In this series, Adventist female pastors recently approved for ordination reflect on what women’s ordination means to them. Spectrum includes video interviews as well as their written thoughts on this affirmation by their local church conference.
When I came to the U.S. in the late 80s, I worked as a chaplain in Loma Linda. And it was as a chaplain that I became involved in the women’s movement for women pastors, as women for equality. I remember chaplains, women from La Sierra, Sligo, women like Penny Shell, all working hard on the issue of women’s ordination. As part of the movement on the fringes, I was a little afraid of it; there were some very adamant, very angry people. It wasn’t a pleasant time, and I didn’t think they got very far with what they wanted. And at the 1995 General Conference, all of their work was voted down.
That was the hardest part of the whole journey: Utrecht ’95. I knew a couple of gifted young women who wanted to go into ministry—and decided not to, at the GC Session. It was difficult; a heartbreaking struggle, with much anger and hurt. I had already landed at Pacific Union College Church in 1991, and was doing whatever I needed to do, wanted to do. But I really felt that the church had no place for women in ministry.
I still grieve about that memory.
For myself, my journey has been wonderful. I was asked to come to PUC at a difficult time, when the college church wanted a woman with a counseling background. With a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy, I came with that background. But I wasn’t referred to as “pastor” until I came to Carmichael Church, probably because I never wanted to be a “pastor.” I hadn’t planned on it—but I rolled into it.
PUC was very good to me. They loved me, I loved them, I was well respected by colleagues. I was the first woman in the Northern California Conference to be a pastor; there were no others at the time. My colleagues at PUC were fine with this, but the rest of the conference still needed to catch on. They thought I was a son’s wife, a leader’s wife or a secretary. Working with men in their “men’s world” was tough. But it only took about two years for them to adjust—and I understand why. Ministry is an interesting spot to be in; you spend a lot of one-on-one time with colleagues. It took time for people to get to know me, to know that ministry, too, was a field for women.
Little by little, not “pushing” ordination—I didn’t want to draw attention, I just wanted to be a pastor and do my work—I gained the confidence and respect of people, and my colleagues, around me. My greatest joy is that we now have five women in the Northern California Conference; I didn’t scare the conference too badly, so they added more women! Why am I a pastor, and why did I stay a pastor? I did not want a repeat of ’95; I wanted young girls to see space and room for females in ministry.
Women’s ordination has never been my issue. It took a long time to be commissioned at Carmichael Church, partly because the church was not ready. However, when the current lead pastor Keith Jacobson came, he really wanted that done—and it was great. I feel very humbled by the whole process because it’s not something I fought for. I just keep doing what I am doing. Other people fought the fight, but I was in the right place at the right time.
It’s humbling to be in this spot, at this time. What part did I play? Probably none; just not giving up, doing what I was doing, and doing it to the best of my ability. Now that we’re making history, I am just happy to be in the right place, at the right time. If I was in Central California Conference, this wouldn’t, couldn’t, happen.
God wanted me in ministry; I very strongly feel that he saw that I was led to minister. I didn’t feel an obvious calling, but as to how the pieces fell into place, I really feel that God did that; it’s all his doing. And it’s been wonderful. I love it; I still love it, and have had the most wonderful people with me in that journey. But if not for that first group of people at PUC, I wouldn’t have made it. They provided the good years to get me through.
Marit Case is the associate pastor at the Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist Church in Carmichael, Calif.