Attention dwindled in the auditorium of Seventh-day Adventist world church headquarters on the final day of Annual Council, as some delegates bid farewell to colleagues and others considered the logistics of wedging hefty agenda binders and a week’s worth of handouts into already bulging carry-ons.
But, as Undersecretary Myron Iseminger reminded them, there was still unfinished business.
One item, introduced by Jonas Arrais, associate secretary for Elders and Ministerial Training, asked delegates to officially place deacons and deaconesses under the care of the Adventist world church’s Ministerial Association.
Arrais explained that there are fewer than 30,000 pastors to oversee the Adventist world church’s 140,000 congregations. The church’s 250,000 elders are often recognized—rightfully so—as surrogate pastors, he said, but the work of the church’s 700,000 deacons and deaconesses often goes unacknowledged and unsupported.
“When Jesus came to earth, he came to serve. The ministry of Jesus as a servant is the model for the ministry of deacons and deaconesses,” Arrais said. “They have a deep spirit of service. We need to recognize, we need to value, the work of these volunteers.”
Delegates approved the request unanimously.
Afterward, Andrews University President Niels-Erik Andreasen introduced a new Bible commentary to be published by the university’s press in 2015. The commentary is a companion to the previously released Andrews Study Bible, Andreasen said. It was edited by former Biblical Research Institute Director Angel Manual Rodriguez and written by an international, diverse team of Adventist Bible scholars.
The one-volume commentary offers an alternative to the seven-volume Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary set, which costs more than $400. Andreasen said the new commentary will deepen readers’ understanding of biblical themes, going section-by-section rather than verse-by-verse. Verses, he explained, were not added to the Bible until later, making thematic study of the Scriptures essential.
Delegates each received a printed sample of selected portions of the commentary. The project is funded by Adventist world church headquarters and Andrews University.
Several agenda items in, Adventist world church President Ted N. C. Wilson took to the microphone to draw attention to the “distinction” between church and institutional structure. Some church entities, he said, are now using the title “Vice President for Finance” instead of the traditional “treasurer.” Similarly, he said, some church administrators now favor “Vice President for Administration” over “secretary.”
“This is not as it should be. Please use the correct nomenclature,” Wilson said, pausing after each word for emphasis. “When you use the other nomenclature, you are setting up a presidential system. Within the church, we report to the Executive Committee, not the president. We work in consultation.”
Shortly after noon today, Pardon Mwansa, a Seventh-day Adventist world church vice president chairing the business session, asked delegates to approve several reorganization requests from local church administrative units.
The Indian Ocean Union Mission and Botswana Union Mission will each become union conferences, a move that recognizes self-sufficiency in leadership and finances.
“It hasn’t been easy to gain union conference status in some parts of the world,” Mwansa said. “This is a huge accomplishment. Congratulations and blessings.”
Delegates also approved the reorganization of the Kenya Union Mission into two union conferences—the East Kenya Union Conference and West Kenya Union Conference. Similarly, the Tanzania Union Mission will split into the North Tanzania Union Conference and the South Tanzania Union Mission.
Delegates also voted to grant union mission status to the North East Congo Attached Territory. All reorganizations will go into effect by December 31, allowing the newly created administrative units to send delegates to the 2015 General Conference Session.
Undersecretary Iseminger offered a few final words today, asking delegates to leave their bulky agendas behind to be recycled, unless, he jokingly added, they needed “reading material” on the flight home. Annual Council delegates were offered a paperless agenda for the first time this year, but many opted for the traditional binder.
At the 2014 Spring Meeting, delegates will receive electronic copies of the agenda by default, Iseminger said.
Earlier this week, Annual Council delegates also voted to receive a statement from the recent International Urban Mission Conference, in which the church pledged to make significant efforts to reach large cities, particularly those without a Seventh-day Adventist presence. The statement calls for a “twice-yearly reporting and assessment system that informs the church about urban mission objectives, activities and progress."
Delegates this week also celebrated the success of The Great Controversy Project, an initiative to distribute copies of the book “The Great Controversy” authored by Adventist Church co-founder Ellen G. White. More than 142 million copies have been distributed since the initiative launched in 2011.
Many people have joined the Adventist Church through the initiative, including Marcelo Pereira dos Santos, and his family, from Brazil. “We understand that this is only the beginning of a new life,” said dos Santos, who addressed delegates from the stage. “I hope my life and testimony will be useful to many brothers and sisters who have not yet realized the infinite love of God.”
—additional reporting by Mark A. Kellner