Evelyn Bennally and Debra Chee, the first two women to be ordained as commissioned pastors through the Christian Reformed Church’s Red Mesa classis Leadership Development Network program, each were delegated to Synod 2022.
Bennally, 69, was ordained in Sanostee, N.M., and is proud to be the first Navajo woman ordained as a commissioned pastor in the CRC. “I’ve always had a desire to do this,” said Bennally. She came to faith through a vacation Bible school as a child, and as a young adult she led religious instruction classes.
Bennally is a native Navajo speaker and preaches in Navajo and English. She was a schoolteacher for 40 years, and after retiring, she heard God’s call to be a pastor. During the pandemic, she completed a three-year training program in biblical/theological knowledge, ministry skills, and spiritual formation with Red Mesa’s Leadership Development Network.
“The books I read were an inspiration that gave me strength and kept me going during the pandemic,” Bennally said.
COVID-19 hit the Navajo reservation very hard. Bennally was called on to preside at 12 burials caused by COVID deaths. Because of strict protocols, no funeral services took place, and only five people were permitted at the gravesides. “It was a hurtful time in our community, and people came to our church for help and comfort,” Bennally said. At the request of people in the community, she prayed and sang in Navajo with their loved ones who were in the hospital over Zoom. She also invited these people to give their lives to the Lord.
Bennally’s friend Debra Chee, age 68, became a commissioned pastor through the same program in 2017. She pastors Fort Wingate (N.M.) CRC, a tiny congregation about 90 miles from Benally’s church.
Chee’s husband is Navajo, and she also taught in the school system for many years. She has lived in the Navajo region for 37 years. Working as a female pastor in an area where churches are far apart and most pastors are male has been challenging, she said.
Synod 2022 is meeting at Calvin University in Grand Rapids, Mich., from June 10-16. Find daily coverage from The Banner news team at thebanner.org/synod, download the Banner app on your mobile device, or follow The Banner Magazine on Facebook. On Twitter follow #crcsynod or twitter.com/crcna. Synod is the annual general assembly of the Christian Reformed Church (it did not gather in 2020 or 2021). Connect to the meeting’s livestream, read advisory committee reports, and find other resources at crcna.org/synod.