College Church Pursues Equality in Ministry

EMILY TILLOTSON, free-lance writer, College Place, Washington

In the shadows of the ordination services at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist church and La Sierra University Church, the Walla Walla College Church is forging a new path in their quest for gender equality.

On September 28, the WWC church hosted the first Equality in Ministry service focusing on their resolve "that the male and female pastors of our congregation have full equality in every aspect of pastoral ministry" as passed by a business meeting on May 6, 1996.

The day’s events began with a church service designed around the theme of equality. Terrie Aamodt, professor of English and history at WWC, wrote a special liturgy for the service. Ralph Martin, president of the Columbia Union Conference in Maryland, gave the morning sermon entitled "Equality: the Gospel Truth," followed by an invitation from Ernie Bursey, professor of biblical studies at WWC, to participate in the laying on of hands in the act of affirming each pastor’s call to ministry. Members of the congregation streamed forward to their pastors: Bill Knott, Leslie Bumgardner, Henning Guldhammer, Gordon Pifher, and John Cress during prayer offered by John Brunt, academic vice-president, and Helen Ward Thompson, chair of the two committees responsible for planning the service. Responses from the five pastors ended the service, and the congregation of 1,200 headed outdoors to the Sabbath dinner awaiting them.

The day’s events concluded with a symposium on Women in Ministry in North America. The symposium focused on the idea of a common credential for both men and women and answered the audience’s numerous questions concerning ordination hermeneutics. The panel participants included Ralph Martin; Pat Habada, chairperson for TEAM (Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry); Penny Miller, associate dean of the School of Nursing at Loma Linda University; and sophomore theology major, Holly Blackwelder; with Ernie Bursey as moderator.

The planning behind this service began one year ago. Following the General Conference session in Utrecht, the WWC church began searching for answers to the equality question through a series of forums and study committees. Through this process, a steering committee developed, and ultimately the church board voted on December 4, 1995, to "support the ordination of qualified women to the gospel ministry." The church then voted to request Leslie Bumgardner be approved for ordination by the Upper Columbia Conference. The church business meeting later on that evening voted overwhelming support for these two actions and sent them on to the Conference Executive Committee.

No formal response has yet been received from the Upper Columbia Conference. However, the WWC church has continued in its resolve to pursue equality in ministry. The church has requested "that the Upper Columbia Conference recognize the equality of the pastors of the Walla Walla College Church by issuing to them a common credential that does not discriminate on the basis of gender." The College church also requested that this credential become available to all pastors, conference-wide.

The Steering Committee will continue to pursue equality in ministry at the WWC church as they move into uncharted waters. Terrie Aamodt concludes, "As long as we have this ethical problem, we aren’t going to be able to do what we’re supposed to do, and that’s go to the kingdom."

First Printed in Adventist Today September/October 1996  Vol. 4 No. 5.