At Issue At Issue index   Women in Ministry   Called by God Index   Previous   Next 


by Josephine Benton

Ours is a civil and not a religious government. It is 
the world's greatest government since time began. 
Let there be no innovation upon our splendid 
system wherein all men are free.

—Lulu Wightman, 1909


 Minister to Legislatures:

Lulu Wightman

Licensed minister 1897 to 1907, 1909 to 1910

Ordained minister in 1908

The ministry seemed a proper calling for a young woman, Lulu Russell, whose two older brothers were outstanding Adventist ministers and administrators: Elder E. T. Russell, president of the Central Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, and Elder K. C. Russell, first president of the Chesapeake Conference.

As a young married woman, Lulu Wightman experienced a call to evangelism. Her husband, John, consistently encouraged her. Church leaders discussed how Lulu Wightman might carry out her call.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about including this young woman in the ministry. In 1896 Elder J. W. Raymond, an established minister in the New York Conference, agreed when asked by the conference leadership to add Lulu Wightman to his evangelistic team in Cuba, New York. However, his written offer stated that while Lulu would receive a small income for her services, her husband would get none.1

Lulu promptly replied that she and her husband would be glad to join his tent company but could not afford to do so unless John Wightman could be paid for his work. He could not afford to be idle all summer, his wife pointed out; moreover, what she was offered would not board both of them.2

The previous Sunday night Lulu had launched an effort in Hornellsville, New York. John, formerly a newspaper editor, had advertised the series effectively in the local papers. Lulu and John welcomed several leading citizens to their first Sunday evening meeting. They decided to continue their effort in Hornellsville.2

Elder Raymond wrote to the conference treasurer that he was averse to Lulu's entering the ministerial work. However, in the same letter he said that he thought the conference should bear the traveling expenses of Mrs. Stowe, a minister's wife, to and from evangelistic work; he thought that was only fair, as required by the golden rule.2 That the golden rule might be applicable in the case of a husband whose wife was called to ministerial work did not seem to occur to him.

Meanwhile, Lulu Wightman preached in Hornellsville.3

At this point Elders Raymond and Stowe, with their tent company, were sent from Cuba to Hornellsville to continue the work. The Wightmans, being committed to spreading the gospel with the judgment hour message to unentered areas, moved to Gas Springs so that Lulu could begin meetings there on September 15, 1896. As a result of that series, the Wightmans could write to the Indicator that "fifteen of the best citizens here have taken a firm stand for the truth."4

The young woman whom Elder Raymond had been hesitant to see entering the ministry was blessed by God with results, and before long Elder Raymond as an ordained minister was sent to organize a 26-member company at Gas Springs, New York, the fruitage of Lulu Wightman's preaching and her husband's willing assistance. Elder Raymond reported that the members were of good courage and all seemed strong in the faith.5

During the summer of 1897 Lulu Wightman preached in an interdenominational church in Wallace. The meetings caused quite a stir in this village of 300 people. Local churches brought in an out-of-town antinomian preacher (who taught against the moral law on the grounds that faith is the means of salvation) to challenge the Adventists on the matter of the Sabbath. The Wightmans invited their conference president, Elder Place, to assist them in meeting this opposition.

At the time of the resultant debate, the interdenominational church—which held 350—was jammed with people while others stood eight to ten deep outside the windows. Excitement was intense. The Adventist presentation was well received. The Wightmans thanked God for this victory for truth and followed up the interest from the debate with energetic, effective work. A company of 14 believers was soon formed in Wallace.6

Lulu and John Wightman showed a youthful exuberance and a relish for their work. They raised part of the money for Lulu's meetings during these early years with the blessing of the conference president, who commended their work.

Elder S. M. Cobb, one of the ministers in the New York Conference, let it be known that he appreciated the work accomplished by women in ministry. In a letter to the conference president, he praised the contribution of Bible workers, who were almost exclusively women, to the overall ministry of the church. He continued with a strong defense of the one woman evangelist in the conference, Lulu Wightman, as being a suitable instrument of God to use to present the truth. He asserted that a good woman worker could accomplish as much as the best male minister in the conference.

"Look at Sr. Lulu W.'s work," he challenged.

