NAD Commission Encourages, Affirms, and Advances Women

by GEORGIA HODGKIN, Immediate Past Head Elder, Loma Linda University Church

The North American Division’s President’s Commission on Women in Ministry met this summer on June 18 and 19 and again on July 17 and 18 at the General Conference headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland. North American Division (NAD) president Alfred McClure invited 25 pastors, Union Conference presidents, Adventist academics, and lay leaders from across the NAD to attend. NAD leaders set the tone of the meetings with the words encourage, affirm, and advance; they summarized the direction the commission was to take.

In June the commission reviewed its purpose in the following recommendations:

1. Recommend ways to expand the role of women in ministry. (We identified "women in ministry" as the paid women clergy.)

2. Recommend ways to recognize and deploy the gifts God has given to women.

3. Recommend ways to increase the participation of women at the decision-making levels of the church, from the local congregation to the General Conference.

4. Recommend ways to increase the participation of women in the organizational and professional levels of the church.

5. Recommend ways to affirm women in pastoral and other spiritual ministries.

Monte Sahlin, NAD ministerial secretary, gave us an overview of the NAD’s demographics. The division’s membership totals 850,000, and approximately 165,000 children attend the Sabbath Schools. Of the 4,600 churches in the NAD, only 100 of them have women pastors. Of the 10,000 local elders in the division, 1,500-2,000 are women. In contrast, between 50 percent and 60 percent of the 45,000 local church board members are women.

The commission subsequently divided into small groups for brainstorming sessions; 34 strategies emerged from the discussions. Recommendations included policy changes to eliminate gender bias, to raise awareness of the church’s affirmative action position, and to open all church offices to "ordained or commissioned" ministers.

Another recommendation was the development of a resource center for women pastors. This center would provide a professional association, electronic linkage, a newsletter, a database of job openings, a speaker’s bureau, and travel funds for continuing education. The commission outlined strategies for funding internship budgets, for mentoring, and for hiring and advancing women in ministry. We suggested ways to increase the visibility of women pastors, including inviting them to speak at camp meetings as keynote speakers for the 11:00 A.M. Sabbath services.

A significant recommendation was that the NAD hire a woman pastor as an Associate Ministerial Secretary. Finally, commissioners discussed the need for a "theology of ordination" based on intensive biblical and theological study.

In July the commission reconvened to formalize the June recommendations. It submitted a job description for the proposed Associate Ministerial Secretary for recommendation to the 1996 NAD year-end meeting. (That recommendation was not presented; the commission chairman gave only a partial report of the meetings.)

Further, the commission recommended rewriting policies to describe the functions of ordained and of commissioned ministers as being the same.

The committee also sought to encourage conferences to hire women pastors with funding which the NAD would provide. Further, it recommended that women receive employee benefits equivalent to those of men. Members also called for the appointment of a panel of theologians to research the theology of ordination.

Some observed that the commission could accomplish all of its recommendations very simply—by ordaining women pastors. With one simple vote, the committee work could have been over, and history would say that justice had finally prevailed. Harold Baptiste, commission Chair and Secretary of the NAD, reminded us, however, that Utrecht had voted, and that vote must be honored. (What exactly had Utrecht voted? Was it that the North American Division could not decide that women could be ordained as ministers for the Seventh-day Adventist world church?)

At the end of the July session the commission voted to thank President Alfred C. McClure "for his strong leadership relative to women in ministry and the appointment of this commission."

The next meeting date has not yet been set. These commission sessions, however, hold promise. The dedicated, talented, spirit-filled women who have been called to minister to us as servants of God hold the potential for unlimited contributions to the church. It is the goal of the commission to help them to realize this potential.

First Printed in Adventist Today November / December 1996  Vol. 4 No. 6.