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Silvia Neri–Woman of the Year and First Inter-American Division Woman Pastor Retiree

María Silvia Neri Castrejón recibiendo el premio mujer del año 2023

Maria Silvia Neri Castrejón served the Adventist Church in Mexico for 38 years, pastoring two five-church districts and countering church culture that put only men behind the pulpit. In November 2023, the Association of Adventist Women honored her as one of four Adventist Women of the Year. This interview was conducted in Spanish and was translated to English with the assistance of Ruth Peeters.

Congratulations on being selected a 2023 Woman of the Year by the Association of Adventist Women.  Were you surprised when you heard that you had been chosen?

Thank you! It was certainly a surprise. I did not expect this award.

You served as a Bible worker and pastor in Mexico City for 38 years before retiring in 2008.  

You are the first woman pastor to retire in the Inter-American Division. What did you enjoy most about your work as a pastor?

I worked for the church for 38 years, from 1970 to 2008, including the two years in which I finished my degree at the University of Montemorelos. I served 19 years as a Bible worker and 19 years as a pastor.  

I really enjoyed my work, and I was happy working with the brotherhood, but my greatest joy was when new souls gave themselves to the Lord. My greatest privilege is that I am the first woman to retire as a pastor of the Inter-American Division.

What did you find the most challenging or difficult thing in your work as a pastor?

My biggest challenge was having to travel in such a big and dangerous city where I frequently visited people late at night, but the Lord always took care of me.  

Another challenge was that some members did not accept me as a pastor. I remember that in one church they denied me use of the pulpit to preach.

In 1967 you were a student at the Linda Vista Adventist school in Chiapas, when you decided to go into ministry.  How old were you then?  What brought you to this decision?

I was 23 years old and during a week of prayer led by my uncle, Pastor Jose Castrejón, he called on students to serve the Lord in the sacred ministry. At that time I decided to study theology.

In 1968 you began studying theology at Universidad de Montemorelos.  Were other women studying theology there? 

Yes, we were six women studying theology at that time.

After you graduated you worked for La Voz de la Esperanza (Voice of Prophecy) in Mexico City.  What was that like? What did you do in your daily work?

They called me to join La Voz de la Esperanza team to visit those who signed up for the Bible courses in Mexico City. Some people continued the courses, but many did not want to continue because they were part of another religion. My work was fruitless.

Later, you completed a degree in religion. Were you encouraged in your study, as woman?  Why did you feel you needed this degree?

In 1987 I returned to the University of Montemorelos. I studied for two years and completed a religion degree. 

But my plan had not been to obtain a degree. I took advantage of the opportunity and asked for permission to be by my mother’s side, because at that time she was suffering from cancer and needed my support. Since she lived in Montemorelos, I could study there simultaneously.  Initially the church administrators rejected my request, but I insisted and finally they gave me permission and even paid for both years of study.  

Looking back, I am amazed by God’s leading. He opened a door for me even beyond my hopes. Sometimes some classmates would make derogatory comments and ask why women wanted to get a degree in religion, but I never got discouraged or deviated from my goal.

After finishing your religion degree in 1989, you went back to Mexico City and served as a district pastor.  What did you do in your work as a district pastor? Did you preach? Did you serve at different churches? What made this work meaningful for you?

I was not a district pastor when I returned. I continued as a Bible worker in several local churches until 1994.  Then they placed me as a district pastor in Ticoman with five churches, where I served for two years.  

After Ticoman I again served as a Bible worker and in 1999 I was again given the position of pastor in the District of Santa Clara, with five churches under my care. There I preached, gave Bible studies, and visited the members. I had all of the pastoral responsibility, but I could not lead administrative meetings nor perform Communion services, baptisms, or marriages as the church manual directs. Therefore, they sent an ordained pastor to fulfill these duties.  

From 2001 to 2008 I was called to be an associate pastor at the central church in Mexico City.  

As a woman I was accepted into the homes of members to give advice, pray with them, visit the sick, attend funerals, and so on. My greatest joy was to serve. 

Did you do the same work as a male pastor? Were you treated differently because you were a woman? Maybe you were able to accomplish different things and reach different people than a man would have been able to?

I did the same work as a pastor, but sometimes there was rejection. Sadly, often from my fellow ladies who were leaders in the church.

Why do you think it is important that women serve as pastors?

Personally, I think that the call to serve is for both sexes, since we all have the responsibility to finish the work that has been entrusted to us. Sadly, in recent years, young women who wanted to study theology to be pastors were discouraged and advised to choose another career, since there was no work for them. 

Have you seen changes in the number of women pastors and the way that woman pastors are treated by church members and by the church during the decades you have served the church?

No, there were no other women in my position employed to compare. I was the one who had the privilege of trailblazing and meeting the obstacles in the paths of women in the service of God.

How have you been spending your retirement?

 I continue to support churches with small groups, giving Bible studies, distributing literature, winning souls and traveling.

What advice would you give to a young woman considering entering the ministry in Mexico in the Inter-American Division?

It is very important to listen to the call of the Lord, in order to face the problems and difficulties that the enemy puts in the way and that hinder unity for the advancement of the work of God. There are few who listen to this call. God requires that women fill ourselves with courage, and with the power of the Holy Spirit, to proclaim the good news of Salvation. Let us go forward without fear!

Read Alita Byrd’s interviews with Woman of the Year co-recipients Norma Nashed, Drene Somasundram, and Olive Hemmings

Image: Maria Silvia Neri Castrejón (right) receiving AAW Woman of the Year Award.

About the author

Alita Byrd is the interviews editor for Spectrum. More from Alita Byrd.
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