Southeastern California Conference Supports Women in Ministry with Ordination Initiative
On October 21, 1999, the Executive Committee of Southeastern California Conference (SECC) unanimously voted to affirm several recommendations1 brought by Lynn Mallery, SECC president and the Gender Inclusiveness Commission (GIC). This Event may be of great significance to furthering the progress toward fully including women in the call of Adventist ministry.
The recommendations came as a result of the work of the GIC. Commissioned by the Conference to formulate recommendations and implementation strategies, the GIC broke into two working groups consisting of an education sub-committee and a policy sub-committee. Seven SECC Executive Committee members served as part of the GIC to increase communication links between the Conference and the Commission group.
"This is definitely a positive step toward progress, but I am waiting to see how the Conference will implement these recommendations," said Penny Miller, PhD, RN, faculty member in the School of Nursing at Loma Linda University. Dr. Miller served as chair of the GIC and is a member of the Executive Committee for SECC. "It is good to see officials from the conference taking a leading role in this process."
Dr. Miller said she is encouraged by the action taken by the Conference in moving the efforts of gender inclusiveness forward in the Adventist church at large. Several congregations in the SECC have, in recent years, taken the initiative to ordain pastors to a ministry at the local-church level. The executive committee became concerned about the "lack of uniformity in the criteria being applied to candidates and to the ceremony itself," according to recent statements made by the SECC.
When asked to comment about the October 21 vote Mallery stated, "This is a step to bring equality in our conference and that is the limit we feel we can achieve at this time."
One of the two pastors at the Loma Linda University Church applying for conference ordination is Jennifer Scott. Like Miller, Scott said she is encouraged by the current action being taken by the Southeastern California Conference.
"It's wonderful to have the local church involved," observes Scott. "This conference has been supportive in the past of equality issues and is continuing that effort."
Southeastern California Conference officials confirmed that although Thomas J. Mostert Jr., president of the Pacific Union Conference, was not present for the SECC Executive Committee meeting on October 21, he has been in communication with Mallery and is aware of the actions taken. On the topic of Union involvement, the SECC released a statement which recognized "that it does not have the authority to ordain pastors for world service without the approval of the Pacific Union Conference and the North American Division."
Although some speculate about the actual effectiveness of the initiatives, the education action steps set forth by the GIC may make a difference in implementations. Some of the education action steps include: making sure all new hires agree with and support Conference position regarding gender inclusiveness, providing all new workers with Conference gender position papers, providing samples of appropriate ordination services for local church officers, encouraging women in ministry, developing networking and resources for women in ministry, and many more.
An SECC release observes:
The October 21 vote emphasizes that there is both great value in, and biblical precedent for, a local congregation's initiative to ordain its pastor. The SECC decision is designed to standardize what has been taking place in local churches . . . These standards will be applied equally to male and female candidates and each will receive the same credential. With these wheels set in motion, gender inclusiveness advocates are hopeful that affirmation of women in ministry at the local conference level will become the norm for all Adventist conferences. Only time will tell the full effect these recommendations will have on a future decision to ordain women at the Union, Division, or world church level.
The following are the recommendations voted in concept:
In order that women and men who are ordained to ministry achieve the same standards of preparation, and that women receive confirmation by the Conference and an affirmation of their ordination to other denominational entities, it is recommended:
1. That the initiative to ordain a minister be seen as rightly originating among those who primarily benefit from a person's ministry--the local church.
2. That general guidelines for the ordination process by the local church be established by the Conference.
3. That a local congregation move into the ordination process in consultation with the Conference.
4. That the Conference also be mindful of ministers serving in churches or institutions that choose not to initiate the ordination process for their candidates and that the Conference be proactive for these candidates.
5. That the name of each candidate for ordination be recognized by the Conference Executive Committee.
6. That the name of the candidate for ordination a. be forwarded to the Union for its approval, or/and b. that the Conference issue a statement of support and approval for the candidate that is sent to other church entities.
7. That equal credentials be granted to all pastors, both male and female.