The Barbara O’Chester Chair of Women’s Ministry announced Jan. 27 at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and Leavell College honors O’Chester’s legacy as a pioneer in women’s ministry and signals the seminary’s commitment to continue her passion for equipping women in ministry.
“Barbara, we are grateful to God and to you for your ministry and your legacy,” said Jamie Dew, president of NOBTS and Leavell College.
Barbara, and husband Harold O’Chester, a long-time pastor whose ministry spanned 70 years, were present for the celebration in Leavell Chapel Jan. 27. Two of the couple’s three daughters also were in attendance. Barbara O’Chester was presented with a commemorative plaque and a bouquet of flowers.
The new academic chair is made possible by funding from Jon Parnell, a long-time friend of the O’Chester family and a member of the Great Hills Baptist Church in Austin, Texas, where Harold O’Chester served as pastor for 35 years prior to retirement.
“I am delighted to bring up in front of you today the O’Chesters and let you see them, their lives and their ministry,” Dew told listeners. “Seventy years -- may that kind of witness and testimony be found 100 times over in you and me.”
Barbara O’Chester told listeners that she had heard a statement years ago that “as goes the families, so go the nation,” and that it inspired her to consider the needs of women serving in the church. She added that her speaking ministry grew out of what God was doing in her own life and church.
“My outside ministry to women grew up from my inside ministry to women,” Barbara O’Chester said. “It grew out of my ministry in my own church.”
Emily Dean, assistant professor of ministry to women and director of ministry to women academic programs, will occupy the chair, Dew announced during the service.
“The legacy of Barbara O' Chester reminds us that each generation does not serve the kingdom in isolation,” Dean said. “As women in SBC life, we stand on the shoulders of women such as Barbara who have faithfully led the way for ministry to women as we know it today. She was a trailblazer in her focus on ministry to women, and I am so grateful for her vision and dedication to serving women in the church.
“With over half of most churches being comprised of women, ministry to women plays a vital role in the whole picture of church ministry,” Dean continued. “I am so honored and grateful to be a recipient of Barbara's rich legacy of ministry to women.”
Dean also leads the academic programs focused on ministry to women. Academic training is available at the certificate, undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Dean helps direct the newly founded NOBTS Society for Women to promote academic gifts, scholarly practices, and contributions to the academy by women doctoral and graduate students.
Dew praised Barbara O’Chester’s ministry as a speaker, mentor, and women’s ministry leader that has touched tens of thousands of women’s lives. Harold O’Chester spoke up to note that often more than 19,000 women per year came to hear Barbara speak at conferences and events.
Noting the O’Chesters’ long friendship with former NOBTS President Chuck Kelley and his wife Rhonda Kelley, Dew thanked Barbara for her contribution to NOBTS through her encouragement and support of Rhonda Kelley’s ministry to women. Under Rhonda Kelley’s twenty-year leadership, the NOBTS women’s ministry programs expanded to include course offerings and degrees that drew in women from around the world.
“Barbara, this has been your passion for 70 years,” Dew said. “You have been so faithful in that.”
Barbara O’Chester earned the bachelor of sacred music and Harold received the bachelor of divinity from NOBTS in 1958.
During the service, Harold O’Chester related how the couple met at NOBTS following the tragic car accident that claimed his first wife of eight years, two children, and unborn child, during his first year in seminary. He praised God for bringing Barbara into his life after such tragedy.
“I got the jewel of the campus. I got the jewel of my life,” Harold O’Chester said. Noting his age of 94 years and their 64-year marriage, O’Chester added, “There’s so much God has done for me, but the greatest thing God did for me was bringing Barbara into my life.”
On stage also was Tara Dew, president’s wife, and director of Thrive, the seminary’s ministry wives certificate program. With women enrolled in every degree program at NOBTS, the multi-faceted women’s program offers academic support at every degree level and promotes events and activities for service, fellowship, support and encouragement to all women at NOBTS, regardless of position, role, or academic goals.
“I’m thankful for you both,” Tara Dew said. “And I’m thankful for your ministry.”