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Women Who Minister: The Life of a Commissioned Adventist Chaplain


The day began as most do. I arrived at the hospital where I serve as chaplain, aware that I was praying, “Lord, make me willing. Keep me available. Give me a voice and hands to serve you faithfully.”  This particular day did not end as most do. Mid-day we welcomed into our Emergency Department a precious newborn baby boy, minutes old, born at thirty-eight weeks, perfectly formed and beautiful.  I stood by to support the team with prayer and comfort as they worked valiantly to save his life; they were not successful. As his time of death was called, mere minutes from time of birth, I stepped forward to pray over his tiny body. A prayer for his parents, a prayer for our Emergency Department team, a prayer that his little life that had tragically ended so quickly, would not be in vain.  I ended the day debriefing with the Emergency Department team, allowing them to express the pain that they felt, to think about the places their hearts went as they realized they could not save her, and praying with and for them.

A few days later, I worked with our hospital team to raise money to help one of our own whose extended bed rest in a difficult pregnancy had brought on financial crisis.  As always, our hospital employee team stepped forward to help with generosity of spirit and love for their co-worker.

In our hospital, we are working to bring support for members of our community who suffer from depression and anxiety. We offer church services within our hospital (multiple services in multiple languages) and are preparing to begin a church plant to extend the reach of our voice within the community.

This is my life as a hospital chaplain. It is my life as a credentialed, commissioned minister of the gospel in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The church that is my home.  The church that has been my comfort and place of belonging for my entire life. 

I did not come to ministry easily. It was beyond my imagination that I would ever stand in a pulpit, administer anointing, or perform the rite of marriage. In early mid-life as it began to settle upon me that I might in fact be called into ministry, I sought the advice of someone I respected as a minister and valued as a friend, sharing the anguish that I felt around a potential calling.  He responded with reassurance, “Donna, your heart has always turned toward God and the church with deep passion. I do not doubt your calling.”

Perhaps the deepest compliment I have ever received was the moment my young adult daughter said, “Mom, you are doing (as chaplain/pastor) what you were born to do.”

Hours after working to help our employee in need, I participated in a meeting in which we talked about decisions that are being made in my church around women’s ordination. I left that meeting wounded.  I was not wounded by a decision around ordination, rather wounded by the divisive and authoritarian need to discipline more than to love and bring us to unity.

Jesus words are clear, “…nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28 NIV) 

I ponder the awe of Mary Magdalene being the first to encounter the risen Jesus. She was the first to carry the message, “He is risen.” There is no coincidence in her story.

I ponder a church body that has studied and studied the validity of women’s ordination and has come away without a theological “no”; yet we are preparing to pronounce far-reaching, divisive discipline on those who have recognized and affirmed the role of women within our church and are attempting to call that process “unifying.”

We need more ministers, not less. We need more people willing to say, “Here I am, Lord, use me.” In a time of deep divide and restless unease worldwide, we need to be the church of peace, of warmth, and of welcome. The church that offers hope.

In a moment of despair, I opened my Bible to the following passage: “But you, dear Jacob, my servant, you have nothing to fear. Israel, there’s no need to worry. Look up!  I’ll save you from that far country.  I’ll get your children out of the land of exile. Things are going to be normal again for Jacob, safe and secure, smooth sailing. Yes, dear Jacob my servant, you have nothing to fear. Depend on it, I’m on your side”. (Jeremiah 46:27, 28 The Message)

Unity says we are all equal. We are equal, male and female. We are equal regardless of ethnic origin.  We are equal regardless of socio-economic class. We are equal regardless of educational level. We are equal at the feet of Jesus.

My sisters in ministry, dear servants of Jesus, we are called.  We are chosen.  We are beloved of the Father.  We are messengers of the soon coming Jesus.  We are voices for hope and faith in a broken world.  We are voices raised without fear because God is on our side.  We are called to bring unity in a church that is desperately in need of true Christ-centered unity today.  


Donna Burske, MDiv, is senior chaplain at Winter Park Memorial Hospital in Winter Park, Florida where she leads a team of eight chaplains in dedicated hospital ministry. She has been a part of the Florida Hospital family for thirty-one years and is a commissioned Seventh-day Adventist minister.

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