by Debbonnaire Kovacs

By Debbonnaire Kovacs
Submitted October 22, 2014
Dr. Ella Smith Simmons thought she could take early retirement and travel with her husband. Then she got a startling call from then GC President Jan Paulsen. Basically, he asked, “If you were asked to be a VP, would you do it?” When Simmons got her breath back, she agreed to pray about it. God seemed to be saying yes, but Simmons assumed it would be sharply opposed. “But,” she told us, “if God can shut a lion’s mouth, he can shut an Adventist’s mouth!” [Personal note: Some of us have first-hand experience of this fact!]
When she was elected, there were some who wouldn’t speak to her, and of course some “nasty blogs,” which she wisely refused to read. God said, “I’ve already taught you how to do this. Think back on the lessons I’ve taught you all along [referring to stories she had told us about her earlier professional and church life, of ongoing opposition and unfair or even trumped-up criticism].” She says Dr. Paulsen continued to intentionally mentor her, giving her assignments where she could learn how to operate, and show that a woman could carry the load.
Interlude: We’re heading across campus to lunch, and I am behind three young college women. On a whim, I ask, “Hey, can I ask you guys something?” They turn courteously, ready to direct the older lady to the restroom, or whatever… I ask, “If you felt called to be a pastor, do you feel you could do that?” Two of them look a little blank. “Well, yeah. Sure!” The third is unsure: “Well, you know, some people quote Paul, about how only men should lead the church…” But then she says, “But if God said, Sonya,* I want you to be a pastor,’ then yeah, I’d have to do that.” (*name changed.)
Dr. Gloria Ceballos’ father didn’t want a daughter; he thought women were basically useless. He went so far as to say, as he neared death, that no woman could have any part of his funeral. She grew up, therefore, always questioning herself, “but I told myself, ‘I’ve gotta do what I’ve gotta do!’” Her husband became her mentor, telling Ceballos, “We’re going to college, both of us, and we’re both getting our masters’ degrees!”
Jennifer Scott started out with respiratory therapy, but took extra religion classes. She says her profs were “so saturated in grace that it changed my whole life and my love for the church.” As she was finishing her degree, Richard Frederick and Randy Wisbey sat down with her and asked, “Why aren’t you considering pastoral theology?” Scott said no at first, but eventually worked her way through seminary with her respiratory degree. She was invited into ministry by Bill Loveless, whose recent death, a loss to all of us, hit her especially. She has been pastoring for 24 years now. Today, she teaches a different sort of “respiratory therapy”—the pneuma of grace.
Interlude: On the way to another meal, I poll another trio of young women. One says it’s sometimes hard to tell if God is calling you or it’s just your own idea, but all agree that if God called then yes, they would be pastors. I ask if they have personally seen discrimination or opposition, and they say no, and share stories of women pastors they know.
Tara VinCross, pastor of an urban church in Philadelphia where the average age is 27, was leading a workshop once when she saw the penny drop for one man. Late in the conference, he suddenly said, “Wait! You’re that Tara VinCross, the one I’ve been hearing about?! But…you’re not angry! You’re like Moses! You’re kind and compassionate!” He seemed downright tearful and later invited her to speak at her church. At her first board meeting at GC, David Weigley was seated in a prominent position because he was going to give the devotional. When he saw VinCross, he pulled forward one of the small chairs from the edges of the room, sat in it, and invited her to his seat.
Carla Baker, NAD Women’s Ministries Director, had a father who had insisted all his children go to public school, but when she went to college, she really wanted to go to an Adventist one. He “threw roadblocks” in her way, but the women of her church banded together, bought her all the things she would need in her dorm room, packed her up, and one of them drove her to school.
Sandra Roberts was at a multi-denominational conference on women in ministry, and another woman said, “We’re all lobsters, and we have to get over that.” Roberts asked her what she meant. “Well, you know how lobsters in a pot crawl all over each other to get to the top and don’t care who they step on?” Sandra told her, “Not us, we work together and have a wonderful, loving, positive experience.” She ended up featured in a “Youth Magalog” (that has since folded), telling the story of the way Adventist women work together to help each other to get where God is calling them.
Conclusion: Two of the young SAU women tell me of a friend who is a senior and will be going with her boyfriend to seminary, where both of them will seek M. Divs and pastorates. “How does this work?” they asked their friend. “Will you pastor the same church together?” The friend told them, “We don’t know, we’ll follow God, but he supports what I want to do and I support what he wants to do, so if we just get one call at first, that’s where we’ll go.”

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