By Glenn D. Bridges for the Spartanburg Herald-Journal
Fernwood Baptist Church, located on the east side of Spartanburg, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. While that may not qualify as one of the historic churches in the Upstate, there is at least one characteristic that makes it stand out among the local Baptist congregations.
“Fernwood Baptist Church has long affirmed the service of women in all aspects of the church’s life,” said Dr. Dean Allen, pastor. “Many women have served as ordained deacons, and the church has ordained many women as ministers.”
Currently working alongside Dean as co-pastor is his wife, Dr. Lisa Wimberly Allen, making it the only Baptist church in the area with a woman pastor, according to Dean. The couple is assisted by Stuart Jones, associate pastor and youth minister, as well as Rusty Keesler, director of music, who is also choral director at Byrnes High School.
While Fernwood is affiliated with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Dean said its members “value diversity and openness, and welcome many people from Baptist and non-Baptist backgrounds.”
Dean and Lisa met while serving as partners on a Baptist Student Union mission team traveling around South Carolina. A native of Spartanburg, Dean is a graduate of Furman University and earned a Master of Divinity from Southern Seminary in 1993. He later obtained a Ph.D. in Social Ethics and Sociology of Religion from Boston University.
Ordained by First Baptist Church of Fort Mill (SC), Dean began his ministry as pastor of Zion Baptist in Indiana, and then as a Baptist Campus Minister, dean and faculty member at Andover Newton Theological School in Boston.
It was at First Baptist Church of Weston (MA) that Dean initially served as co-pastor with Lisa, who was born in England as the child of an Air Force family. For years, Lisa considered Fort Walton Beach, FL as her home. She first came to South Carolina to earn a B.A. degree at Converse College, and then furthered her education with a Master of Divinity from Southern Seminary and a Ph.D. from Boston University in Social Ethics, with an emphasis on Business Ethics.
Lisa was ordained by First Baptist Church of Newton Centre, MA, and served as a Baptist Campus Ministry intern while in Spartanburg, and later as a chaplain at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Bentley College. She has also served as moderator for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of the Northeast, and served on the Representative Assembly of the CBF of Florida.
According to Dean, music and worship services at Fernwood are “excellent, formal and friendly.” The church attracts members from a large area, including the west and east sides of Spartanburg, as well as Moore, Pacolet, Gaffney and Union.
Under the leadership of Jones, the Fernwood youth are heavily involved in mission work as well as social interactions. Some of their projects include Christmas in Action, Habitat for Humanity, Total Ministries and the Soup Kitchen. The youth also participate in a weeklong mission project each summer.
“Our gifted youth participate in worship through various leadership roles,” states Jones. “Youth are given opportunities to participate through handbell choirs, instrumentals and the youth choir.” The youth department’s meeting site – known as “The Nexus,” is a large area equipped with a pool table, ping pong table and soccer t