She has accomplished more in the last two years than any minister in the state, and yet the conference has held her off at arms length, and refused to recognize her as a suitable person to present the truth: when in fact she was out of sight of the very ones that opposed her, in point of ability. (You know who I mean).

As a member of the conference executive committee, Elder Cobb evaluated three men being considered for credentials, approving two of the three. He added, "I am also in favor of giving license to Sr. Lulu Wightman to preach, and believe that there is no reason why she should not receive it." He more tentatively suggested the possibility of licensing her husband as well, depending on whether or not the ministry was the lifework to which he considered himself to be called.7

In 1897 a healthy and attractive baby girl was born to the Wightmans, and the grateful parents named her Ruth. Lulu suffered a physical setback afterward, but prayers were offered, and soon she was fully active again.

The primary function that Lulu performed in the Wightman evangelistic team can be deduced from an account given at the thirty-sixth annual business session of the New York Conference, held in Syracuse during September 1897. When the new Gas Springs Church was presented to the constituents by the conference president, Elder Place, it was stated that this "strong body" of new believers "was raised up largely through the efforts of Sister Lulu Wightman and her husband."8

The statement that the new group was raised up largely through Lulu's efforts, with her husband mentioned in a secondary way, is no reflection on the character or abilities of John Wightman. He possessed among other gifts a special talent for preparing promotional material about the meetings and on doctrinal subjects and getting it into the newspapers. He had been a city editor of daily papers and a contributor to Sunday journals. His success as a writer continued throughout his wife's and his own ministry. 

In September 1897 Lulu Wightman was voted a ministerial license for the first time, at the same official meeting in which the Gas Springs company was accepted into the conference. John Wightman did not receive a license.

In November Mrs. Wightman began preaching in the village of Avoca. Throughout the series attendance was so high that every night, except one when the weather was particularly bad, from 50 to 100 people were unable to enter even for standing room.

Avoca was three miles from Wallace, where Lulu and John Wightman had formed a company of 14. Lulu continued devoting part of her energy to Wallace, where she conducted Sabbath services. She felt the spirit of the Lord, and the number attending on Sabbath increased to 42.

A Presbyterian minister who heard Lulu Wightman preach, Elder S. W. Pratt, wrote a letter to John Wightman objecting on Biblical grounds to a woman's being in the pulpit. In his reply Mr. Wightman looked at the circumstances under which 1 Corinthians 14:34—the verse to which the minister alluded—was written, noting the confusion that existed in the church at Corinth. To correct this abuse, Paul wrote particular recommendations for that time and place.

John Wightman went on to state that the Biblical essence of the male/female relationship is equality. Men and women in God's sight are equal, each in the sphere ordained by God. As for man's sphere, he was given "the rulership" (1 Timothy 2:12), so that women were not to usurp authority over men in teaching and ruling the church. John Wightman said that he had no problem with this principle. He did not find his wife taking authority over him or church leadership.

He then asked the minister why, considering his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 14:34, were women allowed to speak in his own Presbyterian churches? John Wightman questioned the consistency of the attack on his wife's preaching while the good Presbyterian women were allowed to testify in church to the goodness and mercy of God.

Returning to a scriptural basis for his argument, Brother Wightman called attention to the Apostle Paul's instructions concerning the dress of women who pray and prophesy in public (1 Cor. 11:5, 6, 13), evidence that women did both prophesy and pray in meetings. He pointed out the godly ministering women mentioned by Paul in Rom. 16:1-15. He noted that Priscilla seems to have instructed Apollos (Acts 18:24-26), and that Philip had four daughters who prophesied (Acts 21:9). He cited Acts 2:17, 18, where Joel's prophecy of the pouring out of the Spirit with no discrimination as to sex is quoted.

Obviously this matter of women in ministry was a subject to which John Wightman had given careful study. He celebrated the conversion of men and women to Christ through the preaching of women.

