A Brief History of WNAC (1935-2009)
By Dr. Mary R. Wisehart
Shouting with joy for a dream come true. If you had listened that day, June 13, 1935, you could have heard rejoicing in the Black Jack Free Will Baptist Church in Pitt County, North Carolina, as women organized Woman’s National Auxiliary Convention. Mrs. Alice Lupton, North Carolina, became the first president. The women elected five vice presidents to work in the areas of literature and publications, Christian education, stewardship, missions and benevolence. Mrs. Fannie Polston, Tennessee, was the first field secretary, a position that would become the executive secretary-treasurer. The National Association accepted the organization November 6, 1935.
Mrs. Fannie Polston stated the purpose: “From the very beginning, the purpose of this organization has been to lead the women of the Free Will Baptist church in the winning of the world to Christ.” This purpose remains. The responsibilities of the vice presidents suggest that, from WNAC’s inception, women were concerned about every part of the national association.
Mrs. Eunice Edwards was named by the convention as first full-time executive secretary-treasurer in 1956, serving until 1963 in the national offices suite at 3801 Richland Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee. She established the Provision Closet, led the women in raising funds to build a mission station in Cote d’Ivoire, a missionary residence in Hokkaido, Japan, and a church in Monterrey, Mexico. She started Co-Laborer in 1961 as a quarterly magazine. The quarterly continued until 1993 when a bimonthly magazine began. The name became Together With God in 2007.
WNAC members were concerned about youth. They formed groups for girls and young women, soon including boys and young men, also. Youth chairmen for the organization began essay and declamation contests for youth. The contest theme was stewardship; later it became missions. After 1942, WNAC rewarded winners with a small scholarship to Free Will Baptist Bible College. Plans were already in the works for a National Youth Rally including Young People’s Auxiliary, Go-Tell Auxiliary, Junior Master’s Men and Missionary Midgets, when in 1962, the National Association asked the women to merge their groups into the national youth work called Church Training Service. In that year, WNAC claimed over 5,000 in the four youth groups.
As a part of their concern for youth, women established the Memorial Student Loan Fund for students at Free Will Baptist Bible College in 1957, now called the Mary Ruth Wisehart Student Loan Fund.
When Mrs. Cleo Pursell was elected executive secretary-treasurer in 1963, WNAC moved its offices to the National Association of Free Will Baptists building at 1134 Murfreesboro Road, Nashville. WNAC remained there until 1985, when the National Association moved to its present location in Antioch, Tennessee. Mrs. Pursell wrote, “Who gives gifts to WNAC? Nobody!” She asked that dues be raised from the 30 cents set in 1935 to 75 cents. Emphasis Month was established as August (now May) with gifts going to the general fund. During her tenure, the Creative Writing Contest began (later expanded to include various arts). The first national retreat for women was held in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, in 1980. Mrs. Pursell also began the National Student Scholarship for students on our mission fields, now called the Cleo Pursell Foreign Student Scholarship. These monies enable students to attend seminaries and colleges in the countries where they live and work.
In 1985, WNAC celebrated its 50th anniversary with the publication of Sparks into Flame: A History of W.N.A.C. That same year, Mary R. Wisehart became the third full-time executive secretary-treasurer. During her tenure, Dr. Wisehart traveled extensively, both at home and abroad, promoting WNAC. She attended national meetings of Free Will Baptist women’s groups on several mission fields. She also rallied for the establishment of an endowment trust (now the Marjorie Workman Endowment Fund) to provide future funding for the organization. Under her leadership, women approved a name change from Woman’s National Auxiliary Convention to Women Nationally Active for Christ. The WNAC Manual also underwent major changes during her 13 years of service.
Marjorie Workman became the fourth executive secretary-treasurer in 1998. She led women on the first WNAC-sponsored missions trip in 2005 when a group of WNAC leaders attended a Sisters’ Prayer Fellowship in Almaty, Kazakhstan. WNAC also funded the conference costs of more than 500 attendees from five Central Asian nations. Partnering with Master’s Men, WNAC began National Marriage Enrichment Conferences for couples. After almost a decade of service, Mrs. Workman announced retirement plans.
The convention approved Danita High as her replacement. Mrs. High, a young pastor’s wife with a business history in banking, rigorously labored to ensure the fiscal soundness of WNAC’s annual budget and proper designation and appropriation of funds. She encouraged and enlisted a new wave of young women until her resignation in late 2009.
WNAC’s diamond anniversary coincided with the appointment and approval of sixth Executive Director Elizabeth Hodges, who continues to guide the organization through the economic challenges it faces, along with other countless other ministries.
The Lord has been gracious to Free Will Baptist women through the years, and He is not finished with us yet. This history continues with timeless words from Mrs. Fannie Polston:
In attempting great things for the Master, we have a wonderful heritage for “tomorrow.” How will the record read in the next decade? Shall we ask? Shall we meet the challenge of present denominational needs bravely and with a “mind to work”? I pray that we may press on in our efforts to meet them, in His name, as we have in the past by grasping opportunities for service, for by this method we grow in grace and develop in spiritual things.