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Spencerville Sabbath Worship and the Unity Discussions: Two Different Planets


On Sabbath (October 29), I attended church at the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Maryland.  The day before, I attended the North American Division Year-end Meeting in the General Conference building.  The two spaces are just a few miles apart as the crow flies. I might as well have been on two different planets. 

The Spencerville church is special to me. I started attending there in the mid-1940s as a pre-school child. We met in a plywood shack. Today, it is a beautiful facility and a beautiful congregation. The organ music soared. The space and the stained glass windows created an atmosphere of worship. I felt blessed. The speaker was a new, young associate pastor, a graduate of the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary–a woman. 

Andrea Jakobsons is the daughter of Jiri Maskala, Dean of the Seminary (He was there and beaming – as he should have been). This is her first pastoral post.  She has only been on the job a few months, but I’m guessing the apple does not fall far from the tree. Her sermon was a blessing to me, both by its content and its source.  

Pastor Jakobsons told the story of how she came to be at Spencerville. She was on a different career track, planning to study for her Ph.D. Then came the invitation to Spencerville. She was not inclined to accept. However, through a series of events and interventions by family and friends, she became convinced she was being called by God and accepted the invitation. She actually sounded shocked that she had wound up being a pastor. 

On Sabbath at Spencerville, I heard Andrea Jakobsons tell the story of being called to the ministry by the Holy Spirit. It just appalls me when antagonists think they know the will of God and what the Holy Spirit will and will not do in the quest for souls. I think I heard reality from a young woman called by Holy Spirit.

I liked visiting this planet. Very much.

I attended the NAD Year-end Meeting the day before because I was a member of the NAD Education Taskforce. We gave our final report. I stayed around for the discussion of the action by the General Conference Executive Committee to adopt a process to achieve unity with (bring into line) those union conferences that are ordaining women. 

Clearly, I was on a different planet on Friday. 

What I say next is my own perspective, based on observation and conversations with many people attending the meeting. This may sound like a bit of stream of consciousness. 

The atmosphere in the General Conference auditorium was palpable. The predominant mood in the room was to just say “no” to the GC. Some were ready to put a motion of the floor to tell the GC right now that there was going to be no backing up, thus avoiding dragging out, the reconciliation process for a year. Had such a motion been made, I believe it may well have passed. 

Actually, some other unions are said to have explored whether to begin ordaining women in solidarity with the Pacific and Columbia Unions. 

The conference presidents were invited to the Year-end Meeting this year to gather their views. They do not usually attend. The word on the street is that collectively they are deeply disturbed and in opposition to the GC action. 

NAD President Dan Jackson, in my opinion, got it exactly right when he said yesterday that while the General Conference says the action is about “policy,” Jackson believes the initiative against certain unions is precisely and unequivocally about the ordination of women, not policy. Amen! I firmly believe that. 

Further, I fear that the term “policy” is actually a Trojan Horse for advancing the alien Headship Theology in our midst under other terminology. This is disingenuous, at best. Headship Theology is not a part of our belief system. Those who believe in it are actually outliers in our midst – anywhere they are found. 

It is not coincidental that Headship Theology believers are also big on authoritarian hierarchies. That concept is part and parcel of Headship Theology. So those believers would be delighted by an authoritarian attempt by the GC. 

I want to publicly thank Dan Jackson for his leadership in this situation. He handled the meeting last Friday with transparency, grace, good humor, steely grit, and frankness.  We should be thankful for his presence.  He is in a lonely place. We should pray for courage, wisdom, prudence and, discretion for him. He sits in a very difficult spot, between the proverbial rock and hard place. He is technically a GC employee as Division President. He says he cannot and does not advocate for policy violations within North America.

Yet he stated openly, based on his knowledge of the situation – but not his advocacy of such a position – that if the unions are asked by the GC to “repent” and roll back prior ordinations of women, and to discontinue future ordinations of women, he knows the answer will be “no.” He is convinced that if the GC were to come to the NAD Executive Committee to ask its members to dissolve the Pacific and Columbia Unions, he knows the answer will be “no.” He openly also stated that such a series of events would lead to a crisis, about which no one can predict the outcome.

I am convinced personally, based in part on conversations with those in a position to know the back-story, that this looming confrontation is the work of one man, the President of the General Conference. I believe there are many GC people who are opposed to the proposed course of action. They got steamrolled. While the proposed process has been adopted on a split vote of the GC Executive Committee, I believe it is one man’s initiative, and he owns it. Yes, it was voted by a majority, by those Divisions who oppose women’s ordination. But I believe the initiative came from the President. I believe his motivations are theological, political (in terms of world church dynamics), and personal.  It is baffling to me why he would precipitate a crisis, especially with policy as pretext. There must be something deeper. There must also be an antidote.

I think I saw at work on Friday a determination on the part of leaders and laymen from across the NAD to protect a principle enshrined in our structure since 1901. The principle is that when times arise where there is an overreach or a power play by one or a few people, our organizational structure will allow us to just say “no.” I believe we are at just such a point in time. The principle may be tested. My reading of the tea leaves is that when the test comes, the union conferences in the NAD will stand in unity against the overreach. I could be wrong.  I hope not. I want to belong to a fellowship, not a hierarchy. 

The planet I visited Friday felt dark. There was tension in the air. There were a bunch of people meeting in a room who were feeling aggrieved by the man upstairs a few floors. It was like the meeting was occurring in alien space. (I got a tour of the new NAD offices while in town.) They were sensing the darkness, too. It was like being in a threatening atmosphere, a place of coercion. 

I believe in my heart that most of the NAD delegates to the meeting Friday would prefer to be on the planet I visited Sabbath. 

The planet I visited Sabbath felt light. I felt blessed by a women minister who appeared to be in awe of the fact that God called her. She appears to want to respond with her best contributions in His service. Let us not stand in the way of her reaching her full potential in God’s calling. 


Edward Reifsnyder is a healthcare consultant, president of The Reifsnyder Group, and senior vice-president of FaithSearch Partners. He and his wife Janelle live in Fort Collins, Colorado, and have two daughters.

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