Three Communities, Six Women, One Spirit: Celebrating 20 Years of Women's Ordination

Twenty years have passed since the first Seventh-day Adventist women were ordained to gospel ministry.

In 1995, the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists brought a measure to the General Conference Session, held in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The request from the North American Division was to adopt the following provisions concerning ordination:

“The General Conference vests in each division the right to authorize the ordination of individuals within its territory in harmony with established policies. In addition, where circumstances do not render it inadvisable, a division may authorize the ordination of qualified individuals without regard to gender. In divisions where the division executive committees take specific actions approving the ordination of women to the gospel ministry, women may be ordained to serve in those divisions.”

By a large margin, the General Conference voted against the request of the North American Division. Only weeks later, six women in three communities were ordained by their local congregations. They were the first women to be ordained as ministers in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.

On September 23, 1995, the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland, under the leadership of Rudy Torres, held the first ordination service of female ministers: Kendra Haloviak, Norma Osborn and Penny Shell. In Southern Caliofornia on December 2, 1995, the La Sierra University Church under Dan Smith, ordained Madelynn Haldeman and Halcyon Wilson, and the head elder and leaders of the Victoria Seventh-day Adventist Church ordained Sheryll Prinz-McMillan, who was that congregation's sole pastor, on the same day.

Twenty years after those events, on Saturday, December 5, 2015, five of those six women were invited to a 20th Anniversary Celebration, held at the La Sierra University Church. Madelynn Haldeman, the sixth of the ordinands, passed away in 2005, and was represented by her daughter Kimberly.

The anniversary service took place at 2:30 on Saturday afternoon, and was hosted by La Sierra University Church Senior Pastor Chris Oberg, and Vaughn Nelson, Pastor for Nurture and Discipleship at La Sierra. Oberg welcomed those who came to celebrate and remember, and offered an opening prayer. "We remember six women from three communities and one Spirit that did this all," she prayed.

La Sierra University President Emeritus Dr. Larry Geraty provided a brief historical sketch of what transpired in 1995, and what has taken place in the Adventist Church with regards to ordination since. “As we know from the very beginning of the Adventist Church, God has called women to ministry and they have responded unselfishly and admirably, but without appropriate male recognition,” Geraty said.

Geraty traced the roots of the celebration back 42 years to Camp Mohaven in Ohio, “when a denominationally-appointed committee decided in 1973 after thorough study that there was no biblical or theological reason for excluding women from the ordained ministry.”

The year before Movahven, Josephine Benton became the first woman elder to be ordained at the Brotherhood Church in Washington D.C. Benton became associate pastor at the Sligo Seventh-day Adventist Church in 1975.

After several disappointments at General Conference Sessions, after many women had successfully demonstrated their call to pastoral ministry, “it became clear that the Lumbering Giant was not going to respond to the leading of the Spirit, it was left to local congregations to lead the way," Geraty said.

Following Geraty's remarks, Pastors Oberg and Nelson led a conversation with the five remaining ordination pioneers in which they shared their stories. Oberg asked the ladies to share one word summaries to describe their experiences 20 years before.

Norma Osborn: “Blessing.” Kendra Haloviak Valentine: “If it’s the service…” Chris Oberg: (Laughing over the lack of brevity) “You can’t do it…” Kendra Haloviak Valentine: “Glorious!” “For the service, not for the 20 years since.” Penny Shell: “Fruitful.” Halcyon Wilson: “Scary.” Sheryll Prinz-McMillan: “Full.”

“Do you have more?” Oberg asked.

Norma Osborn: “Empowering.”

Halcyon Wilson: “Exciting.” Penny Shell: “Holy.” Sheryll Prinz McMillan: “Affirming.” Halcyon Wilson: “We need to do more.” Kendra Haloviak Valentine: “True to our heritage.”

The conversation also included accounts some of the uglier moments. Nelson asked the ordinands to engage in truth telling concerning threats and violent acts that accompanied the 1995 ordinations. Halcyon Wilson uncomfortably recalled a car window smashed by a brick with a note attached. Sheryll McMillan stated that she was graciously spared the ugliness. For her, the experience was affirming and celebratory.

Ultimately, the conversation was one of appreciation, commemoration, and hope.

Following the dialogue, two young Adventist pastors responded: Kyle Dever and Chelle Webster shared their experiences, noting the struggles they've had with a denomination that continues to refuse to treat women as equals, and paid tribute to the women who have gone ahead, paving the way, and creating opportunities for new generations of women pastors.

After that, audience members were given time to share their appreciation, their remembrances, and their affirmation.

Closing, Chris Oberg and Vaughn Nelson led the congregation in a liturgical reading of thanksgiving:

ONE: In hearing these sacred stories from our collective history, we are reminded that ALL: We have nothing to fear for the future, except as we shall forget the way the Lord has led us in our past. ONE: And so, for the ways God has led us in our past—for the way God has led us through Hallie, Penny, Norma, Sheryll, Kendra, and Madelynn— ALL: Thanks be to God! ONE: For courageous women who listened well to the Spirit’s call past a cacophony of naysayers and opposition— ALL: Thanks be to God! ONE: For faithful men who used their power and privilege to do justice, and who walked humbly with the Spirit— ALL: Thanks be to God! ONE: For the countless subsequent ministries of healing, upbuilding, and instruction made possible by the faithfulness of these women and men— ALL: Thanks be to God!

