Program and Agenda Highlights
What issues will session delegates faces?
lections! It’s perhaps the first word that comes to mind for many who think about a General Conference (GC) session. It’s also among the first agenda items to be acted upon during a session—at least the elections of the three senior officers of the GC.
In comparison with the 2005 GC session in St. Louis, we can expect more changes in leadership positions at the fifty-ninth GC session in Atlanta, Georgia, which will be attended by 2,410 delegates representing the Adventist Church’s 13 divisions, 112 unions, 572 conferences/missions, and many other institutions.
Retirement plans have been made known by officers of all three branches of the administration (presidential, secretariat, and treasury), as well as departmental directors and associate directors. One particular aspect of the election process that was expected to generate some discussion was the election process for associate departmental directors, which will involve amendments to some constitution and bylaws provisions.*
Before the session took up any business agenda items, there was the Day of Spiritual Emphasis from 3:00 p.m. Wednesday, June 23, to 11:00 a.m. Thursday, June 24. Under the general theme “Empowered by the Spirit,” each of the five meetings included musical selections focusing on the Holy Spirit, biblical preaching, testimonies of praise, reflective discussions, and prayers.
At the opening session, there was a special ceremony highlighting the Follow the Bible project. The journey of the Bible began in October 2008 at the GC Annual Council in Manila, Philippines. Since then the multilanguage Bible, comprising 66 languages, traveled tens of thousands of miles through more than 100 countries. Inspired by the journey of the traveling Bible, many church members have recommitted themselves to placing priority on reading the Scriptures. This special ceremony at the GC session provided an additional opportunity to emphasize the Word of God in the life and ministry of the Adventist Church.
For five consecutive days, beginning June 28, an hour-long presentation will be made each day focusing on pastors. The specific titles of the messages are:
Constitution and Bylaws Amendments
Recognizing the considerable task of filling a multitude of elected positions at a General Conference session, a constitution and bylaws amendment proposed that the election of associate departmental directors be removed from the list of positions to be elected at a General Conference session. A separate amendment stipulated that their election take place at the first Annual Council following a regular General Conference session.*
Another important amendment to the General Conference Constitution and Bylaws deals with the membership of the GC Executive Committee; the number of denominational retirees and employees in the category of elected members is proposed to be reduced from 30 to between 15 and 20. It is also recommended that between 15-20 of the church’s lay members, including young adults, be selected as GC Executive Committee members.
A third amendment proposes that a union of churches be recognized as a regular organizational unit of the entities that make up the membership of the General Conference, the term “union” to refer inclusively to union conference, union mission, and union of churches.
With union of churches as a regular organizational unit of the church structure, four unions of churches will be recommended to the session, two of which were former union conference/union missions, and two were former conferences/missions.
As the church grows, reorganization of church structure also becomes necessary, resulting in a net increase of about 10 new unions, mostly in the Inter-American and South American divisions. One union mission is to be upgraded to union conference status in the Southern Asia-Pacific Division.
The session will review and call for a vote to accept a reedited version of the entire Church Manual, which will be shorter and simpler, with a focus on meeting the needs of the worldwide church. The Church Manual Committee carefully reorganized and rearranged sections, reedited and updated language, shortened sentences and paragraphs, and reduced the overall size of the manual itself—but with minimal changes in content.
Two Church Manual items that may cause some discussion at the session are the proposed recommendations regarding (1) settlement of grievances of the church against members and reasons for discipline and (2) ordination of deaconesses.
At a GC session, one never knows whether an agenda item may generate interesting and lively discussion. But with the special emphasis on spiritual dimensions in the life of the church and the absence of controversial and contentious items on the agenda, we can trust that the spirit of love and unity will prevail at the fifty-ninth GC session.
*We did not know the outcome as we went to press.—Editors.
Eugene Hsu is a General Vice President of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.