Clerical Error: Clericalism, Leadership, and Pastoral Care

Editor’s Note: This article appears in the latest issue of Spectrum (volume 49, issue 3). If you’re not already a member of Adventist Forum, click here to join today and receive this issue.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

Helen Pearson is a former PR consultant and a retired counselor and psychotherapist from Wokingham, England and was a longtime elder of Newbold Church. She and her husband, Michael, run the website Pearsons’ Perspectives.

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Newbold in 1972 for me represented the best in Adventism. It shaped my future in many ways. It was
diverse, tolerant, scholarly and spiritual at its core. I hung out with the liberal Dutch, loud mouthed Americans, joyful Caribbeans and stiff British! I loved them all. I even befriended Steve Schneider, spokesman of the David Koresh Waco tragedy. We held Friday night vespers together. I remember him telling me that he wished Newbold was more of a Bible College promoting Revelation end times. I guess he got his wish.


Spot on, Helen Pearson. While I have only served 6 years as staff member at Newbold - teaching pastoral care for a bit longer, and knowing Newbold from my student days in the late 70s and early 80s, I wholeheartedly agree with the analysis. Perhaps I am less optimistic about the healing process described; not because I wouldn’t believe in healing - as a mental health professional I certainly ought to believe in healing. However, in my 40th year of pastoral ministry I do have a time to look back on. It seems to me, current developments around Newbold - so well described here - fit the general direction our denomination (world church) has been taking for the last 10 years or so. We are becoming more and more centralized, hierarchical and non-dialogical (and proud of it) - a toxic development in our post-modern world.


My thinking about Adventist ecclesial bodies resonated with so much of what Helen Pearson has written here about Clericalism, Leadership and Pastoral Care. The deficiencies and wrong modelling of Adventist ecclesial bodies is in my estimation rift throughout the Adventist world. I have felt the pain of it, personally, more than once.This was also neatly demonstrated in the British Employment Tribunal findings against the North England Conference for the unfair dismissal of two of its pastors, as referenced by Helen Pearson above.

My only question is this - Is Newbold aside from such clericalism and power hierarchies or has it acted its part in perpetuating such sins. Most of the TED leaders are products of Newbold, many in my years there. They are my friends and colleagues. Yet we all have imbibed the cool aid of clericalism and power hierarchies. The Protestant Reformers and Adventists in turn have undone some of the accretions of power and lordly authority that had over centuries accrued to the priestly/ clerical class. However, the almost inevitable drift toward institutionalisation and clericalization of Adventist ecclesial bodies, may well have created subtle, even sinful changes in attitudes and modes of operation which are best addressed by a studied renewal and reformation.

Harold Hill, a recently deceased New Zealand Salvation Army Major has written that “the process of institutionalisation and clericalization in the church can be seen as a successful reconquest of the new community by the old structures of domination and power.” Hill was part of move by some Salvation Army people to reverse the 1981 move to not only commission but also to ordain Salvation Army Officers before they were sent into the field. It may seem odd in such a hierarchical ecclesial body such as the Salvation Army but Salvation Army theology and practice until recent years was always explicitly anti-clerical. Salvation Army Officers historically were not to be confused as clergy. Nor were their people the bifurcated bottom of the whole body. Rather Salvation Army people, all together were part of the soldiery. No clergy and laity amongst them. But little by little, in a push for Salvo Officers to be recognized among their peer clergy from other faith communities, the Salvo’s forgot their historic stance and drank the cool aid.

Would that Adventists had not similarly almost wholly forgotten our own historic stance against the division of the Adventist body into clergy and laity.

Adventists at the present time have a unique opportunity to gain through a studied revival and renewal and reformation a new sense of what it means to have a dynamic and Spirit-led model of mission and ministry. The Spirit only can breath new life into our tired structures.

I fear adopting the ordination of women, thus extending its practice, while clinging to our tired and ill thought through notions of ordination. Yes, I believe in the A,B, C’s of appointing, blessing and commissioning all pastoral leaders, no matter their sex. Unfortunately much of Britain and Europe as well as America have been steeped in the “clergy/laity” bifurcated model rather than the “whole people of God” model of Adventist organization. We all have much to learn, not just the Africans and Latinos.


Adventists talk a lot about the global divisions in the church, but…I don’t know anymore. Earlier this month, the Mid-American Union (in the traditionalist heartland of the US) approved women’s ordination. The South American Division approved women elders this summer. Meanwhile, this is coming out of Northern Europe.

I think Andreas and Peter are hitting the nail on the head – the real divisions seem to be in (and caused by) the hierarchy. The top layers of leadership and the GC are entrenching in 1915: witness Ted Wilson’s plan to mail out a billion Great Controversies for the latest example. The unions (middle management, so to speak) seem to be willing to at least try something different to “spread the Blessed Hope” in 2021. Or whatever the proper term for that is; I apologize for not being steeped in the SDA lexicon.

I guess the real question is who the local pastors and laity (far too often the “laxity,” and I count myself in that) will follow. But it’s easy to just shut up do what your leaders say, and the GC has the bully pulpit with the Presidency, 3ABN, the Review, and so on.

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