Once again, banners depicting the seven churches of Revelation stood on the platform—the same banners that had been used at the 1995 ordination service at Sligo, and in the February 2013 ordinations of Ginger Hanks Harwood, Yami Bazan, and Larry Geraty (who in the 1990s turned in his credentials in protest). Kendra Haloviak was also honored at that 2013 event for her years of service as an ordained minister and professor, whose credentials the denomination has refused to recognize.

NOTE: The service was recorded on video, but some portions of the audieo were corrupted. The video is being re-mastered, and will be shared here when completed. Stay tuned!

Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7239
1 Like

And where are the kind of brave leaders who forged the way? We need to not just celebrate these past victories, we must rekindle the spirit that drove them. What a bittersweet event.

2 Likes

And so the drive toward congregationalism continues. “The lumbering giant” is mocked, while these congregations and “leaders” continue their careers under the protection and financial support of the “The lumbering giant”. They mock the vote of the majority of those empowered to make the decisions for God’s Church. It is simple dishonesty.

2 Likes

I find it sad that some are celebrating the defiance of a few. The will of the body at Utrecht was clear, just as it was in subsequent votes. It is because of this rebellion by a few malcontents that we continue to experience this thorn in the flesh 20 years later.

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Question: Is it ever possible for the GC in Session to vote something that defies the will of God as interpreted by a large percentage of church members from one part of the world? Is it really God’s will that a majority vote of a GC session override the theological and moral convictions of a minority? If the theology and practice of the church is decided only by such a vote, how does that square with the early church which tolerated enormous theological diversity and had to yield to the cultural practices of those outside Jerusalem who did not observe the Judaism that the leadership demanded? Always characterizing those who disagree with the Session’s decision as “rebels” who are frustrating the unity of the Church sought by the Holy Spirit may itself be a frustration of the Spirit.

13 Likes

HOW do we know that these persons are serving behind a Pulpit and in Positions of Leadership against the Will of God?
No one that I have heard about had a Dream or a Vision.
All this Nay Saying, and Booing seems to be coming by the Will Of Man.
NOT the Will of God.

7 Likes

Pastor Londis, I’m always pleased to read the same strong convictions from you that I heard many Sabbaths while growing up as a member of your congregation. May God continue to bless you.

Birder, I’ve reached the conclusion that you show more respect to the Peregrine Falcon that takes the life of a Snowy Egret than a fellow human who treasures his own sincere convictions more so than yours. You would communicate words of awe about the one, yet you speak evil of the other. Surely God would see things differently. I’d say your 40-some years of pursuing beauty through binoculars has tarnished your appreciation of the beauty of the human soul and the creature for whom Jesus died.

4 Likes

How true someone of WO the Will of God died from their boasting of Nay and Boong whose merely laid an egg crackles as if the Rooster laid an asteroid. Ah! What tragic! What perilous pain! On being religious but not righteous. The question on the Seventh-day Adventist General Conference relationship between religious definitions of right and wrong and the ethical concepts of good and evil. Is it a dilemma? Is a thing good because G0D says it is good, or does G0D say it is good because it is good? Has the GC President and his Bishops not cautious that in their dedication to obedience to the letter of the law they lose sight of its spirit of “holiness”. Does the GC lays claim to being Sabbath observant but is a knave in its ethical and moral life. The realm of ethics exists independently from religion of religiously devout, but who are “just not good people”, as well as with those who are ethically exemplary but not religiously observant. Can a derelict be a good person but not righteous the not holier than thou child of God if he is not religiously observant? Or, alternatively, can the GC President and his Bishops be religiously Sabbath observant, and yet not be a good person? On being religious but righteous being the pain holier than thou children standards of GC creation?

1 Like

Congratulations, Elder Shirley Ponder. Hope to see full coverage of her ordination at Loma Linda University Church at Spectrum.

May God richly bless your ministry. Thank you for responding to the Spirit’s call and for dedicating your life to the ministry.

2 Likes

Congratulations ladies on your pioneering spirit. May you continue to inspire many others.

The General Conference is made up of believers who are imperfect human beings…just like everyone else. This conference is not the voice of God on earth. Some decisions are correct and some are incorrect…many decisions may need to be reviewed and updated. We do “see through a glass darkly” and need to be aware of this.

Some of us have chosen to minister in non-SDA environments in order to focus on the gospel commission instead of endless arguments and conflict. We “pioneer” in a different way. Rene Gale

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Well, we can say a good bit of progress has been made in the multitude of Unions and conferences that have decided to go with their communal convictions and ordain women to the gospel ministry as is evidenced by the fruit of their ministry. It seems we are destine to reach acceptance of WO through small steps, and that is ok. They are still steps forward.

2 Likes

We are seeing God’s reflection and fight against misogyny in these stories of Women called to headship by God. You may call it rebellion and congregationalism, but in essence doing so calls God on the carpet for something we humans value - male headship. The slam dunk against any gender discrimination is simply looking at what God does. What he does is call women to every calling including headship. What he does is move regardless of policy vote. What he does is indiscriminate on gender, race, and age. It is good that some are learning this…