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Exceptional Pastors--changing Views of Members about Women Pastors
By Arin Gencer

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After more than 40 years attending Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill Seventh-day Adventist Church, Jesse Spencer had seen pastors come and go and thought he’d heard it all. But he never imagined his next pastor would be a woman.

The elder bristled when he heard the news almost five years ago. One of his first questions: “Where is this in the Bible?”
“It was a learning experience for me,” Spencer, now 72, said. “I hadn’t studied the Word; I was just going on what people say.”
For Spencer and many Adventists, female pastors remain the exception more than the rule. Some balk or go so far as to seek another church. Yet for others, the direct experience of a female pastor’s ministry can make all the difference, turning the doubtful or downright opposed into staunch advocates for women in clergy.

“Some of it is, I think, the unknown,” said Esther Knott, a pastor for more than 25 years, who works at Andrews University’s Pioneer Memorial Church. “I think the exposure to a woman [as a pastor] gives them even the willingness to look at it with different eyes.”
Spencer — unwilling to leave Chestnut Hill as others did when Tara VinCross was named senior pastor — turned to prayer.
“Lord, if this is the right thing to do, I want to keep my mouth closed and do what’s right,” he recalled saying. He asked questions about VinCross and studied “more than I ever have in my life,” mining the Bible, Testimonies for the Church and the Seventh-day Adventist Commentary for insight.
“Everything that I needed to have found about a lady pastor, the Holy Spirit showed me,” Spencer said. The texts that stood out most centered on Jesus’ resurrection, he said. While the male disciples “were afraid, shut up in a room,” the women waited at His tomb — and it was Mary Magdalene who announced the Lord had risen.

God’s message was clear, Spencer said: “I can use who I want to use.”

Brita Scribe experienced that revelation when she heard Pastor Paula Olivier preach at the Church of Oranges in New Jersey.
She’d always had male pastors, Scribe said, so “when I heard we were going to bring in the female pastor…I said, ‘No way, that’s just not biblical.’”
She pointed to verses in 2 Timothy that say women should remain quiet and not teach. She thought about looking for another church. But she was still at Oranges for one of Olivier’s first sermons.

“It wasn’t just her preaching; it was her whole demeanor. She had the spirit of God,” Scribe said. “I just fell in love with her.”
When Olivier left Oranges to be senior pastor at the First Seventh-day Adventist Church of Montclair less than five miles away, Scribe followed.
“God has opened my eyes,” Scribe said, “and I don’t see any reason why women cannot be a pastor….If the spirit of the Lord is calling you, then that’s what it is. And I know for a fact that Pastor Olivier was called by God.”

Olivier’s arrival at the Montclair church thrilled Robinya Scurry, then a worship coordinator who now serves as an elder — particularly because Olivier was the first woman pastor she had ever had. But Scurry remembered a time when she did wonder whether women could handle such a role.
“She proved me wrong,” Scurry said of Olivier. “I’ve never seen her in a vulnerable situation. I’ve never caught her off-guard.”
Olivier is downright tough, she added, and much more likely to tackle difficult issues head-on than some of her male counterparts.
“She doesn’t sugarcoat anything,” Scurry said. “She’s tough…tougher than some of the male pastors in some situations.”
At Chestnut Hill, Spencer has been similarly impressed with VinCross’ mettle and drive.

“I have never seen what is going on now in all of these 40-something years I’ve been there,” Spencer said. “People are coming in by leaps and bounds.
“God intended to allow me to be living to know that women had a great part to play in the end times,” he added. “I believe that with all my heart. I see how the women are just coming to the front.”

Spencer and Scurry are part of a growing number of church members who are lead by the 107 female pastors in the North American Division. Male pastors such as Walt Williams and Stan Patterson are elated to see the growth.

Williams believes that in some cases women can be more effective ministering to the needs of women. He also appreciates the unique perspective that women bring to preaching “When I have had the privilege of listening to a woman’s sermon I hear different perspectives of the nature of God of how a woman hears the message from scripture in her context.” This, he believe is refreshing to new generations:
“I would see also that a woman pastor would be able to communicate to a younger generation of the inclusiveness of the call of God; that it’s not specific to any race or nationality or gender.”
Stan Patterson believes that societal timing requires that we have more female pastors. “There was a period in the WW II generation post WWII generation when the pastor’s wife accompanied him in ministry. It was kind of a freebie for the church. But those days are gone.”
Most pastoral couples can’t afford to live on one salary so the feminine touch of the pastor’s wife can’t be taken for granted. He points out that the majority of church members are female. This creates a challenge for male pastors to provide personal ministerial support to female parishioners without compromising ethical standards.

“I discovered that having a female pastor on staff answered many of the frustrations, many of the scheduling problems that I faced as a pastor working alone. She was able to do things without the stress of scheduling that I simply couldn’t do. I came out of that experience with a strong sense of if I were pastoring again, and I had one associate it would be a female.”

Hyveth Williams, professor of homiletics, believes that congregations would do well to hire a female pastor. Many times women do better in handling the ego conflict that sometimes occurs in congregations. Women tend to listen and weigh things out and avoid the ‘I’m in charge’ trap. “We wrap our arms around people and say ‘we’re in this together’.”

As North America churches now have gender choices Esther Knott encourages congregations to be open to a female pastor. “For some congregations, if they’ve never had a woman pastor or considered that, it’s a big deal, a very big step, and change in the way that people have thought before. But I’ve found that once people start entering into the process and they actually have a female pastor that they work alongside with, they said ‘this was a no brainer, why was this so difficult?’”

Hyveth Williams promises that “when a church hires a woman they are getting three times as much because we are fresh, we’re new, and we’re hungry to please God and please those who have hired us.” Williams makes congregations an offer. “I’ll guarantee that when you take the right called woman and place her in ministry she will give you outstanding professional accomplishments beyond your imagination.