He concluded his letter by observing that at a time when ministers in the sacred desk—men receiving up to $50,000 a year in salary—were failing to cry aloud to show people their sins and were neglecting to point to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world as the true remedy, it seemed high time for women to begin to preach the Word. "The fact that the Lord's presence infuses such dedicated women with power and might," John Wightman declared, "may be perceived by all who are not looking through smoked glass."9

Although people were begging her and her husband to remain, Mrs. Wightman wrote to the conference president requesting him to send someone to Wallace to follow up the interest that her meetings had created so that she could move on. She felt it best to hold meetings elsewhere in the general area while returning occasionally. An ordained minister was needed to establish the new church, anyway. Mrs. Wightman also wrote that she did not want the people "to think too much" of her, showing awareness of the perennial problem of idolization of evangelists.10

Soon four more people in Avoca accepted the Bible truths taught by Mrs. Wightman and were warmly welcomed into the Adventist fellowship. Two of them were retired farmers of means, well known in the community.

In 1899 an invitation from the Corning Company arrived with the force of a Macedonian call. The members implored Mrs. Wightman to come help them reach the people of their community with the gospel; apparently they believed the time was right. She asked to be excused because she was already working in two locations, Avoca and Wallace; accomplishing anything further at the time seemed out of the question.

Another letter came, more urgent than the first. The Corning believers would not accept "no" as the response. As the Holy Spirit impressed Lulu Wightman that she should go for a short time, she agreed to spend from Friday through Monday morning at Corning. She delivered four sermons during that brief period; the hall was crowded for each, and people packed in even around the pulpit.

In attendance were individuals whom local members had tried unsuccessfully to attract to their previous meetings. It was evident that the Sprit was at work.

Mrs. Wightman's productive trip to Corning was made without cost to the conference. Lulu took up a collection that covered expenses plus $3.02 that she sent in with her report.

Lulu urged the conference administration to send a minister to Corning to follow up the interest that her meetings had generated. She did not want to see the intelligent, interested converts drift away.11

To care for little Ruth, Mrs. Wightman sometimes employed a resident of the town where she was living. She preferred, however, having a church member to travel with the family, giving her services in return for board and traveling expenses.

To the village of North Cohocton, to Brocton, and then to Sheridan, Lulu Wightman moved without complaint. "The last warning message" must be proclaimed everywhere.

Mrs. Wightman was next sent to Silver Creek, where she arranged to hold the effort in a commodious, carpeted hall in the center of town with heat and lights furnished for only two dollars a week.12

She asked church members in the conference to send their church papers and tracts for her husband to distribute free as he sold religious literature. The budget obviously was limited.

Current events provided evangelists with powerful illustrations as they preached on religious intolerance and persecution predicted for earth's end time. Two Seventh-day Adventists in Maryland were imprisoned about this time for working in the cornfield on Sunday.13

During the conference session of 1898, the Wallace Company that had been established and nurtured by the Wightmans was recognized officially as a church with 14 members. During the business proceedings Lulu Wightman was again designated a licensed minister.

At Silver Creek the work flourished under Lulu Wightman's direction. Two men and two women began observing the seventh-day Sabbath while others seriously considered how they should respond to the new truths.14

At this point several ministers of other denominations took on the combative mood characteristic of the period. On Sunday evening one of the ministers preached against the Sabbath at a combined meeting of the local churches in the community's largest sanctuary. Lulu Wightman attended the meeting. She was permitted to announce—also in the mode of that era—that she would review the discourse the following evening.

The hall the Adventists secured was crowded before the meeting began, and many were turned away. Once again the words of Bible truth as presented by Mrs. Wightman made a deep impression on the listeners. Afterward it was possible for her to resume her series, although she knew that preaching on "The State of the Dead" would draw further vigorous opposition. In the midst of this theological give-and-take, people accepted the Biblical teachings of the Adventists and changed their lifestyles accordingly. It was the consensus that Adventist Biblical teachings had gained another decisive victory.

The Wightmans moved to Geneva, a city of 12,000 in which Seventh-day Adventists had previously made little impact. They began making careful preparation for the anticipated effort by means of extensive newspaper and handbill advertising, John's forte.

One of the wealthiest and most influential merchants in Geneva provided space in a large store building in the heart of the city for two weeks free, and after that for a nominal rent.

Gas lights and steam heat in the auditorium made listeners comfortable. The seating capacity was 90. The Wightmans were grateful to the businessman and to God, for they found that the rent for other store buildings in the city ran from 75 to 100 dollars per month. The Geneva Opera House manager provided an organ for the series.

