It’s not often that a mother and daughter graduate together from university. More unique still, a mother and daughter being simultaneously employed as Adventist ministers. Indeed, the story of Nancy Chadwick and Christine Chadwick Wallington, who recently graduated together from La Sierra University, is a first.
The two are employed by the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. Nancy Chadwick serves as associate pastor at the Hemet Adventist Church, and her daughter Christine Wallington has just begun a master’s degree at the Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University.
Nancy says that ministry has always been a part of her DNA.
“I grew up helping my mother in children’s ministry in the church and our neighborhood. I went up and down the streets and knocked on doors, asking people if they had any kids. I’d invite them to come to our home for Bible School. In my teens I got involved in Pathfinders and a puppet ministry. I met and dated my husband at La Sierra Academy, and our lives and relationship revolved around doing ministry together. But when it came to choosing a career, my own prejudice against women in ministry kept me from voicing my desire, even to myself,” Nancy recalls.
Believing that women did not belong in the pastorate, Nancy got married and pursued nursing. She worked as a pediatric oncology nurse and raised a family. But attending church became painful, she says, because of a nagging but subverted inclination toward ministry.
Eventually we stopped attending church, and even though I had everything that should have made me happy, I felt dead inside. But God provided a providential crisis that drove me to the point of desperation and to my knees.
After building a dream home and purchasing another property, an economic downturn hit hard, and Nancy feared that the family might land on the streets. That crisis proved a turning point that led to a mid-life career change. Nancy followed what she perceived to be God’s leading, and enrolled in La Sierra’s theology program.
For Christine, the path to ministry was more straightforward.
As I looked at what to do with my life I could not see myself doing anything else for a career except being a leader in the church. My faith walk and my family have influenced me in that choice but I can say confidently that it was God who guided me since the very beginning.
From Classmates to Colleagues
When it came time to pick a place to study, La Sierra University was the obvious choice for both.
“I chose La Sierra because that is where I lived and that is where God opened doors for me,” Nancy says. “My first classes were summer intensives in SDA Theology, Greek and Hebrew. I did a lot of crying and dealing with feelings of inadequacy.”
Nancy committed to doing her best, leaving the results to God. She credits dependence on God with getting her through the program while parenting a small child.
Similar to her decisiveness about pursuing ministry, Christine says, “I never really saw myself on any other campus than La Sierra University. I didn’t even consider going to a different university.”
In 1995 the Chadwick family joined the La Sierra University Church, becoming acquainted with the Webster family (Dr. John Webster is dean of La Sierra’s School of Religion).
“I remember feeling so honored to be in the presence of Dr. Webster,” Christine recounts, “believing so strongly, at age seven, that he compiled Webster’s Dictionary. During college, I felt honored to struggle through Webster’s theology courses. His theological insights replaced my ignorance.
Beyond the theology courses, the most memorable parts of Christine’s time at LSU were freshman orientation (Ignite) week before classes began, and the General Conference Study Tour last summer.
She says, “It was during Ignite that I truly discovered why I chose LSU. During Ignite week I built lasting friendships and I grew from my past, embracing new experiences.”
Nancy recalls the one regular class she took alongside Christine--Gender and the Church.
As I listened to her interaction with the class and professors and had conversations with her, I almost forgot at times that she was my daughter. She is a colleague, a professional...a woman of God. Graduating with her was my greatest joy. I have always felt that if for no other reason than to pave the way and inspire our daughters to answer God’s call in every aspect of their lives, even when that call was counter-cultural, this journey would be worth it all.
“The course on gender was the most interesting,” says Christine. “Our major project was an autobiography, made a lot easier for me with my mother being close by.”
The summer study tour to Atlanta for the 2010 General Conference Session was a highlight for both mother and daughter. Nancy calls the trip “something I will never forget.”
Christine recalls sharing a bunk bed at the Cumberland Academy dormitory and leaving husbands at home during the study tour.
“We enjoyed deeper theological conversations as we both recognized where we might differ on a few issues but complement each other on others. Of course graduating together was a real privilege that I will always treasure. For me it was like honoring my mother’s influence in my journey while we walked together just before we both had to let go and move forward.”
“I continue to be amazed at the level of education I received,” Christine says of her time at La Sierra. “To have highly influential and intellectual leaders pass on their understandings, honest struggles, and pure faith to us… I can only explain it as Dr. Maury Jackson has put it: ‘It is like heaven on earth.’”
Ministering as Women
“The biggest negative that I had to overcome was myself,” Nancy says of the challenge of pastoring as a woman. “My culture caused me to see women pastors in a very negative light.”
Paradoxically, she describes feeling a strong call to ministry for as long as she can remember, and often wondered why God would create her with an inner conflict between being female and wanting to minister. But she quickly adds that she has had a positive experience as a woman minister overall.
Though only newly hired as a pastor, Christine calls her experience in ministry “blessed.”
“I have always been accepted and given an opportunity to minister,” she says, noting that only recently, and mostly outside of her congregation, has she felt any resistance from those who object to lady pastors.
Within the church I believe there have been those who only silently resisted or disagreed with a woman’s call to ministry, but interestingly enough disassociating me from ‘women pastors.’ I believe there is this overall concept of ‘women in ministry’ being rejected rather than the actual reality.
At the General Conference last summer, one gentleman encouraged me to say ‘no’ to God if the Lord was calling me to be a pastor. Most recently I have had to deal with the reality of what being a minority means in the community of pastors. Yet the positives strongly outweigh the negatives as I have had young women share their stories with me. I have had the joy of seeing a young woman follow God’s call in her life--she is now studying to become a pastor.
To Women Considering Ministry
“In my own experience people should not pursue ministry unless they can’t see themselves doing anything else,” Nancy says. “That’s the mark of a calling. For 20 years I worked as an RN at Loma Linda University. I was good at it and it was ministry. I begged God to let me find fulfillment there. Life was so much easier there. The pay was so much better there, but it always felt like a job and not a calling or even a career. Ministry in the church pursues you; your calling from God must be so strong that it transcends the negativity from the outside, even against all odds. Otherwise, do something else.”
“Be confident in God’s call in your life,” Christine adds.
You are a pastor because that is who you are and once you recognize this, simply be who God has made you to be. Never allow the counsel of others to discourage you, but rather encourage you to find areas in which you may grow with God.
Go through the Bible and read over the call of all the prophets, and the call of the disciples, and even the judges. Consider some of the themes and purposes in which these men, and women, were called. Apply these to your own journey and recognize how much resistance these God-led leaders faced. You will hear that it will take a long time before women will ever be accepted as pastors, that it took 100 years before slavery was abolished, but the reality is that change is not made through waiting; change is made when we stand for that which is good.
Photo Credit: Jolene Bearden / Wedding By Photo