Walla Walla University Church Asks the UCC to Reinstate Their Controversial Commissioned Minister Policy

Earlier this year (March), the Upper Columbia Conference Executive Committee voted to revise their Commissioned Minister Policy in a way that effectively erased any distinction between ordained and commissioned ministers.  This was—of course—a procedural workaround to the threefold vote of the Seventh-day Adventist church to NOT ordain women to the gospel ministry.

After more than a dozen churches in the Upper Columbia Conference objected to this parliamentary maneuver and requested a special Constituency Meeting to address this action by the UCC, the aberrant Commissioned Minister Policy was rescinded by the UCC ExCom on July 19 of this year.  They were starting to feel the heat.

However, on November 9th (Wednesday night) the Walla Walla University Church held a Business Meeting to formally request that the Upper Columbia Conference [UCC] reinstate that controversial commissioned minister policy that the UCC ExCom tried to push through this year.  

The meeting was advertised as follows, to all employees and students at WWU:

The Upper Columbia Conference administration has agreed to meet with our church in response to a request by the University Church board.  The time will be spent discussing the status of commissioned pastors in this conference.  All church members, community members, and University students are encouraged to attend, Wednesday evening, November 9 at 7pm, Alex Bryan.

Two individuals at this meeting Wednesday night, have provided an eyewitness account of the meeting.   Some of the things that you will hear are surprising.

Witness #1:

In a business meeting, Wednesday night (11/9/2016) the WWU church voted almost unanimously to request that the UCC Executive committee re-implement the Commissioned Minister Policy they had previously voted and then rescinded.  A number of UCC churches had [back in June-July] called for a special constituency session to reverse the illegitimate and independent-of-the-world-church commissioned minister policy.

The WWUC meeting was to be held in the fellowship hall, but it quickly filled (seats 300-400) and the meeting was moved to the main sanctuary.

The vote followed a 90-minute discussion where members of the WWU church (and non-member students of WWU) were allowed to ask questions and make comments to President Hoover and VP Johnson from the UCC.

It was very, very clear that the two UCC administrators agreed with the document that the executive committee had voted on March 29, and could they have had their way they, they would readily accept the ordination of women.  They stated that the policy voted did not violate church policy, but they did not discuss it in any detail.

The vote of the WWU church requests that the Executive Committee re-adopt the policy at their December 6th 2016 meeting. The motion was made (by a retired WWU pastor), with multiple seconds. Then someone (a Theology teacher) suggested that the UCC leadership should be allowed to finish their visits to the churches that asked for the UCC to reverse the Commissioned Minister Policy, which would occur in late December. This would have delayed the executive committee vote until early January.  There were seconds for that later date.

But then, someone who had seconded the first motion (also a retired WWU pastor) asked that the earlier date be kept, even though questions were being called on the original motion.  What happened was that the amended motion (with the 2nd agreeing) was voted and the earlier date was passed, quickly, with no discussion from the floor (other than the above-mentioned people who seconded the motion).  Calls for parliamentarian intervention went unanswered.  Everyone clearly wanted this thing fastracked through!

Back in July, when this troubling policy was rescinded, the Conference President agreed to visit each of the thirteen churches and personally hear their concerns.  That process is uncompleted at this time.

This voted request, from the WWU Church, for the UCC Executive committee to put the Commissioned Minister Policy back in place will occur BEFORE the UCC administration completes their visits to the churches that requested its removal!  The WWU church voted their request knowing the other churches had not yet had an opportunity to visit with UCC administration on this topic.  [Apparently, if a local church is big enough and rich enough, smaller churches don't matter].

Witness #2:

Notes from Walla Walla University Church Business Meeting - November 9, 2016

All notations in bold are exact quotes from the meeting. I have bolded in CAPS some statements which I felt led to emphasize.  Here's what happened:

A brief scripture was presented by Paul Dybdahl (WWU professor of theology) along with a brief history of the subject to be discussed - actions concerning women's ordination in the Upper Columbia Conference.

Prior to the beginning of the meeting, a paper was handed to each attendee -- a letter to the Upper Columbia Conference Executive Committee and Upper Columbia Conference Administration from the Walla Walla University Church Board.  The letter requested the Executive Committee "reinstate the March 29, 2016 decision, which offered "TECHNICALLY MINOR, YET SYMBOLICALLY SIGNIFICANT PROVISIONS in an attempt to greater equalize the status of commissioned (female) ministers with their ordained (male) colleagues. . ." (from letter).