Nightly meetings began March 17, 1899. Attendance was not large at first but gradually increased. The Wightmans found rooms on the ground floor of a centrally located apartment house, a suitable place to receive interested people. Brother Erb, a canvasser, helped with the visitation in the mornings and sold from four to eight dollars worth of books daily in the afternoons. Lulu Wightman and her assistants were joyful to be sowing the seeds of salvation, trusting God to bring an appropriate harvest.

While in Geneva, Mrs. Wightman received letters from two women who had attended her meetings in Angola. They both said that they had accepted the truth and had joyfully begun keeping the Sabbath.15

A handbill prepared for Lulu Wightman's evangelizing during 1901 demonstrates one means that John Wightman used to draw people to the meetings.16

In 1903 John Wightman was voted a ministerial license for the first time. Lulu Wightman for the seventh year was recognized as a licensed minister.

Together John and Lulu held an effort in Eden beginning on December 8, 1903. A blizzard replete with deep snow, freezing cold, and biting winds prevented people from coming out at all for a week. After that the Wightmans began again. A few attended, and the evangelists worked patiently hoping gradually to gain a better foothold. They prayed the Lord would lead souls in that area to look upon the Eden of eternity as a far better place in which to dwell than Eden, Erie County, New York. The work in Eden was difficult. People resisted taking a stand for the truth.

When a member, Edwin R. Darling, aged 52, died, Lulu Wightman conducted the funeral. She wrote the obituary, delivered the funeral discourse, and was assisted in the service by Elder J. W. Raymond.17

The Wightmans moved to Avon in 1904 to evangelize and hold worship services. At one of the Sabbath services, when Lulu Wightman asked who of those present had decided to accept the truth fully and to keep the Sabbath, nine people rose to their feet in assent. Lulu and her husband gave thanks for each one.

A leading businessman in Avon who up to that time had not been a praying, Bible-studying Christian attended the meetings regularly, purchased a Bible, and set to work studying the prophecies of Daniel and Revelation.

The conference president, Elder S. H. Lane, bought a large tent for 71 dollars for the Wightmans to use in their efforts; they liked it and found it easy to pitch.

The next tent pitching took place at the foot of beautiful lake Conesus. Unlike the blizzard that greeted the Wightmans when they started their December series in Eden, perfect weather accompanied the opening of their effort in Lakeville on Friday, June 24, 1904. Fifty people attended that night, and on Sunday evening the attendance swelled to 100.

A new and formidable challenge was posed when for three nights the Wightmans found themselves in face-to-face confrontation with a spiritualist medium. The attendance grew very large. God saw the Wightmans through this crisis victoriously.

In place after place the Wightmans left behind them a new company or church where none had existed before their coming. On August 21 a church with a membership of 14 was organized at Avon, where they had previously held meetings.

On September 2, 1904, about a month before the New York Conference proceedings at which credentialing decisions would be determined and workers' salaries audited, John Wightman wrote to Elder S. H. Lane, the conference president. In the letter John pointed out that Lulu's work had been "considered by three or four former committees as being that of an ordained minister unquestionably."18

He specifically referred to the 1901 New York Conference meeting in Oswego, at which it had been determined to set Lulu's salary "as near the `ordained' rate as possible." At that meeting Elder Underwood and others held the view that the ordination of an effective woman minister would not be inappropriate. Elder Underwood's status was comparable to that of an immediate past union president.19 However, those who objected to ordaining Lulu Wightman prevailed. In all the discussions, no question appears to have been raised concerning Lulu's ability to do the work of ministry.

John's letter did not affect his wife's credentialing. However, it documents the 1901 discussion concerning the possibility of ordaining Lulu Wightman to the ministry.19

About the time that John Wightman wrote the letter supporting his wife's fitness to be ordained to the ministry, Elder T. E. Bowen prepared a chart summarizing the number of sermons, Bible readings, families visited, baptisms, and other services or accomplishments for each of the ministers and Bible workers in the New York Conference.20

Although there is a row of figures after each minister's name, under the column for "Added to Church" Elder Bowen has put a bracket and given one total for the two Wightmans. That number is 27, and significantly, he puts it on Lulu Wightman's line and circles it. Elder Bowen appreciated the fruitfulness of the Wightmans' work and considered Lulu the leading evangelist on the team.

