The Association of Adventist Women is running a series of online programs, called “Finding Purpose in Uncertain Times,” with well-known speakers, facilitators and panelists, talking about how we can best take care of ourselves, our families, our communities and our ministry during this unprecedented period. The first program was held live on Saturday night, October 10, and the programs will continue for six Sabbaths, until November 14. What can attendees expect during these evenings?
I think those who watch will recognize that they are each a leader in ways they didn’t realize. I think they will be encouraged to pivot when they need to and to be more confident, refocusing as things change around us.
Our goal is to help those who never thought of themselves as a leader to say: “I influence people; I can lead.”
Does this series of Vespers programs take the place of the usual annual Association of Adventist Women's conference? When did you start planning these programs?
Yes, the vespers series takes the place of a traditional conference. We knew when we started planning in May that most of the vespers would be virtual, although initially we had hoped that the first one could be in person. It would be so nice to be able to chat and hug!
Can you tell us a little bit about some of the speakers and topics that are being presented?
The first vespers event was led by Dr. Linda Becker, former vice president of Union College, talking about how Christ calls us all to lead. Dr. Ella Simmons, General Conference vice president, led a discussion about leadership with Helen Staples-Evans, Loma Linda University Health vice president for patient care services; Dr. Olive Hemmings, Washington Adventist University professor of religion and ethics; and Dr. Andrea Luxton, president of Andrews University. You could tell they really loved getting together to encourage leadership. You can play back the program on our Association of Adventist Women website.
This week, October 17, we are dealing with self-care with Pastor Sheryll Prinz-McMillan, who really shines at expressing empathy and support. The panel, led by Dr. Beverly Buckles, dean of the School of Behavioral Health at Loma Linda University, explores many aspects of self-care with Jamie Stodola, who ran a self-care mission through the Loma Linda University Church during the quarantine; Anita Roberts, women’s ministry and spouse care director at Southeastern California Conference who has extended her prayer ministry at the Loma Linda University Church throughout the pandemic; and Dr. Rita Mercer, who runs a virtual support group called Seeking Safety for those who have suffered trauma. Watch at 5 pm PST at the Association of Adventist Women website or lluc.org/live.
I just taped the panel on ministry that will air on October 24. It is simply not to be missed! The panel is moderated by Dr. Hyveth Williams, director of the Doctor of Ministry program at Andrews University Seminary, who talks with a group of female pastors. The panel is comprised of Pastor Beverly Maravilla, Family Ministries La Sierra University Church; Pastor Lola Moore Johnston, creator of the Bloom Everywhere conference; and Marianne Dyrud, co-executive secretary of the Norwegian Union Conference. All of these women have really been active at changing ministry during the pandemic. Also speaking is Dr. Sandra Roberts, president of Southeastern California Conference. We also highlight the Adventist female pastors in Africa and The Sabbath Sofa project, one of my favorite adaptations of evangelism.
On October 31, we will address leading in service. This is the place where women’s work gets denigrated the most, in my opinion. If Jesus said the first will be last, we are not giving recognition to the people who serve our soup kitchens and run our orphanages. In this program, we will highlight two women who started orphanages on their own: Norma Nashed and Cynthia Prime. They surely have been ordained by God. We also talk with one of the leaders of the quilting ministry at Loma Linda University Church about leading that program in pivoting to make thousands of masks for area nursing homes. Australian Joy-Marie Butler gives the main address about her decades of work for at-risk girls in Africa, Thailand, and Papua New Guinea called, “Sex, Sanitation and the Savanna.”
During the November 7 program we will discuss health care, both as public health advocates and in the hospital industry. We hear from Pamela Townend from the South Pacific Division where they have sponsored a major public health initiative against type-two diabetes, called 10,000 Toes. And Kathy Hayes, an OBGYN, talks about the satisfaction that she gets from sewing washable menstrual pads to help impoverished girls stay in school after menarche. Amanda Maggard talks about running a Florida hospital during the pandemic.
