Women conference presidents: a forgotten history

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Petra (Tunheim) Skadsheim. (Source: Adventist Encyclopedia)

Introduction

Seventh-day Adventist History is certainly fascinating. It is full of wonderful stories of faith, inspiration, and missionary efforts. Although our pioneers did not always feel the need to write their stories, the passage of time demanded the writing and publication of books in order to preserve the history of the church. Unfortunately, many of those books overlooked the participation of women in church and missionary leadership. Few authors have attempted to tell and publish the stories of those women who played influential and significant roles in Adventist history. Perhaps the pioneer in this regard was Ava Covington, with her book They Also Served: Stories of Pioneer Women of the Adventist Movement published in 1940.[i] She was followed by John Beach, with his book Notable Women of Spirit: The Historical Role of Women in the Seventh-day Adventist Church published in 1976.[ii]

Over time other researchers have explored the rich history of women pioneers, including Bert Haloviak,[iii] Michael Bernoi,[iv] Bertha Dasher,[v] Ramona Perez-Greek[vi] and Silvia Scholtus.[vii] Nevertheless, the participation of women in pastoral ministry in particular, has not always been addressed or explored. Perhaps the most important contribution to this topic was produced by Josephine Benton in her book Called by God: Stories of Seventh-day Adventist Women Ministers published in 1990.[viii] She told in detail the stories of seven women who worked as pastors and evangelists in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Other researchers that have explored this issue in-depth are Daniel Mora[ix] and Randal Wisbey.[x]

Thanks to the dedicated work of these authors and historians, today we have a much more complete history of the active participation of women in the origin and development of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. However, there is still an aspect of female participation in the ecclesiastical leadership that has not yet been properly explored, specifically the presidency of Conferences.

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