CONYERS, Ga.—The Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia has named Joan Stockstill Godsey of Macon the 2005 Distinguished Churchwoman of the Year. The recipient of this honor is selected based on her significant contributions to ministry, her dedication to mentoring other women in ministry, her leadership and her commitment to her church. Mrs. Godsey received the honor at the meeting of the Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia in Conyers.
Sarah Withers, who serves as historian for the Baptist Women in Ministry of Georgia, nominated Mrs. Godsey for this honor.
"Joan is a constant source of energy, encouragement, compassion, generosity, entertainment, humor and leadership," Mrs. Withers said. "She has been a role model and a cheerleader for women in ministry, and she exemplifies all the characteristics of a Christian lady."
Born and raised in Hattiesburg, Miss., Mrs. Godsey became very active in the church at a young age, playing the church piano on special occasions and faithfully assisting her parents in ministry. After graduating from Mississippi College with a bachelor of music degree in piano, she taught piano to children for a year and then went on to serve as Baptist Student Union Director at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville, Miss.
She later furthered her education at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where she earned a master's degree in church music and a master's degree in religious education. After earning her degrees, she stayed on at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to teach in the School of Music. This is where she met her husband, R. Kirby Godsey, who is now the president of Mercer University in Georgia. During the summer, the two worked together at Ridgecrest Baptist Assembly, where they became engaged.
The couple married in April of 1959, and she continued to teach both college music courses and Sunday school at her local church. Then, while living in Marion, Ala., amidst the Civil Rights Movement, she had the opportunity to be part of what she felt was an exciting new program for underprivileged children. It was called Head Start, and she was one of two white women who agreed to get the program started in the community just down the road from Selma, Ala.
"Getting involved was the right thing to do—my mother had taught me we should always do what is right, no matter what the cost—and there were costs," Mrs. Godsey later said. "The whole white community of Marion turned against me and my family. A neighbor shot our dog. A cross was burned."
But despite all of this, she continued to teach in the program.
"I found the strength to survive difficult times. God does supply our needs," she said.
While her husband attended Tulane University in New Orleans, La., working on his doctor of philosophy degree, Mrs. Godsey served as organist at St. Charles Avenue Baptist Church. The couple and their four children then moved to Danville, Va., where she served as organist, choir master and minister of music at First Baptist Church of Danville. Eight years later, the family moved to Macon, Ga., where Dr. Godsey became dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Mercer University.
Mrs. Godsey became organist-choir master at Northminster Presbyterian Church in Macon for four years before joining her family at First Baptist Church, where she served as interim choir director for a year and a half and played the organ on various occasions. She was later ordained as a deacon of First Baptist Church.
"Early on I had learned the importance of ministering to others, and now my church had chosen me to be a part of our Deacon Family Ministry," she said of becoming ordained. "It was an honor, but also a tremendous vehicle with which I could carry out my calling to minister to others."
In 1979, Dr. Godsey became president of Mercer University, and Mrs. Godsey assumed the many responsibilities of being a president's wife, opening her heart and home to students, staff, faculty and friends of the University.
She is very active in the Macon community, including being a contributing member to the Macon Music Club, the History Club of Macon and the Macon Symphony.
The Godseys have four grown children: Raleigh, a medical doctor in Charlotte, N.C.; Hunter, a missionary and vice president of development for the Baptist Medical and Dental Mission International; Erika, the director of Stockbridge Methodist Church Preschool; and Stephanie, an attorney with King and Spalding in Atlanta.
"I have had a blessed life—my wonderful husband has encouraged me to follow my calling. I have great family and good friends. I love my church," she said. "Fred Craddock admonishes us to live simply, love generously, serve faithfully, speak truthfully, and leave the rest to God. I have strived to achieve these goals, because in my opinion, they embody wisdom. Of course I have suffered regrets along the way, but I believe in always searching for ways to live simply, love generously, serve faithfully and speak trustfully. And believe me, I have left a lot to God."