More than 300 General Conference Auditing Service (GCAS) employees, along with their families and invited guests, gathered July 13-19 in Copenhagen, Denmark, for CONNECT2023, the GCAS global professional development convention.
The CONNECT event, held every five years since 2003, helps GCAS employees to stay current with the trends and best practices in the accounting and auditing industry, with special application to the needs of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
The event also allows networking and team-building opportunities for GCAS professionals. Invited guests included guest speakers from the accounting and business industry as well as Seventh-day Adventist leaders, world church and division treasurers, and representatives from Adventist business schools.
The overall theme for CONNECT2023 was “Transparency and Accountability,” reflecting the GCAS commitment to the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by building and maintaining trust in financial matters.
GCAS leaders had six objectives for CONNECT2023, Robyn Kajiura, executive director of GCAS, said in an interview with ANN. The objectives — to be inspired by world-class motivational speakers; brainstorm with colleagues and key clients; transform industry challenges into opportunities; refocus on a healthy lifestyle; explore a new city with family and friends; and reconnect with God — fall into two categories.
“The first category is professional because this is a professional education convention,” Kajiura said. “The majority of our employees hold professional accounting certifications or are working to obtain the certification. This is to ensure GCAS work meets professional standards and can be relied on.”
Accountants must earn “continuing professional education” (CPE) credits annually to maintain their license. During interim years, GCAS employees earn CPE credits through local GCAS meetings, accounting society meetings, online courses, and other means. “But every five years, we intentionally have this global convention where the CPE is strategically selected to meet GCAS needs and unify us as a global team,” Kajiura said.
The second category is networking and team building. “We have about 330 professionals, and they are located in about 45 countries around the world. It’s easy to feel somewhat isolated, especially since some of the staff work from their homes or from small offices.” Having a worldwide gathering “helps us to connect with each other, helps us to build relationships, and it helps us to brainstorm issues together.”
Physical and Spiritual Health a Priority
In addition to the professional seminars on ethics, accounting, governance, and administration, leaders emphasized healthy and wholistic living.
Attendees who desired to do so participated in morning walks and runs and in a 5K race on July 18. “We deliberately try to encourage healthy living,” Kajiura said. “I will confess: many of us don’t live as healthfully as we should. A lot of us are workaholics.”
GC health ministries associate director Katia Reinert presented on various health topics following the worship service each morning.
Chad Stuart, senior pastor at the Spencerville Seventh-day Adventist Church in Spencerville, Maryland, United States, spoke each day on spiritual renewal.
“How do you keep your spiritual life alive while dealing with the challenges that can come from working for the church, particularly in an area where you often see problems and negatives? [Chad] used the same theme — Transparency and Accountability — for his daily devotions and in a practical way combined it with our spiritual and everyday work life,” Kajiura said.
“I appreciated Chad’s statement on the first morning, ‘Without Christ, there can be no true transparency and accountability.’ He encouraged us to make our relationship with Christ a real priority every day,” Kajiura added.
Attendees Explored Copenhagen, Enjoyed Farewell Dinner
In lieu of an organized excursion on Sunday, GCAS gave each attendee a Copenhagen metro day pass on July 16. This provided transportation to most places in Copenhagen, including museums, restaurants, amusement parks, and other sites.
“You can’t have a whole week of meetings without some break. You can only take in as much mentally as your seat can take physically. Our Sabbath and Sunday activities provided that break in the middle of the convention,” Kajiura said.
Saturday (Sabbath) activities included Sabbath School, a worship service, the first GCAS Family Parade of Nations, and a concert in the afternoon.
Many conventions end with a formal banquet. CONNECT2023, however, ended with a “farewell festival” on July 19.
Attendees were free to sit or stand and visit several “food truck” stands during the festival. “We handed out prizes for participation in the health activities, and quizzes. We also announced the progress on our GCAS mission project. The farewell festival was intended to be a fun and informal way to wrap up the event,” Kajiura explained. “It felt like people were so happy to be there. I loved it!”
Reflecting on CONNECT
For Kajiura, watching GCAS CONNECT2023 unfold was incredibly inspiring. “I know there were answers to prayer every day, and I know God blessed us. I am so grateful. The seminars were professionally challenging and inspiring. Almost every presentation exceeded my hopes, and the GCAS Family Parade of Nations was a celebration of the diversity and unity we have in GCAS.”
GC executive secretary Erton Köhler, a special guest at CONNECT, wrote in an email to ANN that he “liked to see the focus on unity and mission repeatedly presented by Robyn and the GCAS leaders during the program.” He added, “They really seem to be a family.… It shows they have a comprehensive understanding about the role of GCAS for the worldwide church.”
Köhler presented during the Sabbath morning worship service on July 15. He focused on the overarching mission of the Adventist Church and how GCAS auditors fit into it.
“I talked about the mission of the church, calling the auditors to be not only policy defenders but also mission promoters,” Köhler wrote. “At the same time, I invited them to be involved in the mission at the local church and with their families.”
He added, “Auditors are also teachers. They teach the best practices for leaders. The focus on mission needs to be part of this auditing teaching process because there is no point in becoming technically efficient as a church and organization if we lose the reason God has called us as a remnant people. Auditors need to be part of this movement to strengthen our missionary identity.”
Robyn Kajiura contributed to this report.