La Sierra Church Brings Closure to Debate, Celebrates Special Ordination


La Sierra University and its University Church ordained two women to the gospel ministry on December 2, 1995. Madelynn Jones Haldeman and Halcyon Westphal Wilson, two long-time members of the La Sierra community, were ordained together in a 4:00 p.m. service that filled the University Church.

The service featured several high points in a liturgy designed by LSU Professor of Religion and Society, Charles Teel, Jr. Five different music groups, the LSU Church choir, LSU Chamber Singers, La Sierra Academy choir, Loma Linda University Church choir and LSU Brass Quintet, combined to fill the platform and choir loft. The celebratory music gave a powerful sense of grandeur to the processional with its hand-crafted liturgical banners, imported from the Sligo ordination service, that provided a colorful backdrop for the proceedings.

University President Lawrence Geraty drew extended applause when he acknowledged and affirmed Haldeman for her decades of service and ministry in the "back of the Adventist bus." He also drew applause and laughter when he made the tongue-in-cheek comment that, "We have tried to ordain our men when they are young, before they make mistakes."

Senior Pastor Dan Smith, who presented the homily, received a strong ovation when he stated, "Our staff has made this decision [to ordain] not because of pressures or demands, but because God has put it in [our hearts] to share equality together as staff members."

Pastor Wilson, herself, also drew enthusiastic applause when she spoke to the young women in attendance and looked into the future, saying, "You now belong to a church that will ordain you if you are called by God."

The ordination of the candidates also included a candle lighting ceremony where members of the LSU pastoral staff each held a candle and jointly lit Wilson's candle, and members of the LSU School of Religion did the same for Haldeman’s. The tone of the service was spiritual and joyous.

The ordinations of Wilson and Haldeman closed a process that officially began on July 7, the day after the General Conference voted against women's ordination at its world session in Utrecht. La Sierra took pains to ensure that its decision to ordain was voted at each level of local church government. Immediately following the General Conference vote, the La Sierra Church Board met July 7, 1995, recommending that the Pacific Union Conference and Southeastern California Conference authorize women's ordination by November 1, 1995. This action was supported in a church business meeting on July 15, 1995, by a vote of 108 yes and 5 no.

However, when neither the union nor conference saw fit to move ahead with this recommendation by the November date, the church called a historic business session on November 11, 1995, to determine its course of action. This meeting was attended by more than 500 people, including 348 voting members. After a worship service and brief statements from Smith and head elder Steve Blue, the meeting began under the leadership of church board chair Dr. Cliff Reeves. Microphones were provided on the floor and 31 different church members addressed the issue; 26 of the speeches from the floor were in favor of women's ordination and 5 were opposed. When the discussion ceased a secret ballot vote was taken and the decision to proceed with the December 2 service passed by a count of 275 yes to 73 no.

A La Sierra church official pointed out that the local congregation was willing to vote its convictions on an issue like this by nearly an 80 percent margin, in spite of the world church's differing position. He said, "This provides hope that the priesthood of all believers is not dead in Adventism." Many other local churches are currently considering the ordination question at this time and it appears that action will be taken on a congregation-by-congregation basis.

First Printed in Adventist Today January / February 1996  Vol. 4 No. 1.