Charles E. Bradford, First President of the North American Division, Passes to His Rest

Beloved leader leaves a legacy of influence and inspiration for generations of church leaders and members.

Charles E. Bradford, First President of the North American Division, Passes to His Rest

Charles E. Bradford, first president of the North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, passed away on Thursday, September 9, 2021, in Huntsville, Alabama, United States. He was 96.

In 1979 Bradford was elected to succeed Neal C. Wilson as leader of the NAD and named its first president. Wilson, who had served as a vice president in the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists with responsibility for North America, moved on to become president of the General Conference. Bradford, the first African American to serve as NAD president, and his administrative team were instrumental in the NAD’s development toward functioning as a stand-alone division territory of the Adventist Church. At his election Bradford joined the NAD after serving as associate secretary of the General Conference from 1970 to 1979.

During a special interview at the 2017 NAD Year-End Meeting, Bradford, who started his ministry in the 1940s as a pastor, spoke passionately about the local church. He said, “Everything is contained in the small little egg of the [local] church. Love those people, respect them, know how to talk to them!” Bradford added, “Don’t think the early church was perfect…. The church is made up of human individuals. But God is working with us.”

“Elder Bradford was a spiritual giant among us,” G. Alexander Bryant, current NAD president, said. “The impact of his legacy and ministry can never be fully measured or ascertained. It continues in the lives of generations of leaders, pastors, and members who have been influenced and inspired by his life. He always encouraged us to excel in our God-given talents and assignments. 

“Elder Bradford had a rare collection of passion, grace, power, and humility. He made an incalculable impact on our lives, on our church, and on our world. Indeed, a prince of Israel has passed away, but his legacy lives on,” Bryant added.

Ron Smith, president of the Southern Union Conference, said, “It is with a sense of deep grief and sadness that we experience the loss of one of the outstanding Seventh-day Adventist leaders of all time. Elder Charles Bradford, a pioneer, consummate preacher, conference president, division president, and chair of multiple institutional boards, leaves an enormous vacancy and gigantic hole in the hearts of myriads of clergy and Christians within and without the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.

“We will miss him and will continually intercede for his dear wife, Ethel, adult children, and members of his family,” Smith said. “Our prayer will also embrace the millions of grieving Adventists around the globe.”

“Elder Bradford was a giant in so many ways — faithful follower of Christ, wonderful preacher, diligent Bible student, dynamic intellect, experienced administrator, caring pastor, loving husband and father, encouraging brother in Christ, long-time friend,” Ted N. C. Wilson, president of the General Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, shared. “As a student and young worker, it was a privilege [for me] to watch the close working relationship and friendship between Elder Bradford and my father. They had a very collegial rapport as they helped to guide God’s church through the power of the Holy Spirit. Elder Bradford seemed to always have things under control and had a way about him that, even in difficult situations, you would know that he was thinking three steps ahead of others and, by God’s grace, things would work out well to God’s glory.”

Wilson continued, “On behalf of the world family of Seventh-day Adventists, Nancy and I wish Mrs. Bradford and the family our warmest regards, Christian sympathy, and deepest condolences. May the Comforter come especially close to the entire Bradford family at this time of sorrow. Soon, however, Jesus will come and we will again see Elder Bradford and our loved ones who have died in Christ. What a day that will be! Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”

Bradford, a graduate of Oakwood University, was awarded a doctor of divinity degree from Andrews University. He is the author of several books, including The King Is in Residence and Sabbath Roots: The African Connection

Last updated September 14, 2021, at 5:40 p.m. EDT.