by AT News Team
Dr. Josephine Benton will be ordained to the gospel ministry on Sabbath, February 16, at Sligo Seventh-day Adventist church in Takoma Park, Maryland. She has been a pioneer in ending gender discrimination in pastoral ministry in the Adventist denomination since the 1960s. She is 87 years of age and has been approved for ordination by the Potomac Conference and the Columbia Union Conference.
A professor of speech in the 1960s and early 1970s at what is now Washington Adventist University, Benton taught young would-be pastors how to preach. Her father was a well-known evangelist and she told Taashi Rowe, news editor for The Visitor (official publication of the Columbia Union Conference) that as a child she “would sit and listen to my dad’s sermons and I always knew that if I had been born a boy, I would be a preacher.”
Benton took some courses in pastoral ministry at Wesley Theological Seminary, then located in Takoma Park and in 1973 was appointed by the General Conference (GC) officers as a member of the first major study committee on the role of women in the church. The group produced 29 Bible research papers known as the Mohaven Papers because the committee met at Camp Mohaven, the youth camp facility of the Ohio Conference. It also recommended a process for including women among the ordained ministers in the Adventist Church by 1975.
Some of the recommendations from the study committee were eventually voted by the GC executive committee and confirmed by vote of the delegates at the 1990 session in Indianapolis. Among the most important were the policies that approved the ordination of women as local elders and extended many of the functions of ordained ministers to women ordained as local elders and employed as pastors.
Benton was the first woman in the 20th century to be ordained as a local elder in the Adventist denomination and employed as a pastor. She served as an associate pastor at Sligo Church and also as pastor of a church plant in Washington, DC. From 1979 to 1982 she was senior pastor of the Rockville (Maryland) Church. After retiring from denominational employment, she served for 19 years as chaplain for the Williamsport Retirement Village in Williamsport, Maryland.
Although it’s taken a while for women pastors to be recognized through ordination, Benton told Rowe that she has seen it coming for a long time and believes it will come to the entire world church. At a special constituency meeting in July last year delegates to the Columbia Union Conference voted four to one to end gender discrimination relative to ordination. Under the new policy adopted by the constituency delegates, the union conference executive committee then approved 16 women for ordination and many of these have had an ordination service in recent months.
In November, the Columbia Union Conference executive committee named Benton as a Notable Person of Honor. “We’ve been talking about equality in ministry in the Columbia Union for 40 years,” said Pastor Rob Vandeman, executive secretary of the union conference, as he made the presentation with Benton present. “Shame on us that when Josephine Benton was an associate pastor at Sligo Church or the senior pastor at Rockville Church, that we as a church family did not have the courage to ordain her. We don’t know how to apologize as a church for the time it has taken us to recognize the contribution that [she] and other women have made to the ministry.”