The Wightmans moved from New York State to Reno, Nevada, which formed part of the California Conference. In the Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook for 1908, Lulu Wightman is listed as an ordained minister of the California Conference, as is her husband, John Wightman. Just as no official records are found today of the 1901 meeting considering Lulu's possible ordination—the only account occurring in her husband's letter—likewise no official records seem to exist of a discussion or action underlying this listing. Nevertheless, given the background of the discussion of ordination for Mrs. Wightman in the New York Conference, it seems possible that the California Conference may have invited the Wightmans with the understanding that both would be ordained ministers and may have turned in their names thus to the Yearbook, afterward being discouraged by church leadership from continuing Mrs. Wightman in that status.

As their ministry progressed, the Wightmans became much concerned about the religious liberty thrust of the Adventist movement. Back at Angola around 1898, Lulu Wightman had preached to a receptive audience on the subject of "Church and State in the United States." As she studied and developed her presentations, she was a sought-after speaker on religious liberty issues.

On February 28, 1909, Lulu Wightman addressed a capacity crowd in a public auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on the subject of religious liberty. Many congressmen and government officials were present. Since the Wightmans had recently accepted invitations to minister in the Central Union Conference, this meeting was in their territory. Sunday baseball was the hot issue that gave religious liberty leaders an entrée just then. Both Lulu Wightman and her brother, Elder E. T. Russell, made powerful presentations. The Nebraska State Journal carried an article of more than 20 column inches reporting the event.

Mrs. Wightman stressed principles characterizing the government of the United States. She cited cases in which courts had reversed decrees that the church had set up for control of Sunday entertainments. Religious legislation, she pointed out, "is not allowable in our state and national legislatures" by virtue of well established practice in this nation. She wrapped things up with an illustration and a patriotic appeal.

Ours is a civil and not a religious government. It is the world's greatest government since time began. A gentleman giving a toast at a grand diplomatic dinner in Paris said: "Here's to the United States of America. Bounded on the north by the aurora borealis, on the south by the procession of the equinoxes, on the east by primeval chaos, and on the west by the day of judgment." Nothing short of the day of judgment can produce a better and a grander government. Let us take no new steps. Let there be no innovation upon our splendid system wherein all men are free.21

Later in 1909, the House of Representatives for the state of Missouri invited Lulu Wightman to address them in their chamber on the topic, "The Rise of Religious Liberty in the United States." John Wightman wrote, "I believe this action upon the part of the Missouri legislature is unprecedented in the history of our people."22

Clearly Lulu Wightman possessed extraordinary ability to address large crowds; both she and her husband could reach officials of high status and responsibility.

Along with the increasing religious liberty emphasis, Mrs. Wightman did not slight her customary evangelistic work. In Kansas City, Missouri, she conducted a successful series during 1909-1910. For the Sunday evening lectures, which she started early in the winter, the attendance was encouraging from the beginning. After a time the interest was great enough that Mrs. Wightman decided to hold meetings every night.

This intensive part of the series ran for two weeks starting March 6. The last night about 400 were present, and 75 to 100 more could not enter even for standing room. Thirteen adults had accepted the truths presented when the series closed, and during the following month four others showed a strong interest.23

About this time the Wightmans came to differ seriously with the denomination on the issue of religious liberty. The way the Wightmans understood various statements that Ellen G. White had made over a period of time caused them to believe that she was changing positions on religious liberty issues. While Lulu and John Wightman seemed to fit admirably in their roles as denominational evangelists, historian Bert Haloviak wrote that "Tragically, the Wightmans would come to a point where they no longer felt comfortable within the ministry and membership of the Seventh-day Adventist Church."24

"Mrs. Lulu Wightman provided . . . tangible evidence of her `call' to gospel ministry," Bert Haloviak observed. "Indeed, the results from her evangelism would rank her not only as the most outstanding evangelist in New York State during the time, but among the most successful within the denomination for any time period."25

Summarizing the fruits of her ministry,

Between 1896 and 1905, Mrs. Wightman raised up churches in Hornellsville, Gas Springs, Wallace, Silver Creek, Geneva, Angola, Gorham, Fredonia, Avoca, Rushville, Canandaigua, and Penn Yan. After her husband was licensed in 1903, they jointly established churches in Avon, Lakeville, Hemlock, South Livonia and Bath.25

From village to town to city, from tent to legislative hall to church, Lulu Wightman and her husband communicated the good news of salvation in Christ and the distinctive teachings of Adventism with tremendous energy and dedication. How many people will enjoy the kingdom of heaven because of their ministry only eternity can reveal.



