needs the conversation to continue. We can’t afford to stop asking what is needed for women in our denomination – to affirm their ministry and calling.”
“We can’t afford to stop asking what is needed for women in our denomination”
Susan agrees, saying: “We see the needs of women as so vital to a church, and vital for the next generation who are being raised by women. The needs of women are such that you need a woman…I believe all women have a leadership role, whether it’s as a mother, in their church, in their state, or at a national or international level. Whatever God calls them to do, we need to have a platform that helps them follow that gifting, and have that passion used.”
The two envision a movement in the future that is driven by younger women. “We hope that this generation will see the needs that exist today…and will continue the essence of Women2Women in a totally different way,” Susan says. “We want to have the joy of, in our old age, seeing young women blossom, find God in a deep and intimate way, and step out by faith – so that his kingdom will go on.”
We give thanks for the ministry of W2W over a significant period of time. We particularly want to thank Rae Goth , Shirley Moore, Pam Robertson, Olive Edmonstone, and the closing executive team (Linnah Hahn, Sue Cosgrove, Glenys White & Joy Arnold).