Less than two years after her appointment as senior pastor of Flat Rock Baptist Church led to a backlash over a woman’s presence in the pulpit, Bailey Edwards Nelson has resigned.
“She decided to step down because she thought it would be better for her and better for the church,” said Gail Hicks, a deacon at Flat Rock Baptist.
Nelson’s resignation was announced “abruptly” last month, according to one source, with her tenure at the church ending on Feb. 28.
Hicks said Tuesday she knows of no specific factor leading up to this move by Nelson, and said the decision was entirely that of the pastor. However, Hicks does not think it was rooted in the events surrounding Nelson’s assuming of that role in July 2011.
Later that month, the Surry Baptist Association — an alliance of area churches — decided to expel, or “disfellowship,” Flat Rock Baptist Church from its ranks. An association official has explained that the appointment of a female pastor was a violation of scripture in the view of many members of that group.
The association’s action in turn spawned criticism that its stance was discriminating and contradictory to the modern acceptance of females in non-traditional roles. It also sparked other churches, including First Baptist of Mount Airy, to end its longtime membership in the association and related funding.
Nelson did not respond to a voice-mail message seeking her comment about the resignation. But she told the Associated Baptist Press, a news service for that denomination, that there was a lack of consensus among Flat Rock Baptist’s congregation about the church’s vision and direction for the future.
The outgoing pastor also told the news service that while she believes the backlash by the Surry Baptist Association did not cause her recent resignation, Flat Rock Baptist’s selection of a female pastor likely was disrupting for those unaccustomed to change.
Hicks, the deacon, was asked Tuesday about whether the church members generally supported Nelson in the wake of the controversy. “She had some that did and some that didn’t, and this is the way it is with any church and minister.”
Nelson is still listed as the pastor of Flat Rock Baptist Church on its website, with Hicks saying that a search committee will be seeking a replacement for her. “And we will be looking for an interim minister” to serve until someone is appointed on a permanent basis, she said.
In the meantime, different guest pastors are filling in at Sunday worship services, which normally are attended by 100 to 125 people.
Before Nelson was appointed at Flat Rock Baptist, 70 members of the clergy expressed interest in filling the vacancy. “It’s just going to take time,” another church member said Tuesday concerning the replacement process.
But there is no animosity lingering over Nelson’s departure, according to Hicks.
“We wish her well — we have no hard feelings toward her,” she said of church members left behind. “We wish her well in whatever she does.”
Nelson, meanwhile, told the Associated Baptist Press that she is thankful for the relationships she forged at Flat Rock Baptist and appreciates its willingness to appoint her as pastor and chart new ground in that regard.
She reportedly plans to catch up on time with relatives and friends and preach some on the side, while also working to eventually become a full-time pastor again.
“I just know she’s looking,” Hicks said.
Nelson’s husband is a chaplain for Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care.
A native of Spartanburg, S.C., Nelson graduated from Furman University and Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology. She previously served congregations in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and elsewhere in North Carolina.
Some in the Flat Rock community do not believe there should have been a problem regarding the appointment of a female pastor in the first place.
“She was my neighbor and my neighboring pastor,” said Dr. David Sparks, pastor of Flat Rock Pentecostal Holiness Church. Sparks added Tuesday that he had just learned of the resignation by Nelson, whom he talked with and prayed with on numerous occasions.
“As far as a female preacher, we’ve had women in the Pentecostal Holiness Church for 100 years — so that was never an issue with us,” he said. “We didn’t have a dog in that fight — it was perfectly fine.”
Reach Tom Joyce at 719-1924 or email@example.com.