In spite of strides made to include women in ministry within the Seventh-day Adventist Church during the last 25 years, more needs to be done to include the demographic that comprises 70 percent of membership, some church members say.
Members of the Association of Adventist Women say they were considered by some as rabble-rousers 25 years ago when they first advocated including women leaders in all levels of the Adventist Church. Many of the activists’ recommendations have been realized—a department dedicated solely to women’s ministries on all levels of the church, women executives and ordained women elders at local churches. Despite the gains, AAW members say their independent advocacy is still needed.
“Our hope is that in the Christian community there are no people who have greater favor than others,” said AAW president Verla Kwiram during the organization’s 25th anniversary conference from October 24 to 28 in Silver Spring, Maryland, near the church’s world headquarters.
Some have hoped the church would match the gains women have made in other parts of society. “Many women are being used, but not by the church,” said Pat Habada, retired assistant director for the world church’s Sabbath School and Personal Ministries department. “They’re in business and in politics,” she said. “Some have wanted to serve but have been frustrated at not being able to.”
AAW was founded out of a desire to advance the issue of women’s ordination, which would give women pastors equal privileges as their male counterparts. But when brought to the world church General Conference Session, the idea was defeated in 1990 and again in 1995. Still, current world church President Jan Paulsen and others continue to encourage a greater inclusion of women in ministry on all levels of the church.
“Local churches are reluctant, and conferences find [women] difficult to place. That, I think, is a most unfortunate failure,” Paulsen said in an October 13 keynote address during the world church’s Annual Council business session.
For many women the issue isn’t necessarily ordination, but employment within the church, Paulsen said.
Still, activists point out that not ordaining women prevents them from serving as president of church administrations.
“We are the majority of the church and women need to be more involved in the decision-making process of the organization,” said Beverly Habada, a conference attendee and executive director of Time for Equality in Adventist Ministry.
Pat Habada said “the goal is not that women want to dominate or take over the church. It is to stand beside the leaders of our church and work with them.”
Kwiram said in some places “women in chaplaincy are not considered qualified unless they have been ordained by their church, so they are considered second-class citizens in their careers.”
Rosa Banks, associate secretary for the world church and the first woman officer for North America, said that AAW is a “conscience-arouser keeping the issue of women leaders on the front burner.”
“They performed a great service for the church, but they were not the only voice,” Banks clarified. “There were many voices and many men involved.”
Today, though, she questions AAW’s relevancy. The biggest barriers were broken when the world church installed three women in top positions as associate treasurer, vice president and associate secretary at its 2005 General Conference Session, she said.
“The Lord’s always been behind this,” Banks said. “Change has been made. Now we must figure out how to keep it going. But then again if the men ever forget they can always look over there and see AAW.”
Dilys Brooks, an associate campus chaplain at Loma Linda University in Loma Linda, California, said AAW made it easier for her generation of women pastors.
“We are benefiting from work they did but we have not had the same struggle. Because they have prayed, led, established scholarships for women and kept women in leadership on the agenda, I didn’t have huge gender issues when I went to seminary school.”
AAW continues to recommend that the world church ordain women and create an office of human relations at the world church level.
AAW also spotlights the work of Adventist women around the world in various areas with a Woman of the Year Award. This year’s awardees include Joy Butler from Australia, women’s ministries director for the church in the South Pacific region for outstanding church leadership; Karen Hanson Kotoske from the United States for philanthropic excellence; Qin Zheng Yi from China for outstanding achievement; Nancy Weber Vyhmeister from the United States and Dorothy Eaton Watts, based in India, for entrepreneurial church leadership. Rigmor Mari-Anne Nyberg from Sweden received this year’s humanitarian award for her work as director of the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in Sweden.