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Leading Like a Woman Is a Good Thing


The 32nd annual conference of the Association of Adventist Women opened on Thursday night, October 16, with a presentation by keynote speaker Ella Simmons, general vice president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Simmons is the first woman to be voted into one of the GC’s vice president positions — a seat she has held for nearly 10 years.

She left the GC’s Annual Council in Silver Spring last week just before the final benediction in order to catch her flight to get to Southern Adventist University in time to give the keynote presentation at the conference.

Simmons’ address, called “Loving Forward: Investing in Legacy,” was stirring and inspiring. She talked about that space between cultures and genders, an outerland edge around the established limits that marks the ending of a “safe zone” where there is a repression of differences. She called that borderland The Third Space. Instead of being isolated and ineffective in that space, Simmons said that important work can be accomplished in the borderland. She gave the example of Ellen White’s exile to Australia and the work she was able to accomplish from that space. 

In accordance with the weekend’s theme, Simmons called for mentoring, quoting Oprah who said, “None of us has succeeded without a mentor.” A mentor can be male or female, and, Simmons said, young women can mentor older women. 

Simmons called for women to “love forward” with conscious acts of love. She said that “risk is an act of love” and called love the foundational element of education and mentoring. 

“Everyone needs an advocate in his or her circle,” she said, calling for women mentors and advocates to create a world where trust in people makes a world in which it is easier to love. Simmons said it is imperative that young women growing up in the church today see a different landscape than the one that she grew up in — one empowering for women.

Ella Simmons

Simmons got the 30 or so conference attendees really thinking about mentoring, which we then explored throughout the weekend, not only in the many thought-provoking presentations, but in conversations with each other at meals and between meetings. 

The presenters were all extremely professional, and yet incredibly personable in their talks.

Association of Adventist Women President Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson said that this year’s conference, with the theme of “Lifting As We Climb: Women Mentoring Women” was designed to try to answer some questions.

What exactly is mentoring? What does mentoring look like when it’s working? How do you know that you have been mentored? How is mentoring the same or different across diverse cultures, social classes, age groups, genders? What are the challenges of mentoring in the workplace or the church? What is unique to mentoring between women? Why is mentoring important for Adventist women?

Mentoring in a Man’s World and Mentoring & Women of Color

On Friday, we delved into some of these questions, beginning with a presentation by Gloria Ceballos, former hospital administrator and now assistant professor at the Adventist University of Health Sciences in Orlando, Florida, titled “Mentoring Women in a Man’s World.” (Unfortunately, this reporter was unable to attend.)

Next, Edith Fraser, retired professor from Alabama A & M University in Huntsville, Alabama, spoke on “Mentoring and Women of Color.”

Fraser shared compelling personal stories to help make her points. She showed us statistics on how women of color are underrepresented in positions of influence across the board. Then she talked about lack of access to mentors is one of the top four barriers to success.

She talked about the importance of leadership positions for women of color in the Adventist church, particularly as the church is growing everywhere except in North America and Europe. It is crucial that our leadership be representative of our church body.

Fraser listed benefits of mentoring, and skills of a good mentor. Finally, she gave practical suggestions for beginning a mentoring relationship.

Edith Fraser

The Power of Stories

Jennifer Scott, senior pastor of the 3,000-member Keene church at Southwestern Adventist University in Texas, gave a passionate and articulate presentation that was a sermon about Mary washing Jesus’ feet.

As previous speakers had done, Scott told us about some of her own mentors — including Pastor Bill Loveless — who had helped her to answer God’s call and put her on the path to ministry. She then described a mentoring program she started for disadvantaged youth, where volunteer mentors were matched with students for homework help and outdoor activities. The program served nearly 600 kids in San Bernardino California over a five-year span.

She talked about the risks to mentoring, like making yourself vulnerable, and the possibility of failure. Because of the risks, mentoring requires courage.

John 12 tells the story of how Mary (the sister of Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead) poured expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet at a dinner. When the disciples objected, Jesus told them to leave her alone. He had her back. She had courage. She had love, passion, single-mindedness, humility. She acted with reckless abandon. She had to have courage not to miss the moment.

Jennifer Scott

In Exodus 30, God gives a recipe for sacred anointing oil. Only the priests were allowed to use it.

In Bethany, Mary — a woman — was the one qualified to use the anointing oil, according to Jesus.

In our church, we believe that we don’t need a priest to speak to God in our defense. We can each talk to God ourselves. And Jesus says: I will pour out my spirit on everyone, young and old, male and female.

Courage makes a difference now. Don’t miss the moment.

(Scott’s presentation was beautifully crafted and delivered and this brief summary does not do it justice.)

Tara VinCross

Tara J. VinCross, the new director of the REACH Evangelism School for the Columbia Union and a pastor in Philadelphia, closed the afternoon session with her talk “Clouds, Seeds & Crowds: A Vision for Mentoring.”

VinCross is well-informed, passionate and eminently likable and her talk reflected her personality.

She talked about how God created man and woman in his image. We need both to reflect his image. When either gender is missing, we are missing something.

She talked about the importance of sharing stories, and how it’s personal experiences that help people to see things differently. It is stories that can inspire change in the lead-up to the General Conference session in 2015. Telling stories normalizes things. Telling stories helps other women to stand up and answer God’s call.

She told about a former head elder who was completely opposed to having a woman pastor, but after working with one, he is an ardent supporter.

VinCross talked about the landscape for women pastors in the North American Division (about 107 women pastors, or 3%, out of around 4,000) and the Division’s stated goal to double that number.

She told stories from last week’s Annual Council, including quotes from church administrators who advocated for women to be ordained.

VinCross listed five different types of mentor relationships, giving examples of each from her own life, including Pioneers, Fellow Travelers, Encouragers, Advocates and Learners.

In a very telling example, she told the story of what happened when her name was submitted to be pastor of a church in Pennsylvania. The conference president doctored her resume to be gender-neutral before presenting it to the search committee. They unanimously agreed that she was the perfect candidate with the perfect experience and qualifications that they were looking for. When shown her photo, they said vehemently that they could not hire a woman pastor. VinCross’s advocate asked them “What changed?” and asked them to at least offer her an interview. She got the job.

VinCross closed by showing the now-famous Always ad about erasing stereotypes and changing the words “running like a girl,” “throwing like a girl,” doing anything “like a girl” from a slur into an empowering statement. Leading like a woman is a good thing.

Carolyn Sutton, Barbara Prowant, and Jennifer Scott.

God Uses Mentors

The evening closed with an agape supper (bread, grape juice, lentil soup) and a moving talk by Pamela Melnick, a retired marriage and family therapist and church elder in Pennsylvania. Melnick held her listeners’ full attention, and moved many to tears, as she highlighted four wonderful mentors in her life, beginning with her kindergarten teacher, who helped her to become a successful and fulfilled woman, despite her abusive home. She punctuated her essay with the names of her mentors, and told the story in the third person. “They just thought they were doing their jobs, but they believed in her,” Melnick said. “They showed her the light of Jesus.”

“We are called to be lights in this world. It doesn’t matter who or where you are, or when you think you are just doing your job. God uses you. You can never know the next moment that God is going to use you for light in his name.”

Nord Simmons, Ella Smith Simmons, Cliff Harris, and Freddie Harris.


With additional reporting by Pamela Maize Harris.

Top Image: Tara VinCross.

Photos courtesy of Lourdes Morales-Gudmundsson.

Look for coverage of Saturday’s meetings shortly.

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