Helen Barrett Montgomery: Baptist Leader, Activist, and Academic

Dennis Johnson | August 23, 2023

Rev. Dr. Dennis Johnson read from the Helen Barrett Montgomery Translation during our worship service with guest proclaimer Rev. Dr. Brian Henderson, Executive Director of the Association for Welcoming and Affirming Baptists on August 13, 2023.  Below you'll find Dr. Johnson's introduction along with the day's Gospel lesson as rendered by this great Baptist foremother. You can watch the introduction and reading on YouTube.

Helen Barrett Montgomery (1861–1934) was the first woman to translate the New Testament from Greek into English and have it professionally published as The New Testament in Modern English by the American Baptist Publication Society. In 1899 she was the first woman elected to the Rochester (NY) School Board, twenty years before women secured the right to vote. In 1921 she was elected the first female president of the Northern Baptist Convention (today American Baptist Churches, USA), which also made her the first woman president of any American religious denomination. During her term as president, she confronted and resisted an attempted fundamentalist takeover of the denomination with efforts to impose a doctrinal identity and confessional conformity on local Baptist congregations. She brought a message of liberty to her presidency and said that the priority should be on the mission of the church rather than mandatory doctrinal uniformity.

In the Introduction to her translation, she wrote, “The author offers the results of many years of happy work, in deep humility and with a keen sense of the many shortcomings of her work; but in the ardent hope that it may bring to some a fresh sense of the actuality and power of the wonderful records of the One Perfect Life which has ever been lived. In devotion to him who is Savior and Master, she offers this work of love.”

Matthew 14:22-32

Then (Jesus) made his disciples get aboard the boat and precede him to the other side, while he sent away the crowds.  After he had sent the crowds away, he went up into the mountain alone, to pray. When night came he was there alone.  But the boat was already a long way from shore, buffeted by the waves, for the wind was contrary.  And in the fourth watch of the night he came toward them, walking upon the sea, but when the disciples saw him walking upon the sea, they were terrified.  "It is a phantom," they said, and cried out for fear.  But at once Jesus spoke to them, "Courage," he said, "it is I. Fear not."  Peter answered, "Master, if it is you, bid me come to you upon the water."  "Come," said Jesus.  Then Peter got down from the boat and walked on the water to go to Jesus.  But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and as he began to sink, he cried out, "Master, save me!"  At once Jesus stretched out his hand and caught hold of him, saying to him. "O little faith! What made you doubt?"  Then as they climbed into the boat the wind grew weary.

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