By Carmichael Crutchfield
VIRGINIA A. (EVANS) SARGENT (2/10/1929 – 10/10/2006) was part of the American Baptist Church all of her life. Her major contributions to the field of Christian education were in the area of children’s ministry, however, her contributions in racial reconciliation are equally important.
Reverend Dr. Virginia A. (Evans) Sargent was born to Robert and Margaret Evans on February 10, 1929 in Brooklyn, New York, where she attended school up through the high school level. At the age of twenty-one (1950), she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College, and two years later received a Master's degree in Christian Education from Hartford Seminary (1952).
After college, Dr. Sargent moved to Ardmore, Pennsylvania, where she resided until her death. While in Pennsylvania, she worked for nearly 25 years for the American Baptist Church in Valley Forge. She married Reverend Charles Sargent, who was a dean at the Interdenominational Center in Atlanta, GA. Her husband started the Union Baptist Church in Stamford, Connecticut. Together the Sargents had a son named Mark, and a daughter named Hope.
Dr. Sargent was a member of the Saints Memorial Baptist Church in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, and also an associate member of Central Baptist Church in Wayne, PA. Her love for education, writing, and Christ converged, and she became heavily involved in "Church School." Her involvement as a Christian educator led her to serve as editor of the Metrolines Newsletter of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, and editor of church school curriculum for American Baptist Churches.
With the Civil Rights Movement at its peak in the 60s, a young Virginia Sargent joined others in protesting inequality in a country founded upon the proposition that all are created equal. She was a strong peace and justice advocate, and her participation was a statement of her faith, according to long-time friend, Vernice Lee, Secretary at Saints Memorial Baptist Church. "She followed her faith and her belief. She didn't just talk about it, she lived it."
Dr. Sargent served in educational ministries for the American Baptist Churches for more than two decades, joining the mission board in 1973 as a program associate for the Department of Ministry with Children. Known as an innovator and visionary, she was instrumental in organizing the first American Baptist educational conference for Black Christian Education and Leadership Development held at prestigious Oberlin College.
In 1988, Dr. Sargent earned her doctorate from Palmer Theological Seminary, then known as Eastern Seminary. Her doctoral thesis was Celebrating the strengths of Black Families: a workshop strategy for motivating family enrichment through American Baptist congregations (1988).
Dr. Sargent continued to serve the local church through her many workshops and teaching opportunities until she retired from educational ministries in 1995. Known to her many friends as "Ginger," Dr. Sargent continued to challenge herself instead of enjoying well-deserved leisure in retirement. She went back to school to become a registered chaplain, and was ordained into the American Baptist ministry in 1998 at Saints Memorial Baptist Church in Bryn Mawr, PA.
Dr. Sargent died October 10, 2006, in Bryn Mawr Terrace Convalescent Center. Upon the death of Dr. Sargent, the news release from Valley Forge, PA, dated October 13th, 2006, provided the following: Dr. Virginia Sargent, active in Christian education for more than 50 years, died October 10 after a long battle with cancer. She was 77.
At the time of her death, Dr. Sargent's family members included her son Mark, her daughter Hope, her son-in-law Rob Spada, and her grandchildren; Theresa, Danny, Louie, and Jimmy Spada.
Contributions to Christian Education
Dr. Sargent began her career at the Baptist Educational Center in New York, New York. In 1973 she began working for the Board of Educational Ministries of American Baptist Churches, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania, as the Program Associate in the Department of Ministry and Children. In this position she edited children curriculum, led teachers’ workshops, and led national conferences. She was one of the contributing editors for the Baptist Leader magazine where she wrote about children’s ministry. In 1989, she became the Children’s Coordinator with Discipleship Department. “Ginger” as she was known by many of her friends, retired from the Board of Educational Ministries in 1995.
During her career she also served as Director of Christian Education at Ebenezer Church, Poughkeepsie, New York; Union Church, Stamford, Connecticut; and Saints Memorial Baptist Church Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. Additionally, at Saints Memorial Baptist church she served on the Wellness Ministry team, coordinated Wednesday and Thursday night Bible studies, served in the Lystra Ministry, the Women’s Ministry, 80 Plus Club, and taught Sunday school lessons.
