by Colleen Uechi
On April 27, eight months after its highly disputed vote to approve women’s ordination, the Pacific Union Conference officially recognized Pacific Union College (PUC) religion professor Dr. Jean Sheldon as an ordained minister of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Sheldon is the only female professor in PUC’s religion department.
A recognition service was planned instead of sending her new credentials in the mail or having a complete ordination ceremony. She had previously experienced the "laying on of hands" that is the key element in an ordination, but felt simply receiving documents in the mail would not fully address the significance of the event.
“It means a lot to the students that this [ordination] is actually happening, and they need to see an example of it,” said Sheldon. “I think this is a time for celebration. We want to celebrate what the Spirit is doing in the Pacific Union.”
As part of the service, theology majors Samantha Angeles and Lauren Cline read Sheldon’s personal account of her journey to becoming a theologian, from being a secondary school student frustrated with flavorless religion classes, to a freshman journalism major asking God for signs of His desire for her to study theology. Then, when those signs were fulfilled within days, becoming a theology student with a passion for the Old Testament and teaching.
Earlier that morning in Sabbath School, as part of her honors project, Angeles also described some of the struggles Sheldon experienced as the only woman in several of her theology courses at Andrews University. “She’s a petite woman, but she’s full of so much strength,” said Angeles, in admiration of her under-five-foot professor.
Pastor Brad Newton, executive secretary of the Pacific Union Conference, presented Sheldon with her credentials and certificate of ordination. The students, faculty and church members in the sanctuary gave a standing ovation, which Sheldon acknowledge with a smile and pointed heavenward. Sheldon made a few remarks. Pastor Jonathan Henderson, a former student of Sheldon’s, preached the sermon.
“For me it was just a moment of justice,” said senior theology student Cameron Haley about the event. “She has been a pastor to me, not just a teacher. She’s someone who makes herself available even outside the class to make students feel loved and also to facilitate a connection to Jesus, and that’s what pastoring is.”
Sheldon’s ordination comes eight years after her 2005 commissioning ceremony, during which she participated in a laying on of hands—a New Testament tradition in which both lay and clergy place hands upon an individual as affirmation of the individual’s call to ministry. As a commissioned minister, Sheldon could baptize, preach and officiate at weddings. Commissioned ministers are not eligible for leadership positions such as conference president.
The Pacific Union Conference is the third union conference in the denomination to vote in favor of women’s ordination, following the Columbia Union Conference and the Northern German Union Conference. Sheldon believes that God has called her to be a theologian, citing an afternoon in college when God spoke to her and gave her such a call. After she accepted, the Holy Spirit then anointed her ear, saying, “So that you will always hear My voice” … her thumb, “So that you will do my will” … and her toe, “So that you will always walk in my ways.”
“God ordained me. It’s done,” said Sheldon, although she believes the subject of women’s ordination is anything but finished within the denomination. “I think this whole move to ordain women … is something the Holy Spirit has done,” she added. “And to me, I believe that this is not the last we will see of the Holy Spirit’s movement.”
Colleen Uechi is editor of the campus newspaper at Pacific Union College.