Allegheny East Pastor’s Ordination Service Comes as a Delightful Surprise
Story by Melissa Andrews; Photos by Claudette Smith
During the 11 o’clock service on Sabbath, January 5, Brenda Billingy, senior pastor of Allegheny East Conference’s (AEC) Metropolitan church in Hyattsville, Md., looked from her chair on the podium to the back of her church and wondered, “Why is the [Columbia] Union president here?” She soon found out. Her associate pastor, Marquis D. Johns, had planned a surprise ceremony, that included Columbia Union president Dave Weigley, executive secretary Rob Vandeman and treasurer Seth Bardu, to celebrate her ministerial credentials that had been recently revised to indicate that she is an ordained Seventh-day Adventist minister. These revised credentials were made possible because of the historic vote by the Columbia Union Conference Special Constituency Session on July 29, 2012, that allowed “ordination to the gospel ministry without regard to gender.” Prior to the vote, Billingy gave a stirring presentation to the constituents about her calling to ministry and wore a cap and gown signaling her readiness for “graduation” by securing her ordination credentials.
Weigley said he and the other union officials were thrilled to be a part of the presentation. “This is the first ceremony we have participated in where the pastor was previously commissioned and was now receiving her ordination credentials,” he said.
Stephen Richardson, AEC’s Ministerial Association secretary, said Billingy, senior pastor of the 1,200-member Metropolitan church, is one of three women in AEC who were approved for ordination last year. The other two are Pastor Paula Olivier, pastor of the First church of Montclair, N.J., and and Lisa Smith-Reid, pastor of the New Life church in Hampton, Va.
Billingy’s surprise ceremony included the same cap and gown from her July 29 presentation. After she received special virtual greetings from former Metropolitan executive pastor Robert Edwards, Vandeman and Bardu helped Billingy into the gown and placed the cap on her head, while Weigley explained how she’d used both during her presentation at the special constituency session. Richardson then offered a special dedicatory prayer for Billingy, her ministry and her family.
Billingy “wasn’t doing any less work than her male counterparts when her credentials said ‘commissioned,’” Richardson said. “However, our female pastors were perceived as different [from] our male pastors in non-[Adventist] circles. We are now able to fully acknowledge our sisters,” he said.
Metropolitan members were ecstatic about the day’s events. Several times during the ceremony, they gave Billingy standing ovations. “I thought the ceremony was great. Pastor B’s ministry and her achievements are such an inspiration,” said Ricque Sinclair.
“Eight years ago, a bus load of us attended the ordination service where Pastor B's male colleagues' credentials were stamped ‘ordained’ and hers ‘commissioned.’ On the long ride back to Metro, we asked a lot of unanswered questions. Today brings a feeling of completion, fulfillment and rejoicing for one who has dedicated her life to service for Christ. I have no more questions,” said Marva McIntosh.
When asked about her role in helping see the Columbia Union recognize women in ministry same way they do men, Billingy said, “I felt like ‘mission accomplished’—like this is what I was truly born for.”