Pacific Union Timeline: Women in Adventist Ministry



  • Mr. and Mrs. Merritt G. Kellogg enter California by ox wagon, first known Seventh-day Adventists in west.


  • Seventh-day Adventist Church is organized. Ellen White, a woman, is co-founder.


  • James White asks, “Has no one any impressions of duty relative to the California Field?” John Loughborough and Daniel T. Bourdeau agree to go, with wives.
  • Ellen White tells Loughborough and Bourdeau: “You cannot labor in California as you did in Boston. Such strict economy would be considered ‘penny-wise’ [cheap] by Californians. Things are managed there on a more liberal scale. You will have to meet them in the same liberal spirit, but not in a spendthrift [wasteful] way.”
  • Loughborough and Bourdeau hold first evangelistic meetings, in San Francisco.
  • They report: “There are some pleasant features connected with tent meetings here, in contrast with tent meetings in the States, to which we could call attention. We have no rain here …. We have not here to watch the clouds for fear the people will be scared away from our meetings; we have only to watch at meeting time, and see them come in.” [California became a state in 1850. Apparently no one told Loughborough and Bourdeau.]


  • Abraham LaRue baptized in Windsor. Became first Adventist missionary to China.
  • First baptism west of Rocky Mountains, first church established at Santa Rosa.


  • First camp meeting in west – James and Ellen White speak at Windsor.
  • Ellen White writes to her children: “I think I never saw a company altogether so intelligent, so exceptional in every way, as the company we met at the campground.”


  • Resolutions Committee at GC Session in Battle Creek presents resolution: “Resolved that females possessing the necessary qualifications to fill that position, may, with perfect propriety, be set apart by ordination to the work of the Christian ministry.” This resolution was referred to the GC Executive Committee, perhaps for action, but there is no record of any action taken.


  • Fifteen percent of church administrative positions in North American are held by women.


  • Though General Conference policy provides for only two levels of administration — GC and local conference — the first Union is formed by Australians, in Australia. Adventist historian George Knight, in his book, Organizing to Beat the Devil, picks up the story on page 84. Though GC president O. A. Olsen, initially rejected the idea, “it wasn’t all that difficult to convince Olsen of the need to decentralize authority so that most decision-making could take place regionally without reference to the authorities in Battle Creek, who really didn’t understand the situation anyway.” “Years later [first executive secretary, A. G.] Daniels reported that not everyone was happy with the union conference idea. ‘Some of our brethren thought then that the work was going to be wrecked, that we were going to tear the organization all to pieces, and get up secession out there in the South Sea islands.’ But in actuality, he observed, the result was quite the opposite. The new organizational approach greatly facilitated the mission of the church in the South Pacific while the new Australian Union Conference remained a loyal and integral part of the General Conference system. Thus by 1894 a new entity had been ‘invented’ in Australia to decentralize the authority of the General Conference leadership and facilitate the denominations work in the South Pacific.”


  • Unions, as pioneered under Ellen White’s watchful eye in Australia, are approved for all areas of the world, after Ellen White comments publicly at this GC session that the old idea that the General Conference was “the voice of God to the people, as we once believed the General Conference to be, that is past,” and after she calls for the end of “kingly” or hierarchical power in the church. Two years later, Ellen White explained the core of the 1901 reorganization: “It has been a necessity to organize union conferences, that the General Conference shall not exercise dictation over all the separate conferences.” Ellen White, Manuscript 26, April 3, 1903. For an indepth discussion of the reorganization of 1901, see Who Runs the Church, by Gerry Chudleigh, 2013.


  • Percent of administrative positions in North America held by women has dropped to 11%.


  • Autumn Council recommends that all departmental leaders, including home missionary and missionary volunteer secretaries be selected [from those] who have had successful experience in evangelistic work, preferably ordained ministers. Inadvertently eliminates many women who had specialized in departmental ministry. As a result, by 1928 the percent of administrative positions in North America held by women has declined to 7.8%.