Our last vespers, on November 14, deals with creating community, including interracial community within the church. Dr. Lori Barker is a dynamic speaker both on how to create community and on multicultural psychology. Dr. Keisha McKenzie gives tips on how to maximize a sense of community in a virtual setting. Two of the people I am looking forward to talking with the most are Reverend Bronica Martindale-Taylor who is chair of the San Bernardino Police Department’s African American Advisory Board and Melody Tan, director of Mums at the Table, an 8,000 member mothers group in the South Pacific Division.
Most years, the Association of Adventist Women names several Women of the Year. Will that be happening this year? When will the announcement be made?
We are having a virtual banquet this year on November 15 at 8 pm via Zoom. This is one time I wish it was in person because I would really like to meet some of the women, and men. It is a top-notch group. Linda Becker is in charge so I will leave the announcement to her, but it will be very soon.
Who has worked behind-the-scenes to organize this series of lectures?
Linda Becker first had the burden placed on her heart to have a series of talks about leadership. Then the board took off. Once we realized it would all be virtual, the sky was the limit. It is rare to get such high caliber women in the same room at once, especially those from Australia, Norway, the United Kingdom and South Africa.
Our board—particularly Priscilla Walters, Frances Priest, Dana Stellian, Bernie Beck, Rita Mercer and I—all had great ideas.
The AAW is indebted to the Loma Linda University Church for partnering with us to present the six vespers series. Their stressed media team has shown strong support for the AAW in the hours that they have assisted us in production of these videos and by providing an already established outlet like their vespers time slot.
What do you believe are the Association of Adventist Women’s most important and meaningful projects in 2020? How has the pandemic changed your work?
Our goals changed quite a bit in 2020. Last year I traveled to Tonga, where I was surprised to find a woman solo pastoring. She told us that she is not alone—there are many women pastoring in Papua New Guinea, the Cook Islands and more. So, we began to sleuth around. There are several women pastors in Cuba, and there have been women pastors in Peru for many years. There are many women pastors in Africa as well. In South Africa, 5 percent of Adventist pastors are female. One in central Africa manages three churches.
At the Association of Adventist Women, we feel our job is to tell the stories of these women. I have started a monthly blog, The Adventist Woman, on our website to tell these stories from around the world. We believe that once you really understand how God is using women there is no question that they are equal to men in the ministry of Jesus.
We also started the Wear Purple Campaign asking women who support the ordination of female ministers in the Adventist church, to wear purple and /or a sunflower to church on the first Sabbath of the month. You may not have seen much of this because of the pandemic, but we have found a wide groundswell of support from people who were just waiting for a way to express their support.
The Association of Adventist Women was formed as an offshoot of the Association of Adventist Forums (the parent organization of Spectrum) in 1981. How has the AAW changed in its 40 years of existence? How has it stayed the same? Do you believe the organization is still relevant?
Yes, the Association of Adventist Women came out of the Association of Adventist Forums, and then we started sending off children of our own. One of our first goals was that each union in the church would have a Women’s Ministries director. Now there is one in almost all conferences and every division. We also have pushed for women to be given leadership roles throughout the church. Now we have a woman, Dr. Ella Simmons, who has served with distinction as a General Conference vice president for 15 years. As well as Marianne Dyrud, co-executive secretary of the Norwegian Union Conference, and Dr. Sandra Roberts, President of the Southeastern California Conference, and many more.
Early on, the Association of Adventist Women started a project to better detect and mitigate child abuse in the church. This was initiated by Peggy Harris, who went on to write the North American Division’s abuse policy, Sexual Misconduct in Church Relationships.
The AAW has spawned several separate entities. Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry, chaired by Pat Habada, advocates the ordination of women to pastoral ministry and helps Adventist women throughout the world attend Seventh-day Adventist seminaries, by providing scholarships. The Adventist Women’s Coalition, whose mission is affirmative action for Adventist women both in relation to the church structure and in relation to the law of the land also began within the AAW. Under the direction of Rosemary Watts, the organization was active for 15 years urging the church toward equity for women.
