Pastor's Pastor

Pastor's Pastor: Another page of herstory

Pastor's Pastor: Another page of herstory

The 58th Session of the General Conference (St. Louis, Missouri, USA) came along and moved the issue of women in church leadership dramatically forward without the topic of ordination even becoming a debate.

James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

A few years ago an executive minister from the Southern Baptists and I were comparing church polity challenges. He told of their denominational incongruity which allows women to be ordained but for bids them to serve as senior pastors. I responded that Adventists assign women to serve as senior pastors—even of major congregations—but forbid them ordination.

We both concurred that eternity seems short in comparison to the years needed to effect change of deeply-ingrained positions on women in spiritual leadership and then moved on to other topics of comparative religion and hierarchical differences.

Then the 58th Session of the General Conference (St. Louis, Missouri, USA) came along and moved the issue of women in church leadership dramatically forward without the topic of ordination even becoming a debate.

Thanks to the vision and courage of our President, Jan Paulsen, and his two fellow officers, Matthew Bediako and Robert Lemon, along with a nominating committee which sensed leadership's encouragement to utilize women, the session elected females to serve each of our denomination's major officer groups.

The ratio of women members to elected officers is still not huge—about 70 percent of church members are female while these recent elections raise our percentage of women officers only to about ten percent.

Nevertheless, a clear message has goes forward with the election of Ella Simmom as General Vice President, Rosa Banks as Associate Secretary, and Daisy Orion as Associate Treasurer of the General Conference. Perhaps it is now time for our divisions and unions (a few of which previously had elected women officers) to look more intentionally at the pool of available and capable women when nominating candidates for officer-level positions. While we affirm that "herstory" has taken a giant leap forward for Adventists with these elections, we still have a long way to progress until each candidate for office is selected on the basis of qualification, not gender. I believe in affirmative action and I believe we have begun a correct thing.

Even as only eternity and other articles will fully affirm the leadership of so many outstanding women, I eagerly continue the emphasis of my previous article, "Impacted by Herstory" (January 2005), by affirming the spiritual help with which women leaders have impacted my own life and ministry.

Admittedly, many of these are personal testimonies about individuals you may never meet. Nevertheless, they rep resent the ongoing, day-by-day spiritual impact that women make in our homes, churches, schools, and society.

For example, Rose Otis, Dorothy Watts, Ardis Stenbakken, and Heather-Dawn Small have each brought unique skills as Director of Women's Ministry and, too often, have seemingly stood alone in challenging the church to include women at every level of activity and in every variety of ministry.

On a more personal impact level, I recall several teachers who helped me understand that God uses whoever will allow the Holy Spirit's effective ministry to move them, and the church, forward. These include Genevieve McCormick, friend, mentor, and believer in the art of the possible whose pastoral spouse, daughter-in-law, Betty McCormick, worked with Sharon and me for several years. Likewise, Wanda Brace, Carolyn Luce Kujawa, Dorothy Remington, Virginia Taylor, Auda Hiebert, and contemporary educator-minister colleagues, Kathy Tompkins, Wendy Pega, Cynthia Cettys, and Andrea Luxton represent the finest educators anywhere.

Pastoral spouses who have endured with extraordinary grace great challenges for their health, their assignment to difficult locations, or the needs of their extended family, include Barbara White, Irja Haapasalo, Hepzibah Kore, Elaine Sheppard, Adriana Bocaneanu, Evonne Baasch, and Maurine Alien.

And there are friends who can start me laughing just by entering the room. Sylvia Baldwin, Kay Winter, Delia Keele, Ann Holland, Roslyn Cuenin, or Muriel Indermuehle (the only individual I know whose famous cookies are so tasty that I eagerly won the bid to purchase a dozen for US$65.00 at a school fund-raising auction).

Then I remember and salute the organizational and spiritual leadership of Connie Starkey, director of human resources for the Georgia-Cumberland Conference, who effectively held that entire conference staff together when my brother, David, and four other lead ers were killed in last December's tragic airplane crash.

An U.S. political slogan of the 1970s said, "Woman's place is in the house . ..and in the Senate!" Please allow me to paraphrase with gratitude, ". . . and in the church!"

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James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

September 2005

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