  • During Great Depression in U.S., Autumn Council recommends: "Because of the exigencies of the present economic conditions ... We recommend, That … husband and wife shall not be remuneratively employed. Where … it seems necessary to vary from this rule … the wife be paid on the basis of a greatly reduced wage." As a result, by 1935 the percent of administrative positions in North America held by women has declined to 4.5%.


  • General Conference Officers vote to study women’s ordination.


  • April: General Conference Officers vote to include the subject of women’s ordination on the agenda for 1968 Autumn Council and to appoint a study committee.
  • September: General Conference Officers appoint study committee on “the theology of ordination of women.”


  • General Conference Officers agree to appoint a study committee on women’s ordination and submit a report to the 1970 Autumn Council.


  • First woman ordained as a local church elder. General Conference officers refer issue of ordaining women to ministry to the Biblical Research Committee.


  • General Conference Committee establishes an ad hoc committee, under the direction of the GC Biblical Research Institute to study women’s ordination. It meets at Camp Mohaven, Ohio, in September. Recommends women be ordained as local church elders and proposes a pilot program that would lead to the ordination of women ministers in 1975. The report observes: “When God called Ellen White…in an era of considerable hostility toward women in religious roles…is there any way to suggest that a qualified, called, dedicated, humble woman should be denied the highest recognition that the church is able to place upon the calling of God's Spirit to service, because she is a woman – especially in an age more favorable to the involvement of women in leadership roles?”
  • Annual Council “receives” Camp Mohaven report, which says: “we see no significant theological objection to the ordination of women to church ministries,” but recommends more study be given to the theological soundness of women’s ordination.


  • Autumn Council calls for more study, saying the time is not right or opportune for ordaining women.


  • Annual Council approves ordination of women as deaconesses, and permits the ordination of women as local church elders “if the greatest discretion and caution” is applied. Ends century-old practice of granting women ministerial licenses; replaces them with missionary licenses.


  • Discussion of women’s ordination dropped from agenda of Annual Council.
  • Gordon Hyde, Director, Biblical Research Institute reports: “The above observations, tied to the work done over a period of several years by the BRI and an associated study committee, provide the consensus of those involved that there is neither theological mandate nor objection to ordination of women to any level of responsibility for which ordination is indicated.” 


  • NAD Women’s Commission established; they are directed by GC not to discuss women’s ordination.


  • Annual Council reaffirms 1975 Spring Meeting decision that women may be ordained as local church elders.


  • Annual Council votes that women may work as ministers but should not expect to be ordained.


  • College teacher, Samuele Bacchiocchi, self-publishes Women in the Church, a book that argues that Bible teachings on male headship and male priesthood prohibit women from serving as elders or pastors. Books making similar arguments are published in 1994 and 1995 by C. Raymond Holmes, retired seminary professor, and Samuel Koranteng-Pipim. These books give shape to arguments opposing women serving as pastors or being ordained.


  • Southeastern California Conference calls for women’s ordination.
  • Pacific Union Conference passes resolution urging General Conference to eliminate gender as a consideration for ordination to ministry. NAD union presidents endorse women’s ordination. GC Commission on the Role of Women in the Church meets, votes not to recommend ordination of women to ministry, though they make it clear that their recommendation is not based on any clear instructions from the Bible or Ellen White.


  • General Conference Session votes to accept the report and recommendations of the GC Commission on the Role of Women in the Church, declining to approve the NAD’s request to “approve ordination of women to the gospel ministry,” citing lack of support in the world church and “the possible risk of disunity, dissension, and diversion from the mission of the church.” As a result of this vote, the church continues without any policy limiting ordination to males, or approving women for ordination.
  • Women pastors are confirmed as being able to perform baptisms and marriages.


  • The GC Session delegates decline the NAD request to let divisions develop polices that include the ordination of women to ministry. As a result of this vote, the church continues without any policy limiting ordination to males, or approving women for ordination.
  • The Pacific Union Conference Executive Committee votes that “while being loyal to the Seventh-day Adventist Church, [we are] committed to the ordination of women to the gospel ministry and to working toward the day when that will happen.”


