• Pastor Melissa Cooke is the new Executive Secretary of the Maritime Conference
  • Pastor Lola Moore-Johnston is the first female lead pastor ever appointed by the Potomac Conference.

20 October 2021 |  Pastor Melissa Cooke and Pastor Lola Moore-Johnston have moved into top leadership positions in the Maritime Conference and the Potomac Conference, respectively.

Cooke is the new Executive Secretary of the Maritime Conference and will begin her role on Nov. 1, 2021, according to the conference website. The position of Executive Secretary is one of the top three leadership positions in a conference.

Cooke was born in Houston, Texas, USA, to El Salvadorean parents, but was raised in Toronto, Ontario. Cooke earned her BA in Religious Studies from Canadian University College in 2010 and her MDiv from Andrews University in 2017.  Cooke has served as a pastor of the British Columbia Conference since June 2010.

The Maritime Conference territory covers New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, with a membership of 1,688 and 27 churches, according to the Adventist Yearbook.

On July 1, 2021, Moore-Johnston was installed as the lead pastor of the Restoration Praise Center in Bowie, Maryland, USA. Restoration Praise Center started in 2006 as a Bible study, but by 2015 it had 1,100 people in attendance when it opened in its current location.

This is the first time in the history of the Potomac Conference that a woman has been selected as the lead pastor of a congregation, according to an article in Visitor Magazine.

The Potomac Conference has had female pastors before, including Josephine Benton, who served as senior pastor at the Rockville, Maryland, USA church from 1979-1982.

Rick Labate, vice president for Pastoral Ministries at the Potomac Conference, said the difference between a lead pastor and a senior pastor is that a lead pastor always has a staff that the pastor leads; senior pastors may or may not have staff.

“The fact that Lola has the distinction of being the first female pastor in Potomac to lead her own team is not lost on anyone who is aware of the calling that God has placed on her life and the gifts and abilities that he has given her to live out that calling,” said Charles A. Tapp, Potomac Conference president. “As the lead pastor of the Restoration Praise Center, I am confident that Lola will continue to help direct her congregation, as they seek to expand the kingdom of God ‘beyond the walls’ of their church and into the homes and hearts of those in their community.”

In 2015, delegates at the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists session voted against allowing divisions to decide whether or not to ordain women pastors in their regions. Pastoral ordination is required for conference presidents, and frequently it’s also assumed to be a requirement for other leadership positions in church administrative entities. The 2015 vote has meant that women remain barred from holding certain positions, by policy or tradition. Some members have mistaken that vote as a revocation of previous decisions authorizing women to serve as pastors and elders, but those remain unchanged.

Conferences and unions whose constituencies have voted to ordain or otherwise recognize female pastors equally are regarded by the GC to be “out of compliance” with denominational policy and risk facing official disciplinary action.

Photo: Lola Moore-Johnston, left, and Melissa Cooke have moved into top leadership positions in the Potomac Conference and the Maritime Conference, respectively. Photo collage via screenshots from Columbia Union Visitor magazine and Abbotsford Adventist church Youtube channel.

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