In this series, Adventist female pastors recently approved for ordination reflect on what women’s ordination means to them. Spectrum includes video interviews as well as their written thoughts on this affirmation by their local church conference.
To me, women's ordination means that young women who are called to ministry will no longer have to choose between pleasing God and pleasing their church community. I grew up in Berrien Springs, MI, and was blessed with wonderful bible teachers and youth pastors who mentored and encouraged me to use and develop all the gifts that God had given me. Through leading in Bible studies, week of prayer, revival meetings, I discovered a love for ministry and a sense of fulfillment that no other work could bring. As a senior in high school, I started sensing that God was calling me to pastoral ministry.
Yet I hesitated. I hesitated because I wasn't sure what my church would think of me. I didn't want to be seen as a rebel, a "liberal." And honestly, because of what my church thought, I wasn't sure what God thought of me either. As a woman, was I designed from creation to fulfill a role of subservient support? Since the Fall, was I somehow more susceptible than men to being deceived, therefore more dangerous in a leadership role? Would I need to find a pastor and marry him in order to be in pastoral ministry?
I searched the Scriptures for myself. There, I found a Savior who encouraged Mary to sit at His feet as a disciple instead of getting stuck in the kitchen, who met a woman at a well and sent her off as His first evangelist to a despised people, who chose women as the proclaimers of His resurrection in a culture where a woman's testimony wouldn't count in a court of law. There, I found an apostle who worked together with women to spread the gospel and lead house churches, who encouraged uneducated women to learn in the posture of disciples rather than interrupt with questions and twisted theories, who was working towards a dream of Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female all being one in Christ Jesus. There, I found a God who was yearning and promising to pour out God's Spirit on all flesh, young and old, slaves and free, sons and daughters, all included.
God opened the doors for me to attend La Sierra University and I found a conference that believed in my calling. Southeastern California Conference leaders had the courage to stick their necks out and recognize God's calling in women when it was risky and unpopular to do so. They realized that establishing a "separate but equal" designation was a challenge to the essence of the gospel, though perhaps a necessary stepping stone towards people recognizing what God was doing. SECC decided to "ordain-commission" all their pastors. My ordination to pastoral ministry happened on June 18, 2011, when I was "ordained-commissioned" at the Yucaipa Seventh-day Adventist Church, surrounded by a loving congregation, incredibly supportive pastoral team, and family from around the world, including my Grandfather, a retired pastor, who prayed the ordination prayer.
At the time, the Pacific Union simply segregated me from my male colleagues and affirmed that I had been "commissioned" and they had been "ordained." That was before August 19. On August 19, a group of church administrators, pastors, leaders, and regular church members voted by an overwhelming majority of 79% to ordain without regard to gender. This was made possible by another group of church leaders, the Pacific Union executive administrators, again having the courage to stick their necks out and recognize God's calling in women when it was risky and unpopular to do so. On Sept. 5, 2012, the union executive committee voted and it was official. I was "ordained."
I had already been "ordained-commissioned" by my conference back in June and the SECC executive committee had voted to give all their "ordained-commissioned" pastors "ordination" credentials on March 22. So what did the Pacific Union vote mean to me? I was pretty excited when I could honestly check "yes" on the "Are you an ordained minister?" question on the contract teaching form I recently filled out to teach a class for the first time for the School of Religion at Loma Linda University. I like the thought that I could serve at my current capacity in a different conference within the Union, though I love SECC. I'm not planning to be a conference president anytime soon, but I'm glad that door to serve would not be arbitrarily closed based on my gender.
To me, the more important question is, "What does the Pacific Union and Columbia Union vote mean for our church?" I believe this move means we are continuing to be faithful to God's call to struggle with, live up to, and proclaim present truth. It means we have moved further down the road towards no longer putting arbitrary obstacles in the way of half our church's members fully using their gifts for God's kingdom. It means my sisters who are not in pastoral ministry will be closer to recognizing their full humanity in Christ and not struggling with a God who created them as second-class citizens, requiring a brother, father, or husband for full access. It means our daughters called to prophesy will not be discouraged from answering that call by an ambivalent church.
Some have expressed concern for our church's unity and wished the Unions had waited for the General Conference. I too wish this process could have been one of consensus at every step. I wonder how much easier answering the call would have been for me if the world church at Utrecht in 1995 had been united in creating space for those who recognized God's call, regardless of gender, to follow their God-given convictions. Instead, my conference accused La Sierra University Church of rebellion when it ordained it's female pastors, some in Pacific Union felt Southeastern California Conference was rebelling when it ordained-commissioned its female pastors, and now the General Conference is implying that Pacific Union is rebelling when it votes to ordain its female pastors. In the midst of a messy process towards consensus, I see God at work. As women have been supported as pastors locally, more and more hearts and minds have been changed as they see the Spirit at work. Despite a, perhaps necessarily, messy process, I'm not worried about church unity. If Jesus said He would establish His church and the gates of hell couldn't prevail against it, I'm not sure why we're so concerned.
Our church leaders have inspired us to pray for Revival and Reformation. Amen! Sometimes a prayer like that has unforeseen consequences. Sometimes, in fact, most times, revival and reformation come from the bottom up and disturb our preconceived ideas and traditions. Joel 2:28-29 promises that in the last days God will pour out His Spirit on all people. I'm praising God that one more man-made obstacle for daughters to follow that Spirit has been removed. Let's pray for God's grace and love for each other as we honestly wrestle with God at work in us and our church community. And may the day come soon when we are no longer defined by our ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or gender, but truly are one in Christ Jesus.
—Raewyn Hankins is the lead pastor at the Victorville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Victorville, Calif.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/4766