I trusted the call, says first female Seventh-day Adventist pastor
On July 2, 2022 Michelle Hill made history when she became the first female commissioned to lead a Seventh-day Adventist church in Bermuda.
She is now pastor of the Pembroke Seventh-day Adventist Church and founder of the ministry group, Women Connecting in Prayer.
The accomplishment follows years of devotion by Mrs Hill, to her faith, education and ministry. It represents a huge step for the Bermuda Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, which had never given ministerial credentials to a woman until last year.
Her commissioning in July means that Mrs Hill is recognised globally as a “pastor” in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and is eligible to serve outside of Bermuda.
She began her journey into ministry many years ago. When she reflects on her childhood and early adolescence, she can see the way God was preserving her for a purpose.
“We don’t call ourselves to ministry. God calls us. So, he called me very distinctly and profoundly and told me that this was a journey he wanted me to take. And then he sent others who affirmed that call,” she said.
Answering the call came with a bit of “reluctance”, she admitted.
“There was a reluctance because of the atmosphere and theological position of our denomination. The call was a crossroad for me. Was I going to trust the reality of what I saw or was I going to trust the call that I felt on my life?”
She chose to follow the call and embarked on a spiritual and educational journey.
“It was the most powerful experience because I saw the hand of God. When God revealed to me that this is what he wanted me to do, I knew that I would need to be academically prepared.”
She believed that God “opened a door” with the launch of a programme in personal ministry at Atlantic Union College.
“I began the academic journey there. Eventually, I transferred into the full-time ministry programme. I graduated with a bachelor of religion and theology. Once I graduated, God came and told me that the next step was seminary. With my husband’s support, I went off to Andrew’s University Theological Seminary and received my Master of Divinity.”
Upon completion of her studies, Mrs Hill returned to Bermuda and was met with an additional challenge – the obstacle of the ordination of women in the Adventist church, a “hot topic” within the global Adventist church for many years.
In the 1970s and 1980s the discussions were primarily centred on the ordination of women as elders and deaconesses, which was approved by the General Conference in 1984, however the ordination of women as pastors is something that has remained controversial for the denomination.
According to a 1989 survey, the majority of Adventist Unions were not in favour of ordaining women as pastors. In 1990 it was permitted for women to be “commissioned in pastoral ministry” within the Seventh-day Adventist Church, but the 2015 General Conference voted against the ordination of women as pastors.
“When I started this journey I wasn’t even thinking about ordination,” Mrs Hill said. “I wanted to serve and minister to God’s people, and we cannot serve for titles. We serve to do the will of God. And ordination comes from God alone.
“But there was a great theological debate on the topic. A debate based on people’s views of the scriptures. When we look through the scriptures with a patriarchal lens, we’ll see the scripture in a certain way. But when we choose to look at the scriptures through the eyes of God and how he has used women so powerfully, we will see the scripture in a different light.”
Needless to say, the commissioning of Mrs Hill was a major milestone for the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Bermuda. While there were already dozens of women in North America serving in pastoral roles, this was still very uncommon in more conservative unions of the faith.
“The climate was turbulent. I met much adversity and opposition. I wasn’t certain if I was wanted, but God reminded me that He wants me,” she said.
During those times of discouragement, Mrs Hill held on to a promise that God had given her when she left to pursue her degree at Andrews University.
“I left Bermuda on August 11, 2008 and I sat on that flight and God said to me, ‘I am going to bring you back to this land and I am going to establish you.’ I had left everything that was familiar and all I had was that promise.”
She believes that the promise carried her through.
“When we walk in faith and see obstacles in the natural, we have to look to heaven. My testimony is one that points to heaven.
“My courage comes from my faith in who God is and I wouldn’t change this journey. It was never about me. It was what God wanted to do through me. All of this was for his glory.”
While the ordination of women as pastors in the Adventist Church in Bermuda is still pending, Mrs Hill’s commissioning bridged a major gap in leadership for the faith.
“Someone else may have seen the glass as half empty, but I see it as half full.”
“I went through this journey to clear the way for a future generation. And I celebrate what God has done. I celebrate that I have lived to see him do mighty and marvellous things. And I celebrate what I know He will do in His church.”
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