  • NAD establishes President’s Commission on Women in Ministry.
  • The Dean’s Council at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary at Andrews University, appoints 18 professors and two students to a “special committee” to study hermeneutics and ordination. In 1998 they publish the book Women in Ministry. The 20 chapters argue that the Bible supports the ordination of women to pastoral ministry.


  • Southeastern California Conference issues identical “ordained-commissioned” credentials to female and male ministers.


  • Pacific Union begins combining requests for ordination or commissioning (or combination thereof) into one list and voting approvals for “ordination/commissioning.” This procedure does not officially or specifically approve women pastors for ordination, but does permit local conferences to apply the approvals according to local conference policy regarding women in ministry.
  • Northern California Conference Constituency Session votes to recommend women’s ordination to General Conference.


  • General Conference Session restricts the position of conference presidents to ordained ministers.


  • GC President Jan Paulsen says regarding women’s ordination: “Why don't we ordain women to the ministry in the same way as we do men? You all know we've been around this one a few times. It’s just a question of ‘can we make this major change and still hold together as a global community?’” In 2009 he states in the Adventist Review, “The fact is, we have at least half a dozen women pastors who are ordained as ministers in China. We recognize them as ordained ministers; they are in our records in the statistics in the Yearbook.”


  • General Conference President Jan Paulsen polls the 13 division presidents to see how divisions would accept ordination of women if it were approved at GC session. Eight say such a policy would hinder evangelism in their part of the world, so Paulsen announces that women’s ordination will not be on the agenda for GC Session.
  • Pacific Union Conference executive committee re-affirms the 1995 union committee statement “supporting the ordination of women and their full and equal participation in all phases of ministry.”
  • GC Session votes that the Church Manual should be changed to read: “a service should be held for ordination for deacons and deaconesses.
  • Delegate makes motion from floor that Biblical Research Institute work with Bible scholars from Andrews University to determine if Bible does or does not support the ordination of women. Chair rules motion out of order, but says steering committee will respond. The next day, chair announces that the new General Conference president, Ted Wilson, has promised to set up some kind of study process before the 2015 session.


  • GC Annual Council approves a plan developed by GC administration for a worldwide study of “the theology of ordination.” According to the plan, study results from biblical research committees in each of the 13 divisions are to pass through the 13 division executive committees, then will be sent to a combined biblical research committee appointed by GC administration. That committee will read the 13 reports and write a new “combined” report. The combined report will pass through four committees of administrators and be processed by GC administration before possibly resulting in a recommendation to be voted at the 2015 GC session, if GC administration decides it should.
  • NAD votes to amend NAD Working Policy E 60 to say that conference and mission presidents should be “ordained or commissioned” ministers, meaning that they can be male or female.


  • NAD reverses its E 60 policy and apologizes, after GC clarifies that divisions are part of GC, not having separate bylaws or constituencies. The clarification published by the GC reminds church leaders that the final responsibility and authority for deciding who will be ordained has been delegated by the membership to the unions.
  • Mid-America Union votes to support the ordination of women, then decides to wait for GC approval.
  • Southeastern California Conference issues “ordination” credentials to all ministers, both men and women.
  • North German Union Conference Constituency Session votes to ordain women.
  • Dr. Jan Paulsen makes a statement to Spring Meeting: “If there were clear inspired mandates, in the Scriptures or in the writings of Ellen White, giving us directions in this matter [women’s ordination], we would not be having this discussion as a global church. We have in the past concluded, through the work of several commissions, and reported back to this council, that we find no such mandate on which there is broad agreement.”
  • Pacific Union Conference calls special session to amend bylaws to make it clear that the executive committee can approve ordinations without regard to gender.
  • Columbia Union Conference delegates at a special session vote to authorize ordinations without regard to gender.