Living out Missional Faith: Theresa Cutler’s Story
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15:58
In an increasingly hostile world, the call to stand firm on behalf of the gospel has become a very important challenge. As the second women to be ordained in the Northern Baptist Association, Reverend Theresa “Terry” Cutler understands this call.
Born and raised in a humble Chicago home, Terry was not introduced to the Bible until she was invited to a Vacation Bible School (VBS) at the Maplewood Baptist Church near her home. The love and encouragement that Terry experienced through this Church lead her to Christ, and by the age of 12, she independently decided to get baptized and start attending Sunday school.
The children’s programming at the Maplewood Baptist Church changed Terry’s life, and this change did not go un-noticed. Pastor Stan Summershield, the same pastor that invited her to VBS as a child, recognized the faith and fervor that Terry exhibited, and as a Northern Seminary graduate, he encouraged her to consider ministry work. Through this simple encouragement, unknowingly to Terry, God opened the door to a lifetime of ministry.
After completing a Master’s in Christian Education at Northern Seminary, Terry followed the call of her dear friend, Pastor Summershield, and she accepted a position at the Elmhurst Baptist Church. Over the next 10 years, Terry developed a keen understanding of Christian Education and a strong love for children.
This understanding and experience led her to several different churches, including the Northshore Baptist Church, where Pastor and former Northern Seminary President Dr. Bill Myers served. Under Pastor Myers’ leadership, Terry distinguished herself as a leading expert in children’s ministry, and as a result, she was asked to join the Northern Baptist Association in Chicago to help train and equip other children’s directors.
As her accomplishments grew, Terry was encouraged to pursue ordination, an accomplishment that no other woman in the Northern Baptist Association had yet achieved. This idea had always seemed just out of reach for her considering the gender barrier in the Northern Baptist Association at that time. However, soon after this encouragement, it became clear that God was calling her into ministry leadership, and therefore, she decided to stand up for this calling and support her right to serve as a leader in the Church.
After presenting her case before an ordination board, she was accepted and ordained in 1970. Pastor Summershield led her ordination service and to her surprise, nearly every Baptist pastor in the Chicago area attended. This was, aside from meeting Christ, the greatest moment in Terry’s life. She had faced years of criticism, limitation, and discouragement because she was a woman, and in this accomplishment, Terry felt all her restraints being cut away. Through this service she became the second woman to be ordained in the Northern Baptist Association.
Directly following this great moment, she was contacted by the Jamaica Baptist Church in Vermont and asked to serve as their head pastor. Terry accepted this position gladly, knowing beyond the shadow of a doubt that God was now calling her into pastoral leadership. In the years following her ordination, including her first years in Vermont, Terry discovered that God could use her leadership skills to further His kingdom.
Her ministry finally led her to Michigan, where she currently resides. At the age of 90, Terry continues to serve the church through mentorship, counseling, and prayer. She discovered, through a lifetime of dedication to the Lord, that it is important to stand firm against adversity. God always strengthens and encourages those who follow His leading. Terry put it best by saying, “It’s more imperative today to keep the truth and follow the Lord’s leading in your life.”
Reverend Theresa Cutler is an example to us all. Her labor has not been in vain.
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