Known as an innovator and visionary, she was instrumental in organizing the first American Baptist educational conference for Black Christian Education and Leadership Development held at prestigious Oberlin College. According to Don Ng, former Educational Ministries, American Baptist Church United States America (ABUSA), staff; and current ABCUSA president, she was very committed to multiculturalism as a reflection of God’s created world. Today, we often speak about this as becoming the “Beloved Community.” According to Ng, she faithfully collected stories and examples of how racial/ethnic people contributed to the making of our society as well as shapers and movers of he Christian church. Ng goes on to say, “If anyone needed a resource in the area of Black Christian Education, Virginia Sargent was the person who would deliver.”
Living at a time when American Baptists were beginning to become racially diverse, Virginia Sargent sensitively and firmly taught her colleagues and the American Baptist Church family to welcome this new reality. Serving at a time when women in ministry was just coming into being, she served effectively as a lay leader and then hearing the call to ordained ministry was ordained. Sargent herself wrote, “When I think of ministry with the staff of Educational Ministries, it is sweetness tinged with bitterness. I rejoice that in EM I had the opportunity to live out my call to ministry. I am sad when I think about the struggles against prejudice” (Sargent, 1998, p. 274).
Continuing to speak about Dr. Sargent, Ng says she was a woman who was able to always produce a song, and sometimes new ones to fit the occasion. “Virginia Sargent composed new words for God’s people to sing songs of praise and thanksgiving for God is good all the time."
Dr. Sargent edited several books, including Bridges of Promise. She wrote the Bible stories used for the Vacation Church School series, The Storyteller Series, in 1997, which was published by the Interdenominational Consortium. She was also a Editor for Baptist Leader and the Secret Place Devotional Magazine. She was a major contributor in two editions of the Christian Education Planning Guide for American Baptist Churches. She is credited for writing a chapter in the book Families Drawing the Circle Wide, which was published by the United Methodist women for one of their Bible studies.
Dr. Sargent also wrote hymns, and in 1996 and 1999 some of her hymn lyrics were used for offering materials in a curriculum by America for Christ, Children Defense Fund, and by the Philadelphia Baptist Association. One such hymn was Proclaim Hope! (a revision of hymn used in AFC materials):
1. Proclaim our hope in Jesus
The Lover of our souls:
His hands were full of healing;
His touch made each one whole.
He told God’s love by doing.
He matched His words with deeds
And so we now are going
Where e’er His Spirit leads.
2. Proclaim our hope for fam’lies
And children needing care;
The message for the parents
Is: hope, dispels, despair.
But hope requires trusting
And loyalty to each;
‘Tis costly loving driving
The Gospel that we teach.
3. Proclaim our hope for nations:
Our resurrection faith!
No modern incantations
Can bring about new birth.
The common people yearning
For living peaceably
Are watching bombs a-burning;
No future can they see.
4. Proclaim our hope in Jesus
For ev’ry person here
Who struggles in the real world
With outer/inner fear:
The breath of God is blowing
To clear every disease;
The love of God is growing
As mustard seeds to trees.
5. Proclaim our hope! God help us
To witness, work and praise
That hopeless men and women
May know your loving ways;
God help us frame the message
So children very young
Cannot recall the season
But what your praise was sung.
Additional Verse (may be used before verse 3)
Proclaim our hope for churches:
Let prayers be in accord;
Empower our better urges
For active service, Lord
To hope is added justice,
To work for what is fair;
Much more than quiet waiting
Is needed everywhere.
Dr. Sargent led many workshops and conferences for church school teachers and her work had a great impact on education ministry as a whole. Many of Dr. Sargent’s conferences and workshops were based on her pioneering dissertation: “Celebrating the Strengths of Black Families: A Workshop Strategy for Motivating Family Enrichment Through American Baptist Congregations” (Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1988). Her work is an engagement with mainstream conversations about family and race and how she was able to turn a negative conversation into a positive workshop for use in congregations. Her work was pioneering as she argued the positives aspects of the black family. Her workshops strengthened and motivated families in the American Baptist Church. Her work is phenomenal when we consider the climate of the United States concerning Race relations. Dr. Sargent was able to navigate the waters of racial tension to present her work in front of all kinds of audiences within the American Baptist Church.
Rev. John Murrow, Associate Executive Minister for Discipleship at Philadelphia Baptist Association (PBA), described Dr. Sargent as a life-long learner. Rev. Murrow says that he was a recipient of Dr. Sargent’s energy and dedication (www. abc-usa.org/). Murrow also served on various committees with Dr. Sargent while she was the editor of PBA’s metroliner newsletter.
