Martha Stearns Marshall, an eighteenth-century Separate Baptist, was a preacher. Along with her husband Daniel, converted during the First Great Awakening, they spent eighteen months living among a tribe of Mohawk Indians, hoping to win them to Christianity.
When the French and Indian War of 1754 broke out, Daniel and Martha left New England and migrated to the South. Both Marshalls often prayed and preached during worship services, and Martha’s zeal apparently equaled that of her husband. Her behavior in worship scandalized the Virginia “Regular” Baptists, who opposed women speaking in public. But among Martha’s family and friends, her behavior was a perfectly acceptable way for her to exercise her spiritual gifts. Among those of Martha’s family living in Virginia was her brother, Shubal Stearns, a Separate Baptist pastor.
In 1755, Stearns founded a Baptist church at Sandy Creek. The church sent out 125 preachers and established 42 other Separate Baptist churches and missions. These Separate Baptists differed from the “Regular” Baptists in many ways, but perhaps the most notable difference was that the Separate Baptists allowed women to have a more prominent role in worship and in church leadership.
Women served as deaconesses and as eldresses in some Separate Baptist churches, and women prayed and preached in their worship services. Martha became the best known of these women preachers. Historians have recorded that she often stood alongside her brother Shubal and spoke at many Baptist meetings. She also preached and assisted in her husband’s churches.
In commemoration of Martha Sterns Marshall, WGBC has invited Judy Holstein to preach during the February 13 Worship Service. Judy is a faithful servant worker at WGBC. We welcome her to proclaim the Word of God during the Martha Sterns Marshall month.