Our British Union Conference (BUC) Women's Ministries Department acknowledges Adventist women who positively impact their communities. We continue spotlighting influential Adventist women with this interview with Dr Val Bernard-Allan.
SPM –Dr Bernard-Allan, please share with our readers a brief background around your work with women over the years.
VBA – I have had the privilege to work with women in organisations as a mentor and training consultant, developing various employment and career development initiatives. I am now working more closely with Black women, investigating the issue of involuntary singleness in the church and broader society. I have been using training and seminars to raise the issue. My work builds on my research – 'It is not good to be alone'.
SPM–What are some of the critical challenges Adventist women have encountered, and how have you helped them to address these hurdles?
VBA – We have struggled to secure a deep and abiding trust in God to be courageous and do what we have been called to do. In addition, social expectations about the ideal Christian woman can sometimes be limiting. When it comes to 'Black women', I see that society continues to press against her desire to be more fully engaged in life, particularly as it relates to matters of love, marriage, and family. I have found this to be the case for many 'Black' women, in and out of the church. My research, seminars, eBook, and transformational training provide interventions that unapologetically shift the idea of 'Black womanhood' from the margins to the centre. We build a community of support and come before God for strength, healing, and miracles.
SPM –You currently work as a motivational sociologist, which sounds intriguing. Please give us an insight into what that entails.
VBA – I believe that my work is to support the people I work with to see how a macro understanding of our lives, made possible through the sociological lens, can help enhance our lived experiences. So, for instance, Black women who struggle with the issue of long-term involuntary singleness might ask, "Why am I still single?" This question is personally relevant but can also lead to responses that can bring about complex feelings of shame, undesirability, and loss. Another question, "Why are Black women disproportionately single?" can open the mind or discussion to go beyond the personal and look for answers in the structures of society.
Addressing the vexed question of the high rates of singleness amongst Black women, particularly those from post-enslaved/colonial cultures, shifts the weight of that acknowledgement from a sense of personal shame/failure to a collective/biblically supported understanding of how trauma impacts lives and God's power to heal. Participants (church and unchurched) are encouraged to reflect on and confront familial and cultural patterns such as 'the strong Black woman/weak Black man' trope, featurism and colourism as expressions of inherited trauma. This is painful work. They are also encouraged to 're-enter' their lives with a spiritual activism that petitions God to break the stronghold of emotional deprivation and trauma for themselves, their families and the community.
SPM–An essential aspect of your work has been around empowering Black women. Why is that a particular focus for you?
VBA – My reading of society, both academic and personal, leads me to conclude that 'Black' women have much to offer to society as well as the church. Although we may be a large majority in the Adventist church, our standpoint as African-descended/Caribbean women is relatively unknown. We are often caught up in a life attempting to meet Western/'white' standards of womanhood. This is causing much emotional harm, and I have a deep concern for the well-being and mental health of our young girls. Notwithstanding, we have a wealth of knowledge about how we have navigated our lives, faith, and religious and racialised identities to share.
We have been creative, tenacious, giving and forgiving and when we get together in our safe spaces, we laugh and cry about the awesome presence of God in our collective lives. My work is to capture and validate that lived experience as the testimony of the presence of God in Black women's lives on the margins. You can see some of that work on my website, valbernardallan.com, in the SDA and Ethnicity section.
SPM –You were recently awarded for your innovation and excellence in leading the Black Women's Transformational Training. Please share your reflection on what that was like to receive the award.
VBA – It was a reflective experience for me for the most part. I was happy to receive the recognition and want to thank you, Sharon, for nominating me and helping to shed more light on what we are doing.
SPM – What has been your most successful initiative, and do you plan to build on those favourable outcomes?
VBA – If you can call a wedding an initiative, I would say four weddings I attended in just over a year. These were the weddings of four Black Women's Transformational course attendees. This course will be running again later this year.
SPM –What is your vision for Adventist women, and how do you see yourself contributing to that vision?
VBA – My vision is that we can push past limiting narratives, lean closer to God and live purpose-driven lives.
I want to extend this work beyond the issue of Black involuntary singleness to provide collaborative resources/methodologies to multicultural audiences, updating their understanding of how racism, trauma and gender interconnect. This is so that we can create safer spaces for the next generation. The requirements laid out in Isaiah 61 provide an important context for such a work as this.
SPM – Dr Bernard-Allan, thank you for your inspirational work. May God continue to bless and direct your ministry.