California Churches Move Ahead on Ordination

Conference’s Members Still Divided


Last December, two Adventist churches in Southern California ordained women pastors on their staffs. Now, a third California church, the Garden Grove/Irvine church, has ordained a woman minister, and a fourth, the Loma Linda University Church, has moved in that direction. However, on this issue, the ethnically diverse Southeastern California Conference still reflects the differing views of the world church.

Garden Grove Ordination

The Garden Grove/Irvine congregation of 1,200 members ordained its two associate pastors, Margo Pitrone and Jared Fulton, on Sabbath, July 6. Margo Pitrone holds a B.S. in social work, and a B.A. in religion and psychology, and completed her M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary. Over the past 10 years she served in several pastoral positions, primarily in San Diego. At Garden Grove her duties include administration, care and nurture.

Jared Fulton received a B.A. in theology from Loma Linda University, Riverside campus, and he has served for seven years as academy dean of men and youth pastor—a role he now fills at Garden Grove.

The Garden Grove service, attended by over 200 members and friends, contrasted with recent services held at the Sligo and La Sierra churches in its informality and casual tone, heavily involving family and friends of the ordinands. Some 30 ministers from several conferences participated in the ordination prayer.

The lead story in the Los Angeles Times weekly religion section (July 6) featured the Garden Grove ordination. Two Los Angeles television news teams covered the service.

The primary impetus for this ordination was Duff Gorle, senior pastor at Garden Grove. He surveyed his church, with 80 percent favoring ordination of the associate pastors. However the pastor’s initiative survived a very close vote of the church board in mid-June.

Loma Linda University Church

In a similar move, the Loma Linda University Church, the largest Adventist congregation in the United States, voted 2-1 in a business meeting on June 17 to accept a revolutionary plan for educating and preparing for ordination all its unordained ministers, both men and women. A University Church pastoral education committee will supervise an on-the-job educational program for its full-time and part-time ministers (broadly defined to include social work, music, etc.), culminating in ordination.

As Adventist Today reported in March/April, the "Ministry at Loma Linda University Church" plan is both gender inclusive and congregation based. William Loveless, senior pastor and architect of the plan, which had undergone eight revisions, argued at the meeting that the ordination of women was not a moral issue, inferring that it was primarily a matter of ecclesiastical organization and local culture. Loveless stated that in such cases where the ordination of women is compatible with cultural values, the denomination should simply "grow up." Loveless characterized the plan as an example of "healthy congregationalism."

During the open discussion, the number of those speaking in support and in opposition were about equally divided. Supporters emphasized the need to affirm the role of women, that this action would not be rebellion but simply a return to a situation that was more characteristic of the early Adventist church, and that it was "high time," in the words of one speaker, for action—"Let’s just do it!" Those in opposition argued that endorsement of the plan would be tantamount to an open rejection of the decision of the General Conference at Utrecht and of "biblical authority." Further, a yes vote would be divisive and would create a precedent that would sow the seeds of schism.

The local conference officers were briefed on the church’s plan, but no permission was sought. Loveless emphasized that while the conference officers did not and could not approve a document contemplating the ordination of women to ministry, the Loma Linda church was "not going against their [conference officials’] wishes." The conference’s ministerial director is invited to serve on the congregation’s pastoral education committee.

Opinions of Southeastern’s Ethnic Groups

These two largely Anglo congregations are not typical of the conference as a whole. In May, several of the conference’s Gender Inclusiveness Commission members met with four ethnic pastors’ caucus groups and found great diversity among them. While the Anglo pastors appeared to be almost wholly in favor of women being ordained, the 20 Asian pastors affirmed (5-1) the world church’s ban on women’s ordination. The African-American pastors appeared almost as favorable as their white colleagues, but showed none of the cynicism displayed by some white pastors. The Latino pastors were not unified on the issue.

First Printed in Adventist Today July / August 1996  Vol. 4 No. 4.