In a sense, Patricia Marruffo’s Sabbath-afternoon ordination service on March 26 was business as usual for Southeastern California Conference where she serves as Pastor for Children and Families at the Azure Hills Church. Southeastern, after all, has been ordaining qualified women to pastoral ministry since March 2012, and long before that issued the same ordained-commissioned credentials to both men and women. Southeastern was the first (and so far the only) conference in the Adventist denomination to elect a woman president, and has for decades worked very deliberately to foster gender-inclusive pastoral ministry in its territory.
These days, ordination services for women are becoming almost as common as those for men in Southeastern. Sara-May Colón was ordained at the Garden Grove Seventh-day Adventist Church on February 27, and after more than three decades of pastoral ministry at the Loma Linda University Church, Shirley Ponder was ordained on December 19, 2015. Patty Marruffo’s ordination was one in a long line of services for highly-qualified women pastors in Southeastern California Conference. However, in another sense Marruffo’s ordination stood out.
Local Ordination, Global Purview
The decor in the foyer of the Azure Hills Church was the first indication that this service had an eye on the larger picture, literally. A large world map stood in front of the doors to the sanctuary.
Pins on the map represent Adventist women in pastoral ministry.
On the map, pins represented the women who serve as Seventh-day Adventist pastors around the world. The ordination service was an intentionally global event through which Marruffo wanted to highlight and celebrate all of Adventism’s women ministers.
Nandi Fleming, a pastor in South Africa, provided a welcome and invocation via pre-recorded video at Marruffo’s request. Fleming is creator and administrator of a private Facebook group for Adventist women pastors that has hundreds of members. Through that group, Marruffo began compiling a list of Adventist women who pastor around the world. In the ordination ceremony, Marruffo paid tribute to them all.
Pastor Nandi Fleming (right) in her video welcome shares images of some of the many Adventist women pastors.
“I want to honor and recognize my sisters in ministry across the world—female Seventh-day Adventist pastors—women whose call to gospel ministry is special, meaningful and sacred.”
She honed in on the breadth of the female pastorate in Adventism: “3176 female pastors in China, 15 in Cuba, 12 in South Korea, 6 in Japan, and countless others. Women whom God has called and continues to call to teach, preach and lead,” she said.
“Today from our corner of the world in Southeastern California Conference, I wish to acknowledge the ministry of these beautiful ladies,” Marruffo stated.
Women played a prominent role throughout Marruffo’s ordination service. In addition to Nandi Fleming who opened the service, Marlene Ferreras, who preceded Marruffo as Children and Families Pastor at Azure Hills, and Jessica Marruffo, Patty’s daughter, a pre-nursing student at La Sierra University, provided a life sketch. Newly-appointed associate pastor at Azure Hills Danielle Foré provided a Scripture reading. Kendra Haloviak-Valentine, a professor at La Sierra University, an elder at Azure Hills, and one of the first Adventist women ever to be ordained, offered the ordination prayer. And it was Southeastern California Conference President Sandra Roberts who officially welcomed Marruffo to ordained pastoral ministry and presented Marruffo her ordained minister credentials.
From a Catholic Upbringing
Patty attributes her eventual path to full-time ministry in large part to her upbringing in a devout Catholic home. (Her family converted to the Seventh-day Adventist faith after hearing radio programs on La Voz de La Esperanza and attending evangelistic meetings hosted by the media organization.)
Her first memories of church came from the Iglesia de Cristo Rey (The Church of Christ the King) in Oxnard, California in a community known as La Colonia where Cesar Chavez lived for a time. “This is where I learned about God,” she said.
Marruffo came from a family of campesinos who worked picking produce in the fields of Oxnard. She recounted some of that story in a Spectrum article, “Remembering My Struggles for Justice.”
Prior to the ordination service, I asked Marruffo to discuss the significance of ordination for her.
“Ordination has great significance for me,” she said, “because I understand it as an affirmation of what God is already doing.”
She explained why being ordained is different from simply doing ministry as a woman:
[The community comes] forward to say ‘We recognize, we see, it’s already evident, it’s tangible that God is doing something with you and in you and through you.’ And he does it with all of us, but when you’re in ministry someone steps up to say I recognize that. So it is significant for me. But I have to confess that it’s lost some of that significance only because I feel like it’s unfair that it happens for me but it can’t happen for [many others] in the world whom God has called to do something really specific for him.”
Marruffo, whose husband Dante is also a pastor at the Azure Hills Church, thought for many years that her calling was to assist her husband in his ministry, she told me.
“It was a passion for serving… I thought my calling was to be a pastor’s wife, but I loved hanging out with him and doing ministry together with him and being involved in everything. Church, mission, kids’ ministry...and I wondered lots of times what would it be like? I think I would really love to be a pastor.”
She enrolled in the (now discontinued) Master of Pastoral Studies at La Sierra University to equip her to be a better pastor’s wife, she said.
In the process of studying at La Sierra University and then Andrews University, she discovered a love of “digging deep into the Bible and learning about how God interacts with humanity and how she can contribute to the God movement in the world.”
Toward the end of her Master’s studies, a realization struck: “I would love to do ministry. I think God is calling me to do this.”
Reflecting on the Call
Marruffo described her ordination as an act of submission, saying, “I’m humbled and deeply thankful that in my part of the world, God’s sovereign will to use men and women—their gifts and their talents in ministry—is acknowledged, valued and affirmed. However this day cannot have this deep and special meaning unless I acknowledge and underscore the call to ministry of all men and all women who hear the voice of God and respond to that call.”
She reflected on the notion among some Adventists that God calls men to be ordained but not women.
“It seems to me that we have created certain lines of demarcation that for God don’t exist. We create barriers that God, I think, never envisions. We create parameters that are not God’s parameters, and we function within those lines of demarcation and those parameters thinking that this is how it ought to be.”
Marruffo has challenged the lines of demarcation and has discovered that they are not fixed. She said it felt like a revelation that God could could equip her to have a voice—a preaching voice. “It was like ‘Wow’ because that preaching voice didn’t belong to women. It was like ‘I can own this and it’s sacred.’ My next thought was ‘Where can I go from here?’”
It’s a question with many answers.
Along with her husband, Patty is a chaplain for the Riverside County Fire Department in California. They join first responders in times of crisis to provide public pastoral care.
She is also an inspiration to the young children she serves. A few weeks before the ordination, Brian and Maria Repelin posted a photo on Marruffo’s Facebook page of their daughter with the following note, shared here with their permission.
“Thank you Pastor Patty for being such a great role model for my daughter and many others. She set this up herself and said she was Pr. Patty and began her sermon. You touch the lives of even the youngest. Of course her younger sibling follows in her footsteps, the trickle down effect.”
Watch the Recording of Patty Marruffo's Ordination Below
9:30 — Welcome Video by Nandi Fleming
15:15 — Welcome on Behalf of SECC and Azure Hills by Ernie Furness
29:40 — Biographical Sketch by Jessica Marruffo and Marlene Ferreras
35:40 — Liturgical Reading / Congregational Affirmation (Examination of Ordinand)
42:25 — Homily by John Brunt
1:10:10 — Prayer of Ordination by Kendra Haloviak Valentine
1:28:20 — Welcome to Ministry, Presentation of Ordination Credentials by Sandra Roberts
1:32:40 — Response by Patty Marruffo
Jared Wright is Managing Editor of SpectrumMagazine.org.
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