Dybdahl concluded by insisting that UCC leaders (including himself) have "tried to be in union with the General Conference vote on WO yet have continued to move toward gender equality" (oxymoron concept).  He then turned over the meeting to Paul Hoover (UCC President) for the Q&A time.

In answer to a variety of questions, Hoover made the following comments:

Audience: Why was the vote of March 29, 2016 rescinded?

Hoover: "The majority of the executive committee supports the document." (the document which was rescinded).  Hoover explained that the UCC constitution was not the same as the one from George-Cumberland and he was unaware of the provisions in the constitution that made possible a constituency meeting if called for by 15% of the conference churches.  He insisted that the "group" was "demanding" a constituency meeting and that they did it in such a way that the "executive committee was pushed aside."  The letter from the WWUC board says it this way: "through ways and means DISCORDANT WITH CHRISTIAN VALUES . . ."

Audience: What about male headship?

Hoover: "I do not agree with it."  As president of this conference, he said this several times, in several ways.

Doug Johnson [Vice President]: Johnson added that we would have to adhere to a "literalistic interpretation of the Scriptures" to believe it.  Also that "culture is not considered by those who oppose WO."

Audience: Dave Thomas, Chair, Department of Theology: We need to know where we go from here -- what can be done to facilitate this. "I would gladly offer the services of my department to help."  Thomas expressed concern about women having the call to ministry and having nowhere to go to serve. By not hiring them, he said, "We are causing people to ignore the Holy Spirit."

Hoover: An illustration defending WO: a church member from Berkley should not have to do things the way a member might from Botswana. And vice versa.

Audience: What can we do about those who won't accept WO?

The president spoke of the smaller churches in the Upper Columbia Conference which had opposed the action of the conference president.  He made an illustration comparing smaller churches, where members mostly oppose women’s ordination, to larger churches with many members favoring it.  He described the average family during a family holiday gathering: "Every family has a CHARACTER in the family that everyone hopes won't make a scene" (In context of his conversation, the reference seemed directed toward the 12+ churches in the UCC which voted to call for a special constituency session to rescind the unilateral commissioned minister policy.)

Audience: Is the Upper Columbia Conference adding more female pastors?

Hoover: The NPUC has added two new pastors, each for two years. WWU Church has added one more at UCC expense. That makes three full time female pastors at WWUC.  Hoover added, "We are going to move forward, regardless of the finances."

Hoover: He expressed his "disappointment in the decision of the world church.  I think it is SHORT-SIGHTED.  We must FIXATE on Jesus."

Hoover: He commented on the pain of "pruning" which must be done - implying those who do not affirm WO must be thinned out.  He also referenced kicking the "dust off the feet" in the same fashion.

Audience: Alden Thompson

Thompson: Thompson urged for a time-table to get this vote reinstated. And he insisted that "Norway got it right.  They have now chosen to ordain no one."

Audience: Role of administration

Hoover: He commented that "It is not the role of administration to change policy," (BEST COMMENT OF THE EVENING) but we still want to dialog on the issue."  He concluded that the UCC leaders are "trying to be in harmony with the Division and the Union." (No mention was made about harmony with the General Conference.)

Audience: Henning Guldhammer

Guldhammer: As the last audience participant, he moved to reinstate the commissioning policy of UCC in early December. [6th]


No one spoke against WO.  One individual who wished to speak was removed from the microphone line and asked to sit down because he was a member of another area church, not the WWUC.

One comment repeated throughout the meeting by Hoover was "We must move forward." There was never a suggestion of humble compliance with the General Conference or the world church vote taken in San Antonio.

Hoover said that some pruning would have to occur.  He didn't define exactly what he meant by pruning, but we can confidently guess that marginalization is in store for those who oppose the UCC's progressive agenda.

Paul Dybdahl concluded the meeting with prayer for their efforts toward their goal.  No mention was made of "Thy will be done."

This overview gives an idea of the tone and direction of the meeting.  There were about 500 in attendance.


The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.  And those who know Your name will put their trust in You; For You, LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You" (Psalm 9:9-10).