‘Worship Christ, Serve Others’: Columbia Union in the U.S. Has New President

Marcellus Robinson brings a lifetime of dedicated ministry to a new role.

Becky St. Clair and Columbian Union editorial staff
‘Worship Christ, Serve Others’: Columbia Union in the U.S. Has New President
Marcellus T. Robinson. [Photo: Rodney Choice]

Marcellus T. Robinson, president of the Allegheny East Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the United States since October 2022, has been elected as the new president of the Columbia Union Conference. The union Executive Committee made the decision at a special session on March 24. Robinson started his new role immediately after the vote, while still serving as president of the Allegheny East Conference for a period of time.

Get to Know the New President

“We grew up poor, but we were rich in love and grace,” Robinson, newly elected president of Columbia Union Conference, said in summing up his childhood.

Robinson hails from Cumberland, Virginia, a rural town which, to this day, has no stoplights, and cell signals are spotty at best. Despite its remote location, Cumberland was still affected by the Civil Rights movement, which deeply impacted Robinson’s early years.

“In the second week of fourth grade at an all-Black school, 23 of my classmates and I were called out of class,” Robinson recalls. “We were loaded onto a bus with no idea where we were being taken, until the bus pulled up in front of ‘Cumberland School.’ Teachers came onto the bus, called us by name and led us to their classrooms. And we followed, terrified. Up until that moment, Cumberland School had been an all-white school.”

Those 24 students, including Robinson, were the first to implement desegregation in their little Virginia town. “I will never forget my teacher’s kindness,” Robinson recalls. “Mrs. Womack’s Christian values got me through that first day, which was the most horrifying experience of my life.”

Racial tensions were high on both sides. Robinson says he found himself in a unique situation, with both black and white friends, both of whom he ended up defending from the other group.

“I told them, ‘I’m your friend, and I’m their friend. We all need to treat each other with dignity and respect, regardless of skin color,’” he remembers. “We got through it, and over time, Cumberland outgrew its foolishness, and we became a community.”

Robinson didn’t know it, but that was the beginning of a journey that prepared him for his career as a pastor and church administrator.

Maryann and Marcellus Robinson. [Photo: Rodney Choice]

From Baptist to Adventist

For most of his childhood, Robinson and his family were devout Baptists. They went to church on Sundays, and he was a junior usher. The summer he was 15, Robinson’s mother went to Brooklyn, New York, to visit her sisters, and when she came back, she was a shockingly different person—a Seventh-day Adventist. She quit smoking, had a calmer demeanor and smiled more.

After a few months of attending both churches, Robinson also committed to the Adventist faith through baptism. The following week, Robinson’s new pastor approached him with some materials and said, “We’ve been praying for you, Marcellus. We want to make you a youth elder, and we’d like you to preach on Youth Day next month.”

Marcellus remembers, “I told him he had the wrong person, and he just smiled and said, ‘No, I don’t think so. Just let the Lord use you how He will, and we’ll be with you every step of the way.’”

It’s been 50 years since that first sermon at age 15 in Cumberland, Virginia. Robinson has since preached countless sermons, led the Allegheny East Conference (AEC) as Ministerial director, then vice president for Administration, director of Stewardship, Philanthropy, and Planned Giving, and most recently served as AEC president. He has served on various church and community boards, including executive committees for the North American Division, Columbia Union, AEC and Lake Region conferences, as well as the board of trustees for Washington Adventist University and Adventist HealthCare White Oak Medical Center in Silver Spring, Maryland.

“When I look back over my life, I see very clearly the Lord knows where to send a person,” Robinson admits. “He doesn’t just call you; He knows how to lead you where you need to be.”

Don’t Make It Complicated

“God made it very clear to me that people are not perfect, but He is, and as long as I’m following Him, I’ll be all right. That’s my mantra: Worship Christ and serve others. Don’t make it complicated!” Robinson says. “I still live by that principle.”

Though he was offered a full-ride baseball scholarship to Virginia State University, Robinson turned it down because the games were on Friday nights and Saturdays. Through a miraculous series of events, he was able to complete a bachelor’s degree in theology and an M.Div. from the Seventh-day Adventist Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan. In 2008, he completed a D.Min. at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary on the same campus.

When Robinson was a teenager, his mother told him God had given her a special message for him. She proceeded to instruct him he was to marry a girl who was born into a Christian family, a member of the Adventist church, who would “love and serve the Lord all the days of her life.” Robinson remembers asking her, “Where am I supposed to find a girl like that?” And his mother replied, “That’s the Lord’s job.”

The Lord came through during Robinson’s second year at Andrews University. Her met her in the cafeteria as they shared a meal together, and as Robinson listened to Maryann Lewis talk about her parents and watched her interact lovingly with everyone she encountered, he knew she was someone special.

“Later that year, I asked her to go with me, and she responded, ‘Go where?’” Robinson remembers with a laugh. “I explained that I meant I wanted us to date exclusively, and she agreed. Three years later we got married.”

Maryann holds a bachelor’s in nursing, a master’s in counseling and education, and a doctorate in organizational management. Her career as a nurse has paired well with her husband’s ministry—both modeling lives of love, service and care for others.

Their Greatest Joy

When they’re not working, the Robinsons enjoy taking walks or doing puzzles together. They have recently joined their local YMCA and go together as often as they can. What gives them the greatest joy, however, is their family: two adult daughters, two sons (by marriage) and four grandchildren. They collect board and card games to play with their grandchildren when they visit and enjoy seeking out places to go and activities to do together.

“I’ve been blessed that God called me, undeserving, to serve Him,” Robinson says. “Though I never imagined being where I am, He has equipped me and allowed others to come around me and work beside me to get the job done. All it takes is being willing to learn what He’s placed in each of us and allowing Him to maximize our gifts so we can pursue a common purpose for Him.”

Robinson says his new position is “mind-blowing;” he never dreamed of becoming president of a union, but, he says, even just a few weeks into his new role, he can see why God brought him here.

“I’m here to carry on His legacy of love and care,” he simply states. “How? I don’t know. I’ll figure that out as I go. What I do know is that God never asks us to do something which requires something He hasn’t already given us. I trust Him, and I know He’ll use my gifts to do what needs doing in this role. Serving the Lord is a joy, and serving His people is an honor I will never take for granted.”

The original version of this story was posted by the Columbia Union Visitor.

Becky St. Clair and Columbian Union editorial staff