Jimmy Carter’s church appoints divorced mother of 2 as first woman pastor

The Rev. Ashley Guthas has been hired as the first woman pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church, in Plains, Ga.
The Rev. Ashley Guthas has been hired as the first woman pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church, in Plains, Ga. | Screenshot/Facebook/Fellowship Baptist Church, Americus, GA

Almost five years after hiring The Rev. Tony Lowden as its first black lead pastor, Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia, where former President Jimmy Carter is a member, has hired The Rev. Ashley Guthas as its first woman pastor.

The 2023 McAfee School of Theology graduate, whose hiring was first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, previously served as associate minister to families with children and youth at Northside Drive Baptist Church in Atlanta. She is a divorcee who says she still feels "uneasy labeling myself as a pastor."

Northside Drive Baptist Church announced her hiring last August, highlighting her significant experience working with youth ministries in Methodist and Baptist churches and marketing at Chick-fil-A.

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An official at Maranatha Baptist Church told The Christian Post Thursday that the church deacons authorized to speak on Guthas' hiring were not immediately available for comment.

In a note to Northside Drive Baptist on April 12, Guthas, a mother of two daughters, said she decided to resign from that congregation after being relentlessly pursued by Maranatha Baptist Church. She thanked the congregation for its encouragement, saying it took her years to "let go of the theological views that insisted women could not lead."

"Just months before I became a part of the family here, I was enduring the most difficult transition of my life. As I weighed the pros and cons of each job offer, I narrowed it down to two. One was to be the associate minister here and the other was to be the senior pastor of Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, GA," Guthas wrote. "Through prayer and seeking the advice of many trusted voices in my life, I believed that the best decision at that tumultuous time was to choose to be here with you."

But when she informed Maranatha of her decision, she said they asked her to "consider coming the following year."

"I did not ask them to put their search on hold. I told them I didn't even know what the next day held, much less the next year. However, Maranatha did not relent," she explained.

Guthas, who detailed her struggle with the idea of women pastors to Northside congregants only a month earlier, said she couldn't shake the feeling that she was called to lead as a pastor.

"As much as I do not wish for yet another year of major transition for me and my daughters, I cannot shake the stirring I sense in my soul that I am called to pastor," she said. "It has taken many years for me to let go of the theological views that insisted women could not lead. Many of you have offered words that have encouraged me in this calling, and you had no idea of the wrestling taking place inside of me."

Guthas officially resigned from Northside Drive Baptist Church on April 28.

"I ask for your prayers. Candidly, I seem to carry so many emotions within me regarding this calling. It is no small thing that a Baptist church, only recently separated from the Southern Baptist Convention, is calling a woman to be their pastor," she added in her note to Northside Drive Baptist.

"Thank you for allowing me to serve alongside of you. I know I have grown in my time here and though my time was much shorter than I would have ever imagined, I earnestly hope that I have helped some of you grow as well."

Carter, 99, is the oldest living U.S. president and has been in hospice care for over a year. His wife, Rosalynn, died last November at age 96. 

In 2000, Carter cut ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, citing the adoption of increasingly "rigid" views. He continued to teach Sunday school at Maranatha Baptist Church and encouraged the church to send half its mission contribution to another Baptist church network, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. 

The SBC's 2000 Baptist Faith & Message statement states that "the office of pastor/elder/overseer is limited to men as qualified by Scripture." Carter stated that he agreed with the adherence to the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message.

"I personally feel the Bible says all people are equal in the eyes of God," Carter told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the time. "I personally feel that women should play an absolutely equal role in service of Christ in the church."

Contact: Follow Leonardo Blair on Twitter: @leoblair Follow Leonardo Blair on Facebook: LeoBlairChristianPost

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