Two women, one 90 years old and the other with hair as white as a summer cloud, became ordained Seventh-day Adventist ministers at the Kettering Adventist Church on Sabbath.
When Hazel Burns, the younger woman at 81, became convinced that God was calling her into ministry, she spent 10 years devoting herself, without pay, to Bible Studies. In the end, the Kettering Adventist Church employed her for 10 years as an associate on the pastoral staff. Margaret Turner started out as a registered nurse, then began volunteering in her hospital’s chaplain’s office. She loved the work, and turned her attention to getting a seminary degree, a credential she could not do without if she wanted to be engaged fully in her ministry of care and concern for the sick. She got the degree and pursued her work in chaplaincy, finding deep satisfaction in it.
But these two, both much loved, worked in a day when Adventist leaders did not, or could not, recognize the call of women to ordained ministry. Last Sabbath, November 16, Dave Weigley, the president of the Columbia Union, and Rob Vandeman, the Union’s secretary, came to Kettering, eager to offer a belated “Yes!” to both of them. The soon-to-retire Ohio Conference president, Raj Attiken, introduced the candidates. Before a full congregation (bolstered by the annual Kettering Health Network Mission Conference), a circle of ministers and local elders gathered around them both, then knelt as Dave Weigley offered the ordination prayer.
As he gave Burns and Turner the “same credential” any retired Adventist minister receives, Rob Vandeman apologized—twice—for the fact that this was happening so late. The room was empty of bitterness, though, and the apologies seemed only to broaden the smiles all around. As the men and women on the platform began returning to their seats, the congregation arose, eyes fixed on Burns and Turner, for a standing ovation.
The ordination of women remains controversial, but the revolution afoot in Adventism was now reaching deep into the ranks of the—retired. It was another arresting step toward whatever the future will turn out to be.
Photos by Ben Carpenter