Women's Ministries

Adventist Women's Ministries 100 Years of Service

According to the SDA Encyclopedia, Women's Ministries dates back to 1898 when the General Conference issued a ministerial license to Sarepta Myrenda Irish Henry. This was a vote of confidence in her work of women's ministries. In a letter from Australia that year, Mrs. White endorsed Mrs. Henry's work (see attached excerpt of her letter). In 1899, Mrs. Henry began publishing a weekly column entitled "Women's Gospel Work" in the Review. The column ceased when Mrs. Henry died in 1900.

Mrs. Henry had experience as a leader. In 1874 she joined the newly formed Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). The largest women's organization in the world, the WCTU campaigned against liquor and assisted families in crisis. In addition to lobbying against liquor, the organization advocated better schools, including the establishment of kindergartens, and improved nutrition. As an evangelist for the WCTU from 1879-1898, Mrs. Henry led hundreds to change their lives both in practical and spiritual ways as she urged them to accept Jesus as their Savior.

Mrs. Henry became a Seventh-day Adventist in 1898 after receiving treatment at Battle Creek Sanitarium. According to the SDA Encyclopedia "On March 30, 1898, several remarked that it was their judgment that she should receive a ministerial license, which would be more in keeping with her line of work. A motion prevailed to grant her such recognition from the General Conference."

Prior to Mrs. Henry's leadership in Women's Ministries, many women were active in promoting the Seventh-day Adventist message, Ellen White for one. Two examples demonstrate the caliber of leadership and vision of women. In June 1869, Mary Haskell started an intercessory prayer group for women in South Lancaster, Massachusetts. Later the group expanded its actions to include visiting the sick and distribution of literature. Eventually it became known as the "Vigilant Mission Society."

In Battle Creek, Mrs. Henry Gardner started a prayer ministry that became the Dorcas and Benevolent Association in October 1874. Like the Vigilant Missionary Society, this group prayed and put faith into action by caring for widows, orphans, and the ill. A century later this organization would develop into Adventist Community Services.

After noting that W. C. White ordained the first Adventist women deaconesses on January 6, 1900, in Australia, the SDA Encyclopedia says, "In print the ministries of women were not recorded from 1900 to the 1970's. This time period is sometimes called the 'silent years.' A record of the first woman ordained as a local church elder was Josephine Benton, at the Brotherhood Church in Washington, D.C., in 1972. A committee formed to respond to women's concerns. The Women's Commission on the Rose of Women' in the Church met for the first time in September 1973 at Camp Mohaven, Ohio.

"The NAD Women's Commission was voted by the 1983 Annual Council as a liaison between the women of the church and the NAD administration. This Commission was founded through the Office of Human Relations when Warren Banfield, director of OHR, received approval and financial support for its establishment." In March 1991, the NAD Women's Commission became Women's Ministries.

As a result of a vote at the 1985 General Conference session in New Orleans, the General Conference Committee established a Women's Ministries Advisory Committee and appointed Betty Holbrook as chair. Later Karen Flowers would be elected chair. The Advisory adopted a mission statement for Women's Ministries in August, 1988.

When the Commission on the Role of Women in the Church met in Cohutta Springs, Georgia, during July, 1989, Karen Flowers presented the findings of an international study of Seventh-day Adventist women in leadership. As a result, the Commission voted, "We recommend the employment of Women's Ministries Coordinators to coordinate ministries for all Adventist women, both lay and denominational employees: full time at General Conference and division levels; at least half time at unions and conferences."

In October 1990, the Annual Council established an Office of Women's Ministries at the General Conference, for "fostering ministry by women to women in the world church." Rose Otis was voted director. A thirty member Women's Ministries World Advisory was created. It meets regularly and provides direction for ministering to women. A yearly devotional book written by women for women is one of the projects that the Office of Women's Ministries sponsors. Proceeds fund scholarships for women.

In 1995 at Utrecht, the General Conference session conferred full departmental status on Women's Ministries. In 1996, Rose Otis was elected the first woman vice president in the North American Division with Women's Ministries as part of her assigned duties.

Dorothy Easton Watts was elected to replace her as director of the General Conference Women's Ministries Department. After Dorothy Watts resigned in 1997 when her husband was elected president of the Southern Asia Division, Ardis Stenbakken was elected director.

Many more women have contributed to the Seventh-day Adventist Church. For additional inspiring stories, read Notable Adventist Women of Today, edited by Selma Mastrapa Chaij. It is a commemorative book published by the Women's Ministries Department during 1995, the Year of the Adventist Woman. Available from AdventSource (800) 328-0525. For additional insight into the role of women in the Adventist Church, read A Woman's Place, Rosa Taylor Banks, editor, Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1992.