The North American Division (NAD) honored three retiring vice presidents through a virtual event that gave colleagues the opportunity to express their gratitude and share memories of the outgoing leaders.
Alvin Kibble, former vice president for executive coaching, training, development, public affairs and religious liberty, literature ministries, and social media and big data; Paul Brantley, vice president for strategy and assessment; and Gordon Pifher, vice president for media ministries, received heartfelt spoken and written messages on May 12, 2021, from administration and staff about the legacy they will leave behind as they enter retirement.
“This is a great loss to the church, to our office, and our fellowship. We already feel this loss deeply,” G. Alexander Bryant, NAD president, said during the event.
Bryant also noted that the combined years of service of the three retirees is 147 years, more than 52 of which belong to Kibble, the division’s longest-serving employee before he retired in early 2021.
“In the Seventh-day Adventist Church, the people you work with aren’t just your co-workers, they become your friends and family members, and in this case, our brothers,” Bryant added.
Comments for the vice presidents were first directed to Kibble by his administrative assistant, Maricel Pascual, who moved to Maryland to get a fresh start in 2016.
“I always considered my employment here at NAD as an answer to prayer. I badly wanted to move from California. I was brought to Maryland through Alvin Kibble. We were total strangers, but he took a chance on me," Pascual said. "He was not only my supervisor, but he was also my friend, consoler, supporter, and mentor. I have considered him and his wife as my family.”
Carlton “Buddy” Byrd, speaker/director of Breath of Life Ministries, one of seven NAD media ministries, spoke on how he’s known Kibble all his life — affectionately referring to him as “Uncle Alvin” — and on his significant contributions to the denomination.
“A statesman is a skilled, experienced, and respected leader figure. When we think about statesmen for the Adventist Church, James White, Uriah Smith, and others come to mind. However, when we think of modern-day statesmen of the Adventist Church in North America, the name Alvin Kibble must be called,” Byrd said. “His service, leadership, counsel, and words of admonition have all benefited the Adventist Church.”
Kyoshin Ahn, NAD executive secretary, recalled a specific conversation he had with Kibble years ago that cemented his thoughts on what was already known to be true about the dedicated leader.
“We were talking about race and diversity. You were truly concerned for the future of the church, and you even got emotional. There was genuine love shown in that conversation.
“That day I realized how much you love this church and care about its future,” Ahn said.
Randy Robinson, NAD treasurer, added, "For decades, I've looked up to you. I put you in the category of Adventist pioneers. For you to spend half a century giving to the church, your fingerprints are all over it, and your influence will last a lifetime."
In response to the comments and in true Kibble fashion, Kibble offered advice to attendees drawn from his years of studying golf, an outdoor physical activity he believes has helped extend his life.
“Make every stroke count. Take deadly aim — aim as if your life depended on it. What you’re doing is so valuable and important for this church. Don’t waste anything. And don’t spend your time complaining about what you don't have when you have the forces of heaven backing you up," Kibble said.
A Tenacious Pioneer
The term “Hope and Wholeness” was not associated with the NAD before Paul Brantley carried out what has been described as painstaking work to develop a mission statement and strategic focus for the organization.
“We would not be where we are today without the leadership and ministry of Paul Brantley,” Bryant said. “Paul, you had the tenacity to blaze a new process and new procedure, which is difficult in the Adventist Church. You held a relentless pursuit of improving our ability to do mission through strategic planning,” Bryant said.
“The phrase ‘Hope and Wholeness’ will be forever cemented in our minds in terms of the focal point of the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America. We are indebted to you,” Bryant added.
Dan Day, director of special projects, said that Daniel Jackson, former NAD president, assigned him to “help Paul succeed” in developing a strategy for the division.
“Paul was so persistent in his pursuit of what we were trying to do. He and Alvin Kibble wanted to pull together a collaborative approach on how our leaders develop and do their work more effectively,” Day said. “He dreamed of making an impact through a more effective business model in the church. He saw this as his legacy of bringing that dream to life.”
“I had trouble buying into the mission statement. Now I love it, but I went in kicking and screaming with a lot of other people,” John Freedman, president of the North Pacific Union Conference, said. “As I got to know Paul, I found him to be one of the most genuine Christians I’ve ever met. He’s loving, kind, compassionate, desiring nothing but good, and wanting Jesus to be the center of everything. He sincerely wanted to see the church grow.”
In the Zoom meeting’s chat, Charlotte Thoms, ministry coordinator for NAD disabilities ministries, wrote a message thanking Brantley for his support through the years.
“Elder Brantley, thank you for your ministry of inclusion. You encouraged Disabilities Ministries with guidance, funds, and inspiration. You singlehandedly gave direction to our ministry,” Thoms said.
Carolyn Forrest, executive assistant to the NAD president for human relations, added, “Thank you for always encouraging me, seeing what we sometimes could not see, and teaching us the importance of strategic planning. I have been blessed by your shared knowledge and love for God’s people."
In response to the spoken words and written messages, Brantley said, “Working for NAD has never seemed like ‘work.’ It’s a joy. I think about my grandmother, who worked under Dr. Kellogg in 1902 in Battle Creek, then went to Panama, where she and her husband suffered from yellow fever and pneumonia. Her husband passed away shortly after their arrival. She had to raise six children on her own. That’s sacrifice. What I’ve done is nothing but a pleasure,” Brantley said.
“ ‘Hope and Wholeness’ will be in my life forever. We will be partners forever,” Brantley added.
An Assuring Presence
Pifher was asked to become vice president for NAD media ministries seven years ago when all of the ministries were moving from the Adventist Media Center in Simi Valley, California.
“When we decided to close the media center, we needed the right person to lead the ministries during the transition, and he’s done a tremendous job,” Bryant said. “Gordon has always held a spirit of optimism. While many may look and say, ‘We can’t,’ few people can look and say, ‘Yes, we can.’ Gordon, you have been that voice and spirit these past seven years. We will miss you.”
Coleen Dolinsky, treasurer for the media ministries’ support center, remembers meeting Pifher during that time of transition and expressed appreciation for his assuring spirit.
“It was a time of great uncertainty; however, all my fears vanished after we met,” Dolinsky said.
“You really listened and heard what was on our hearts. You’ve been a great support.”
Dolinsky also commented on Pifher’s continued impact on the ministries. “You create an environment for creative thinking and inclusiveness — to make everyone feel important — and that’s good for team building.”
Many spoke on Pifher’s pleasant demeanor, optimistic outlook, and Christ-like attitude when interacting with others.
“No matter the size of the issue, he always approached it the same way — cheerful and certain that God would provide a positive outcome,” Alexander Vyhmeister, IT director for the media center. “He’s a reflection of God’s love and kindness. [I] could always hear the smile in his voice whenever we spoke on the phone, and that’s something I’d like to emulate.”
“You were the right person at the right time,” Richard Parker, director of human resources for the media center, said. Through tearful eyes, he continued, “Your passion for Jesus is infectious. It makes walking with Jesus attractive. We’ll miss you.”
Dan Weber, director of NAD communications, added in the chat, “Gordon, thank you for your leadership, but most importantly, your friendship. I appreciate the openness with which you led. You were not afraid to have difficult conversations and did so with a smile and a positive attitude. You truly are a man of God!”
In response to all the comments and well-wishes, Pifher said, “I served in this role for seven years. Seven is the perfect number working in a perfect place.”
The original version of this story was posted on the North American Division news site.