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Woman Pastor “Set Aside” in Australia

On a “High Sabbath” celebration in Melbourne, gender disparity in Adventism reached a low point.

On November 12, 2011, the Dallas Brooks Centre was packed with 2,500 Adventists who wanted to hear from General Conference president, Pastor Ted Wilson (“pastor” is the preferred title for church leaders in Australia). In addition to the large live audience, an estimated 800 additional groups tuned in to watch it online. The all-day program marked the first time many in Australia heard Wilson speak. The day’s events included preaching, orchestral music, a picnic lunch and a commissioning and ordination ceremony for three Adventist ministers. The day began with high expectations, but ended in a way that no one anticipated or wanted. 

Ted Wilson, who was on a three-week trip through the South Pacific, preached Sabbath morning to the full house.

During the afternoon program, denominational leaders formally welcomed three individuals into Gospel ministry through commissioning and ordination: Danijela Trajkov, a pastor and director for the Victorian Conference Women’s Ministries Department; Cristian Copaceanu, a graduate of Avondale College and pastor in the Victorian Conference since 2006; and Iutini Rimoni, a pastor who is establishing a church plant in the northern suburb of Epping.

Along with her husband Nikola, Danijela Trajkov currently pastors five country churches in addition to serving in Women’s Ministries. A native of Croatia, she felt a calling to ministry as early as six years old. At that time, atheistic communist countries had six-day working weeks, with Sundays being a ‘day for rest.’

She further explained to Spectrum that,

Because none of his children attended school on Saturday, my father’s salary was penalized for each absence. We were bullied and abused by students and teachers alike, and I felt I had no rights – my only hope was Jesus, who loved me so much, and strengthened my faith more and more each day. My parents and I prayed for my education to continue, and a miracle happened the year I finished Primary: In that strongly communist country, God opened a door for the Church to operate an Adventist high school, and later the Theology faculty allowed girls.

In 1977, Danijela received a theology degree, and after a two-year internship, began a life of ministry that has now spanned more than three decades. She has also completed a Master of Ministry degree.

Now, on this Sabbath in Australia, she was to be commissioned (as is Seventh-day Adventist policy for women ministers) on the celebratory High Sabbath alongside her two younger male colleagues. In the Victorian Conference, commissioning is generally conducted in the same manner as is ordination–with a charge to the candidate, the laying on of hands, and a prayer of dedication and blessing. As an honored High Sabbath celebration guest, Ted Wilson was invited to offer the prayer of commissioning for Danijela Trajkov and of ordination for Cristian Copaceanu and Iutini Rimoni.

Moments before the program began, Wilson, citing a desire not to be seen as making a statement on women ministers and stating his discomfort with Danijela receiving the charge or being included in the prayer of ordination, declined to participate in the commissioning.

When the time came, Carole Ferch-Johnson, associate ministerial secretary of the Australian Union Conference, shared prepared remarks about the significance of commissioning and the biblical precedent for commissioning women. Victorian Conference secretary Darren Croft offered the prayer of commissioning as ministerial secretary Rob Steed together with Nikola Trajkov gathered around for the laying on of hands. After the prayer of commissioning, the plan was that Danijela and her husband would exit the platform and the two ordination candidates and their wives would enter the platform with Ted Wilson. However, a crowded stage made exiting impossible and the ordination candidates had already come onto the platform. So conference officials suggested that Danijela stay on stage as her male colleagues joined her.

Ted Wilson also came on to offer the prayer for them. Victorian Conference President G. Wayne Stanley read the charge to the two men, and then President Wilson noted that it was now time for the prayer of ordination and invited the two men to kneel. He neither looked at nor acknowledged Danijela, though she was standing right next to the ordinands. Then, in a turn simultaneously awkward and gracious, Danijela joined those laying hands on the two being ordained.

In response to a request for comment, Orville Parchment, assistant to President Ted Wilson, sent this statement:

It was Elder Wilson’s understanding that the program for the ordination and commissioning services would be divided into two distinct sections with the commissioning service happening first and the ordination happening second. Elder Wilson joined the podium after the commissioning in order to participate in the ordination. Although pastor Trajkov continued to stand at the side of the other two candidates, Pastor Wilson’s remarks were prepared with the service of ordination in mind.

It became obvious to many in the audience that although Wilson intended to avoid making a statement on women ministers, he inadvertently made a strong statement by ignoring the woman and by directing his prayer only to the men.

While much was made of Wilson’s visit to Victoria and the High Sabbath celebration in general, nearly nothing was mentioned of the ordaining and commissioning in church media. The Record, the “Official News Magazine of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” recorded snippets of Wilson’s remarks and provided comments on the Institute of Worship’s orchestra performance, but failed to report on the ordained and commissioned pastors at all. Unlike the practices of other Adventist media, The Record also refused to give permission to Spectrum to publish photos that its new editor took that day. The screen shot illustrating this article comes from the newsletter of the Victorian Conference, IntraVic, which did include a full page in its November issue providing biographical material on the three ministers, along with a short paragraph stating that Wilson was present. See the November issue (pdf download) of the IntraVic newsletter.

Numerous people approached Danijela afterward to share congratulations. Some asked why she seemed to be singled out. Too embarrassed to convey what really happened, she suggested that it might have to do with her age, or simply “ladies first.”

In the weeks that have elapsed since the event, she has received many letters of support, thanks and encouragement. One female correspondent from a former-Yugoslav church was deeply impressed by her genuineness of character. “I am so glad you are now ordained, as you deserve it,” the letter said with poignant inaccuracy.

Asked by Spectrum to share her reflections on the event, Danijela Trajkov responded with these comments, which we share unedited with her permission:

I praise God that I didn’t know nothing about changing the plan. I just allowed Holy Spirit to lead my thoughts toward Heaven, and I feel so humble before God when they prayed over me. But when they invited two young men up, and Pr Ted stand before them, asking their wives (with not very kind voice) to step back, I noticed that something is wrong. Then I felt humiliated, not worthy for his prayer. Why? Because God created me a woman. I have strong call for ministry from my childhood, and all my life I worked for my Lord – being not accepted, humiliated, even rejected as a woman; being told that I will never be pastor because I am a woman. So I learned through this journey how to rely on Jesus, the one who called me in ministry, and how to be strong in faith. I was ordained by Him long time ago, and nobody can deny it. I am so glad that Administrators in Victoria Conference recognised my call and acknowledged it. I am proud that I am SDA Minister woman to serve in the church and community where God sent me together with my husband ordained minister. He is my big support, and my son and daughter as well, who serve at the moment in mission field. My name is Danijela – it means “God has judged”, and He will one day. Until then my strength is in Him who will never let me down in a crisis.

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