What was left as AAW’s mission was to support women in ministry and to push for women’s equal ordination. Then came the 2015 General Conference. This has left us in an awkward position. How hard do we push head on against authoritarian leaders to the detriment of church unity? Or can we redefine ourselves?
AAW has not given up on our support of women in leadership, especially ministry, but we don’t want to make unnecessary conflict, so we consciously moved to a position of strength. Like almost every women’s ministry department we are focusing on leadership. But I think we take it a little further. Because we define leadership as anyone who influences another person, we believe all Christians are called to be leaders. Furthermore, because there are more females in the church—in leadership roles like parenting, Sabbath School directors, schoolteachers, and so on—we believe women are already the majority of leadership in the church. We simply want to begin recognizing it—to rename these services as ministry. This is what keeps us vital and relevant.
You are the current president of the Association of Adventist Women. When did your tenure begin? What do you hope to accomplish during your time at the helm? How long have you been involved with the AAW?
I joined the Association of Adventist Women in November of last year. The conference was my first event. The next day I went to the board meeting and volunteered that I had some extra time to devote to this organization. They decided to vote me in as vice president. It wasn’t until I accepted, that they told me there was no acting president!
It is very much a rebuilding year. We had no database of members, and the website has messages that were two years old that had not been answered. So, first of all I want to create an organization that can manage itself if I left suddenly.
Second, I think I bring a much more international flair to AAW. Not only do we want to use our prayers and support to lift our sisters in ministry in difficult locations. We also think that if everyone knew how many women pastors God is clearly blessing throughout the world it would be much harder to say women are not culturally accepted. I asked Marianne Dyrud whether women are just different in Europe than in other countries? Of course not. Cultures are different, but not the leading of the Holy Spirit.
You are a pediatrician at Loma Linda, right? How do you find time to work with the AAW?
Ah, that’s the catch. I was working until eight years ago when I got microvascular angina, an unusual, predominantly female heart disease. I can’t lift babies or hold down toddlers to look in their ears, so I am disabled. Fortunately, when I am not moving, I’m fine.
What are you enjoying about being AAW president so far? What do you find to be a particular challenge?
I love telling stories! I love finding the amazing things women are doing throughout the world. The difficult thing is that an organization like AAW can be a real time sink. I know I am learning some great skills, but I hope to get a smooth system working to share the workload. That is the only way I can assure the organization can transition easily after I am no longer leading.
The primary stated mission of the Association of Adventist Women is: “To advocate for participation of women in all leadership roles in the Seventh-day Adventist organization, congregation and communities.” How do you feel AAW has been successful in its mission?
Since we started in 1982 there has just been an explosion of women leading in the church. I don’t think anyone could hold back the tide. I don’t think we caused it, it can only be from the Holy Spirit, but women are starting to say, “My Cradle Roll class is a ministry for God and we should also be ranking leadership.”
Women are still not given an equal leadership role in the Adventist church, despite the many decades of lobbying by the AAW and many other groups and individuals. Do you think the change will ever come? When? How do you think it might happen?
I have three young adult daughters, one who seriously considered studying for the ministry. In the end she decided not to pursue that career partly because of the controversy over not ordaining women. But the issue is wider than that. My girls feel they have to ignore the issue of not allowing women’s ordination or leave the church. It is a characteristic of this age group. They have a strong sense of justice and equality. So where does that leave the Association of Adventist Women? Do we push younger women out of the church, or do we sidestep a little?
We have decided to move to champion leadership, but I think it’s not ultimately sustainable. Either the church changes or we lose most of our young adults.
I am optimistic. I may be wrong, but God has worked in tough situations before. Women don’t need men’s permission to lead. We know we are leaders; we are the majority of the church and I think eventually we will see all divisions in the church recognize and reflect that.
Photo courtesy of Nerida Taylor Bates.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
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