TAKOMA PARK - The Potomac Conference of Seventh-day Adventists ordained Pranitha Fielder on Saturday, December 13 at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church, making her the first ordained Indian-American woman in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. She was born in India to Jaya and Jasmine Pilli. The family moved to Maryland when Pranitha was a child.
Pranitha Fielder is married to Kelan Fielder, a pastor at the Emmanuel-Brinklow Seventh-day Adventist Church in Ashton, Maryland. The two met as seminary students at Andrews University in Michigan.
While Pranitha Fielder's ordination was a first for Adventist women of Indian descent, it was nothing new for Sligo, a church with a long and storied history of ordaining women. In 1973, Sligo ordained Josephine Benton as an elder, and she joined the staff as an associate pastor. Benton eventually received chaplain credentials that allowed her to perform weddings, but she was not ordained as a minister during her career. That changed in July of 2012, when the Columbia Union Conference in a special constituency session voted to ordain without regard to gender. Josephine Benton received emeritus ordained minister credentials from Columbia Union president David Weigley. Benton, now 89, was in attendance for Pranitha Fielder's ordination Sabbath.
Sligo held the first ordination ceremony for women pastors in the Adventist denomination on September 23, 1995. On that day, the Sligo Church ordained Kendra Haloviak, Norma Osborn and Penny Shell.
As the service got underway, Charles Tapp, senior pastor at the Sligo Church, welcomed attendees to Pranitha's ordination, noting that Sligo is known as a church that has "propelled the rights and the ministry of women as they have received the call of God on their lives."
Dr. Terry Johnson, the staff chaplain for WGTS radio in Takoma Park offered opening remarks and prayer, after which Tapp provided a short biographical sketch of the ordinand, saying,
When I first met Pranitha, she was a student at Washington Adventist University--then Columbia Union College--studying for the pastoral ministry. Although it was apparent that she took her classroom studies very seriously, she took ministry even more so. We are made better, stronger and wiser because she is with us.
Two family members--Priyanna Pilli and Denae Fielder, sisters of Pranitha and Kelan, respectively, sang "Be Thou My Vision," accompanied by Wendell Phipps.
Following that musical number, Bill Miller, Potomac Conference president, said provided a homily in which he said,
The greatest responsibility that the church has is to recognize the calling of someone to ministry and to be a blessing and not a curse in that journey. So here we are today to celebrate what only God can do. It’s his responsibility to call; it’s our responsibility to affirm.
God has called you Pranitha, and the Church celebrates. For God’s salvation story will have a special chapter written just by you.
Next, Fielder spoke about her call to ministry that began while she was a high school student at Takoma Academy.
“I was fourteen when I knew this is what I would be doing for the rest of my life. Not too many people take a fourteen-year-old seriously. Especially when a fourteen-year-old Indian girl says, ‘I’m gonna be a pastor.’ Not too many people take that seriously,” she said, getting emotional.
"A lot of people thought it was a phase, but I can tell you standing here today that He has been sufficient,” Fielder said to applause.
"I remember losing friends in high school because I was too religious."
She acknowledged the key role the Sligo Church played in her development as a pastor. "I wouldn’t be here without this church," she said. "They supported me when no one else did. And they gave me a place to grow and minister and make mistakes."
Fighting tears, Fielder went on to praise the church's support of women in ministry.
"The reason I’m so emotional is because what this church does for women--that so often are not allowed to do what they feel God has called them to do--is incredible."
The audience broke into applause. Fielder turned to acknowledge Josephine Benton's presence in the audience.
"I counted one time how many women pastors we’ve had in the history of Sligo," Fielder said. "At that time, I think it was twelve. I daresay that most churches in any denomination cannot say that."
Fielder made fleeting references to some of the resistance she faced from those close to her. When she told a friend that she had gotten offers to work in two conferences, the friend said, “You’re really going to do this? Who’s going to marry you now?”
"Five months later, I met my husband," she said to laughter from the audience.
She said of her husband, “He believes in my call as much as he does in his own. There are times when I don’t know how I’m going to make it because of things people have said because I’m a woman in ministry. God knew I would need someone to support me and to carry me through this.”
After Fielder concluded her remarks with her husband beside her, Potomac Conference associate for pastoral ministries Sharon Cress Parker rose to the platform to offer the ordination prayer. To the audience's delight, Josephine Benton was helped onto the platform and to Fielder's side. The two women clasped hands as the platform filled up with other ordained ministers who laid their hands on Pranitha while Cress Parker prayed:
This afternoon Pranitha stands on a threshold as she transitions in her job assignment and is officially affirmed by her church of your calling to a lifetime of ministry service. Your hands, Lord, created her; Your hands, Lord, gifted her and Your hands, Lord, are here now, guiding her life. And now, Lord, we lay our hands on Pranitha and ordain her in our human recognition of her divine calling to the gospel ministry of Jesus Christ.”
Potomac Conference vice president Jorge Ramirez gave an ordination charge and Bill Miller welcomed Fielder to ministry as an ordained Gospel minister, and presented her with a certificate of ordination. Ramirez took Fielder's old credential, and handed her a new card certifying Pranitha Fielder as an ordained minister in regular standing in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Sara Devaraj, a friend of Fielder's, sang "In Christ Alone," and Fred Warfield, executive pastor at the Takoma Park Church, offered a benediction.
Both Pastors Fielder posed for photographs after the ceremony with the Pilli and Fielder families, who were in attendance.
Sligo Church member and long-time advocate of women in ministry Kay Rosburg described the mood as celebratory. She said, "It means a lot to me to have [ordinations of women] taking place at my own home church, Sligo, frequently, but I am saddened by how extra-ordinary this would be almost anywhere else besides Southern California."
Click "play" below for archival video of the service from the Sligo Church's livestream page.
Jared Wright is managing editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6494