by AT News Team

Pastor Ray Hartwell was re-elected on Sunday (November 11) as president of the Pennsylvania Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church despite the opposition of a small number of people on the nominating committee. A secret ballot among delegates at a regular constituency session voted at 4:30 p.m., 236 to 102 to appoint Hartwell for another three-year term. A round of applause immediately occurred.
 
The nominating committee had previously recommended Pastor Mike Ortel, president of the denomination’s Northern New England Conference. This resulted in heated debate and a request to return the recommendation to the nominating committee for further consideration. At 12:30 p.m. Columbia Union Conference president Pastor Dave Weigley, in the chair, sent the delegates to lunch and asked the nominating committee to meet with him. Many people lined up to make statements to the committee as it met into the afternoon.
 
Hartwell has specifically avoided moving ahead with the ordination of women pastors despite the fact that there is at least one clear candidate for such a move. He has been criticized for commissioning Pastor Tara VinCross, senior pastor at the Chestnut Hill Church in Philadelphia, even though that is entirely within denominational policy and fully authorized by the General Conference (GC). Opposition has come from those who believe that women should not exercise spiritual leadership of any kind.
 
The attempt to replace Hartwell as conference president on this issue is ironic since he is the delegate at the 2010 GC Session in Atlanta who asked for a study of the theology of ordination. That request resulted in an announcement a few days later by newly-elected GC President Ted Wilson that such a study would be conducted which set the stage for the current controversy on this topic.
 
Adventist Today has been told that in addition to the issue of women in pastoral ministry, there were also people in the conference who were upset with Hartwell’s handling of the youth camp facilities owned by Pennsylvania Conference. It is located in the far western reaches of the state while the majority of the membership lives in the eastern part of the conference. It has been a cause of contention since the Pennsylvania Conference was created from a merger of the previous West Pennsylvania and East Pennsylvania conferences nearly a half century ago. There has been sharp disagreement over whether to sell the property and purchase a new site closer to the middle of the state as well as years when the facilities have gone unused.
 
“A more than two to one margin of support for Elder Hartwell in a conference as conservative as Pennsylvania is a good sign,” a retired pastor who served in the state told Adventist Today. “It appears that support for women in ministry has grown to include a strong majority of Adventists across North America and Europe.”
 
Chaplain Barbara Rutt, a commissioned minister in the Pennsylvania Conference serving as a chaplain for Lehigh Valley Health Network, told Spectrum, the journal of the largest organization of Adventist academics, “Women in ministry was only discussed in pockets of people during the lunch break. Some are for it, some are not. It is an issue that for now in Pennsylvania is best left for [the] 2015 General Conference Session.” Rutt and her husband were delegates at the constituency session.