By Adventist Today News Team
Monday morning (September 15) Dr. William A. Loveless passed away in Loma Linda, California. He was a noted, progressive leader in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination serving as senior pastor of two of the largest Adventist congregations; the 7,000-member University Church in Loma Linda and the 3,000-member Sligo Church on the campus of Washington Adventist University (WAU) in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Everywhere he went, Loveless initiated creative, new approaches for the Adventist movement. He started the Student Missionary program in 1959, one of the first inner city ministries (in Washington DC) in the 1960s, the first support groups for pastors while conference president in Pennsylvania in the 1970s and the first program for non-traditional students at an Adventist college in the 1980s. He was gifted at relating the Bible to contemporary life and co-hosted a television ministry in the capital of the United States for a number of years and more recently was part of the team that started the Loma Linda Broadcasting Network (LLBN).
Loveless believed that social justice was a fundamental part of the Adventist message and mission. In 1957 he challenged the church board at Sligo to end a policy refusing membership to people of color. In 1973 he was the first Adventist pastor to ordain a woman as local elder. In the last decade he was among the first to preside over the ordination of a woman as an Adventist pastor.
At the same time, reports Westwind, the alumni journal of Walla Walla University, where Loveless graduated with a degree in theology, there are many things that have been attributed to him which he did not do. “It is not true that Loveless once rode a motorcycle down the center aisle of a church service [and] it is not true that Loveless once levitated during a church workers’ meeting.”
“He did encourage and challenge an entire generation of progressive, creative leaders among Adventist ministers in North America,” stated Monte Sahlin, executive director of the Adventist Today Foundation. “I have lost count of the number of phone calls and Emails that I have received in the past 40 hours from men and women who tell me that Bill, as they know him, made a big difference in their lives, kept them dedicated to the Adventist mission and church.” Loveless is remembered for one particular rule that has warmed the hearts of many progressive Adventist leaders: “It is far easier to ask forgiveness than get permission.”
“Loveless was an extraordinary influence on this university,” Dr. Weymouth Spence, current president of WAU, told the Columbia Union Visitor. “Under his leadership, this university was among the first in the nation to launch an evening program designed to meet the needs of working adults. That program today is our School of Graduate and Professional Studies.”
Loveless led small congregations in the American northwest as a young man and then served as senior pastor of Sligo Church from 1957 to 1970, with many of the denomination’s top officials among the members. He was senior pastor of the University Church in Loma Linda from 1970 to 1976 and returned to serve another term from 1990 to 2000, a rare occurance in the Adventist denomination. He was president of the Pennsylvania Conference in 1976-78 and president of WAU in 1978-1990. After retiring in Loma Linda he continued on the faculty of the School of Religion and the School of Dentistry, and conducted a practice as a licensed marriage and family counselor.
He is survived by his wife, Dr. Edna Maye Loveless, a professor of English at La Sierra University, and their two daughters. Marti Olsen is a pastor’s wife and Marilynn Loveless is assistant professor of communications at WWU.
A memorial service will be held at the Loma Linda University Church on Sunday, September 28, at 2 p.m. It will be carried live on LLBN. The family has request that no one send flowers. Those who wish should make a contribution to one of Loveless’s three favorite ministries: Calexico Mission School, the School of Dentistry at LLU or LLBN.
A video documentary tribute to Loveless can be seen at www.llbn.tv.