1  Letter from J. W. Raymond, Cuba, Allegany Co., N.Y., to P. Hinne, June 16, 1896. (See Appendix A, 3.1.)

2  Elder J. W. Raymond quoted Lulu Wightman's letter to him in a letter that he wrote to Bro. Hinne [1896]. (See Appendix A, 3.2.)

3  John S. and Lulu Wightman, "Hornellsville," New York Indicator (August 12, 1896). (See Appendix A, 3.3.) Much of the material for this chapter was gleaned from the church paper the New York Indicator and correspondence from the New York Conference, both available in the General Conference Archives. This did not seem a particularly promising location for an effort. No Seventh-day Adventists lived there to help with the meetings, and the residents appeared rather apathetic religiously. Nevertheless, Lulu celebrated the good news of the gospel and set forth the Adventist world view while her husband publicized the effort. As weeks passed the attendance grew instead of dropping off until people were thronging into the hall. Three in attendance started keeping the Sabbath, while others showed interest.

4  Indicator (Nov. 4, 1896). They repeatedly demonstrated their ability to attract cultured, educated people to Adventism.

5  Indicator (Dec. 30, 1896).

6  Indicator (July 21 and 28, 1897).

7  Letter from Elder S. M. Cobb, Lockport, N.Y., to Elder A. E. Place, Rome, N.Y., August 6, 1897.

8  Indicator (October 6, 1897).

9  Letter from John S. Wightman, Avoca, N.Y., to S. W. Pratt, Campbell, N.Y., Dec. 15, 1897.

10  Letter from Mrs. Lulu Wightman, Wallace, N.Y., to Eld. A. E. Place, Rome, N.Y., Jan..31, 1898.

11  Letter from Mrs. Lulu Wightman, Wallace, N.Y., to Eld. A. E. Place, Feb. 7, 1898.

12  Indicator (Oct. 12, 1898). (See Appendix A, 3.4.)

13  A. E. Place, "In Jail with My Brethren," Indicator (Dec. 14, 1898). Lulu Wightman no doubt called attention, as did her fellow evangelists, to the Sunday laws being enforced or considered around the nation.

14  Lulu Wightman, "Silver Creek," Indicator (Nov. 16, 1898). (See Appendix A, 3.5.)

15  Indicator (May 3, 1899). God was using Lulu's preaching to bless people even after she had progressed to a new location.

16  Handbill printed by Ontario Repository-Messenger Print, Canandaigua, N.Y., 1901. (General Conference Archives.) See last page of this chapter. This type of advertising, used successfully by many Seventh-day Adventist evangelists, brought curious people out to learn what the Bible teaches regarding the Sabbath.

17  Indicator (Apr. 27, 1904).

18  Bert Haloviak, "Route to the Ordination of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Two Paths," March 18, 1985, unpublished paper.

19  Bert Haloviak, "Route to the Ordination of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church: Two Paths," March 18, 1985, unpublished paper.

20  Chart made in 1904 by Elder T. E. Bowen of the New York Conference. Available in the General Conference Archives. Along one side are Elder Bowen's handwritten comments, "Thirty-four of the 65 added [are] the result of two licensed Ministers and one Bible Worker leaving 26 as the result of 10 workers for 1 year." From what follows it is clear that the two licensed ministers to whom he referred were the Wightmans.

21  "Religious Liberty Meeting," Nebraska State Journal, March 1, 1909, p, 3. (See Appendix A, 3.7.)

22  John S. Wightman, "Sunday Legislation Defeated," Missouri Workers' Record (April 28, 1909).

23  Jas. Cochran, "Revival Meetings In Kansas City, Mo.," Advent Review and Sabbath Herald 87 (April 7, 1910): 16.

24  Haloviak, p. 14.

25  Hakoviak, p. 10.

To Top   At Issue index   Women in Ministry   Called by God Index   Previous   Next