2004 recipient: Bebe BaldwinPC(USA) - PHEWA - Awards - Nancy Jennings Award
...Photo: Bebe Baldwin
...Bebe BaldwinBebe Baldwin
was a latecomer to ordained ministry.After life as an English teacher, professional volunteer and church school teacher, Bebe entered seminary and was called as Assistant (later Associate) Pastor and Director of Christian Education at North Como Presbyterian Church in Roseville, Minnesota.
first year as a pastor, an emerging vision problem escalated and she
lost most of her
vision, including the ability to read.Rather than give up, she
took this as a challenge to find ways to demonstrate that her
gifts could be used differently.
Recognizing that North Como had a significant number of members with disabilities, she
organized a Disabilities Committee
.Over the next few years, they became very active, both in terms of making modifications in program and the building, and in getting involved in the planning for a hoped-for building addition and remodeling.However, equally important was her
work on changing attitudes in the congregation and staff regarding persons with disabilities and their gifts.For example, two of the members she
recruited for the Disabilities Committee
had never been viewed as having any leadership potential because of their disabilities.
...Bebe became chair of the Committee on Representation and helped get that group to recognize that there were many kinds of diversity that needed to be included.
A "Church of the Year" program was established, by which the presbytery recognized a congregation that had made significant advances in its ministry with persons with disabilities and to access.The presbytery adopted a policy that presbytery meetings and other presbytery-wide events must be in accessible buildings.In 1995, the presbytery sent an overture to General Assembly which was combined with one from another presbytery and the action which GA approved became the basis for a major expansion of the denomination's capability to minister with persons with disabilities.The Disabilities Concerns Committee of the PTCA
was viewed as one of the most effective in the PC
(USA) and became a model for others to follow.When Bebe stepped down as co-chair of the Committee, she still continued to serve on it.
had more time to teach, write and consult.She continued to serve as a curriculum writer for the PC(USA) and used her viewpoint as both a person with a disability and an advocate, as she wrote and reviewed materials for the denomination.She
continued to serve as a resource to congregations and the wider church.She
led workshops on disability issues for the presbytery and at Ghost Ranch Conference Center.She
helped in planning a major conference sponsored by the National Organization on Disability
, Courage Center
and most of the faith groups and disability organizations in the Twin Cities area.Bebe
continues to serve.As a member of the Women's Focus Committee, she
edited a booklet on the history of clergywomen in the PTCA.She
became involved with the PTCA partnership with a church in Hungary and wrote a book about their struggle.In the congregation she
now attends, she's
actively involved in programs for women and seniors.In all these activities, she
constantly advocates for the church to be inclusive in all ways, for all people, and is a vibrant example of a person who did not let a major disability keep her
from using her
many gifts. She
gifts for preaching, teaching, counseling and writing curriculum while making the adaptations necessitated by her
vision problem.Thus, all the contributions enumerated here were done by a woman who was forced to drastically alter her
lifestyle and redo all the ways in which she
had planned to do ministry.Not only did she
do it with both grace and competence, but also in doing it, she
became the living embodiment of why the church should focus on the gifts people have, not the disabilities.Bebe
met Nancy Jennings in 1986 and might have encountered her at other times.
Having worked with both Nancy and Bebe
, it's clear to me that both exhibited the skills of ministry, compassion to serve those often forgotten by the church, and determination to serve God despite major physical problems.