Dr. Virginia Holmstrom: (former Educational Ministries staff; current Executive Director, American Baptist Women’s Ministries), says of Dr. Sargent:
I worked with the Rev. Dr. Virginia Sargent in Educational Ministries, American Baptist Churches USA from 1990 until she retired in _(before 1999)_____. She was a Christian educator, curriculum writer, director of Black Church Education, and founder/editor of Forum newsletter. She planned and directed the first national Black Church Education conferences that Educational Ministries sponsored. She wrote beautiful hymns, too.
Dr. Holmstrom adds as a final anecdote, “In the weeks preceding her death from cancer, Dr. Sargent organized a hymn sing and invited a host of friends from church, work, community, etc., to come and sing with her at the nursing facility where she resided during her last months. They came en masse to join in singing the hymns and songs Dr. Sargent had chosen….26 hymns with titles beginning with every letter of the alphabet. Her voice rang out with ours, and her face was filled with the joy of being with her beloved friends one more time, and we with her.
Jayne, Andy. (October 13, 2006). Ajayne@ABC-USA.org, Valley Forge, PA.: American Baptist Churches, U.S.A.
(October 17, 2006). Obituary of Virginia A. Sargent from Saints Memorial Baptist Church, Bryn Mawr, PA.
(October 10, 2006). Valley Forge News Release.
McCay, Gracie Rose, and Sargent, Virginia A. (Eds.). (1985). Children together: A program resource for boys and girls—grades 3-6. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
Sargent, Virginia A. (Ed.). (1990). Bridges of promise: A pastor/leader’s guide. Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press.
Sargent, Virginia. (1988). Celebrating the strengths of Black Families: a workshop strategy for motivating family enrichment through American Baptist congregations. Thesis (D.Min.) - Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary
Sargent, Virginia. (1998). Responding to minority and ethnic concerns. American Baptist Quarterly, 17(4), 274-275.
Excerpts from Publications
Sargent, Virginia. (1998). Responding to Minority and Ethnic Concerns. American Baptist Quarterly, 17(4), 274-275.
The history of American Baptist Churches is based in a search for racial justice through anti-slavery efforts and education of the freed people. So in the period 1969-1982, Educational Ministries' attention to minority concerns was not new, but part of a raison d'etre. Enlivened by the Civil Rights Movement, the commitment to serve our racial/ethnic churches was expressed in many ways. Although persons in leadership had high ideals concerning inclusiveness, implementing the ideals was not simple.
I remember several meetings of a committee called Task Force on Minority Leadership. We developed lists of African American teachers, youth ministry specialists, musicians and administrators of Christian education in local congregations. It wasn't easy to identify persons who could serve as leaders in conferences and workshops using their cultural heritage in such a way that it would be acceptable to most of the people who usually attended. As the conferences at Green Lake became popular with African Americans, it was a natural impulse to have conference leadership reflect the constituency. (p. 274)
Several of our staff development events, retreats, and one-day seminars focused on understanding cultures other than our own. For some it was scary to go to New York to visit Chinatown, but we "braved" the city for the cause of being more aware, not only of Asians, but of anyone different from ourselves.
One of the fun things (for me) was to challenge any person who might inadvertently use a racial slur or such words as "black" or "dark" to mean "bad" or "sinful." I used to say, "What'd you say about black?" I hope it made people more careful about the terms they used. I also helped staff, artists and designers to be inclusive without being derogatory.
Another tactic we used to be true to inclusive ideals was being careful to avoid the generic "he." I remember searching for hymns to use in children's curriculum that met the standards of inclusive language. Often, not finding anything appropriate, I wrote new words to familiar hymn tunes.
No doubt being inclusive helps racial/ethnic minorities to feel loved, but it does even more for the so-called majority: they learn, expand their horizons, and respond to God's love theoretically and personally. (p. 275)
Though not a prolific writer, you can get a sense of her priorities and perspectives in these two publications:
Sargent, Virginia. (1998). Responding to Minority and Ethnic Concerns. American Baptist Quarterly, 17(4), 274-275.
Sargent, Virginia. (1988). Celebrating the strengths of Black families: A workshop strategy for motivating family enrichment through American Baptist congregations. Thesis (D.Min.) - Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Carmichael D. Crutchfield (Ph.D. Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary) serves as Assistant Professor Christian Education and Youth Ministry at Memphis Theological Seminary, in Memphis, Tennessee.