Monday, October 31, 2016

Days 3 and 4

Sabbath at NAD meetings is always a great blessing! The music and special features that focus on mission throughout the Division are wonderfully inspiring. Elder Dan Jackson provided the worship sermon focusing on the biblical theme of "Open Our Eye's Lord."and drawing from the great passage  found in 2nd Kings 6:15-17  which records the prayer of Elisha to make visible the protecting armies of the Lord. The point? God IS with us in the midst of impossible odds and challenging times.

Some of the special music this year was provided by the Union College Choir (below left) and the always inspiring Jennifer LaMountain (right), who's sister Jan, is married to my older brother; outstanding inspiration!

    The picture below, right, is of our Sabbath "potluck" at the home of Elder Dave Gemmel, Church Ministries for the NAD. It was not only a time of informal sharing, but allowed for each of the Church Ministries dept. Associates to talk with conference presidents about the programs and support they offer the local field. I found it helpful and learned about some resources that I would like to tap into for KTC.

NAD meetings takes "no break" for Sunday, so we launched immediately back into the agenda Sunday morning which became a very lengthy discussion and review of the NAD Governance Committees report which had 8 separate recommendations. Many of these recommendations were financially focused and the most controversial or, most conversation generated issue, included a desire it seems from the majority of NAD members, to continue to advocate for "parity" in terms of the amount of money the NAD sends to the GC. The NAD has for many years, sent 8% of it's received tithe on to the GC, whereas all of the other World Divisions return only 2%.  Starting several years ago, and continuing for several more years, the GC has agreed to continue to implement a decrease in the NAD percentage with the present NAD contribution being in the mid - 6% range. Each "percentage" point equals millions of dollars and so the desire of NAD Year End Meeting attendees to continue to have money remain in the NAD has enormous financial consequences, both for the NAD . . .and for the GC, AND, the world field at large!

So, in realizing that the NAD is retaining more money, it has been agreed that the NAD would RETURN "SOME" of that money to local conferences. Here is the proposal as a slide . . . the portion of the recommendation that includes the conferences sending on the .30% increase on retirement is actually NOT a true increase to the conferences. It is instead the NAD sending that amount "down" to the conferences, who will then return it back to the NAD retirement. Why? Sounds strange right? It is viewed as an easier cleaner way of accounting for the retirement contributions that we must make to NAD retirement from the present practice.

There was a lot of discussion this year on better transparency on how tithe moneys are used, particularly in the "tithe exchange" process which confuses many not familiar with this practice.

This discussion continued on into the Monday session with proposals to return a portion of the money that is presently being saved as a result of the reduced percentages to the GC, TO, local conferences, for use at their discretion (areas they identify which need the financial help).

By the time the afternoon arrived, we were focusing on a recommendation from Dr. Randy Roberts, Sr. Pastor of Loma Linda University Church, to return the monies we had voted an hour before to the Conference, to, instead, be routed to local churches for mission and evangelism.  The discussion following that proposal went on for another couple of hours with Dr. Roberts recommendation passing, but importantly, with the word "may" be passed on to local churches from the conference. A number of individuals both lay members and administrators argued at the mic that the conferences should not be excluded from decision making and flexibility on the return of funds from the NAD.

Knowing that the report both Sunday and Monday was live-streamed, and a number of you did tune in, I'll conclude my comments adding only that the various reports on Monday including the work of Public Campus Ministries, and Adventist Christian Fellowship reminded me that we, here in KTC, are on target, with our new emphasis on impacting what we were told, are the 70% of SDA students who are attending public universities.

One of the reports Sunday was from the Church Ministries dept., focusing on church planting and I found this slide quite interesting . . .

My friend Elder Ron Pickell is the pastor of the Berkeley - San Francisco, CA Church and is also the NAD Director for Public Campus Ministries. I've known Ron for probably 30 years since he was the Director of the Advent House Public Campus Ministries program on the campus of University of Tennessee/Knoxville. Ron gave a sobering but inspiring presentation on what needs to happen, and what is possible, to meet the tremendous need of SDA students attending public universities . . . In the picture below he is presenting the impact that focusing on our SDA students on public campuses reminds them . . . "they are NOT forgotten."

One of the blessings of being here for almost one week, is the fellowship with friends from around the Division. The picture below is of me and Elder Mike Hewitt, newly elected Executive Secretary of the Mountain View Conference. I've known Mike for  around 20 years as his grandparents and aunt were members of mine in Cleveland, TN. Mike and I have much in common as he was a police officer around Roanoke, Va when I first met him, and of course like me, was called into ministry. All for now!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Day 2 Year End Meetings

     Today, Friday, after worship which was done very well by Diane Thurber, Director of Christian Record, and wife of Elder Gary Thurber, President of the Mid-America Union, the days agenda focused on two items: the report from the NAD Committee on Education, and late in the day, for the last probably 90 minutes, discussion on the GC document, "Mission and Unity" which was voted two weeks ago at Annual Council.

The first five hours  of today were spent in presenting a report of eight recommendations on K-12 education resulting from an intensive NAD study committee that has been meeting and gathering data for probably 18 months.  Included in their findings was the task of identifying some sobering data points that most of us are aware of and which underscore the decline of enrollment in NAD K-12 schools.  Two slides/pics I've offered that are from the committees report make the dramatic case for significant decline.  The first picture  represents the assembly of NAD participants as they give their individual various reports resulting from the discussion groups we were each assigned to. These groups separately focused on each of the 8 report recommendations. The second picture, below, indicates the drastic decline of enrollments in NAD K-12 students from the year 2007 to the 2012-13 school year. The graph reveals a total decline of 40% or so as measured across all grades.

These declines are so significant that it calls into question the viability of the system in the years ahead. A slide I did not offer in this post, and also taken from the report, reflects a closure of over 60 NAD schools  in K-12, in the last two year report period of 2010 thru 2012; the highest number of closures in a two year period, ever recorded.

A second slide below which is difficult to read due to how it's positioned, reveals a 22% enrollment drop from around 1996 to 2012 which as best I can interpret, appears to have moved from a total of over 70,000 students around 1976, to around 50,000 total in 2012. That is despite the total membership growth in the NAD which today is around 1.2 million members - almost twice as many members than the NAD had in 1976 (511,068 according to 1976 yearbook). To restate: around 75,000 students  in 1976 (perhaps that included College and University as it seems high) with a membership of just over 500,000 . . . to 50,000 students, with a membership exceeding 1 million in 2012!

Clearly, we are challenged!  Another time and place I'll share more on the recommendations, but as an example of the helpful suggestions that are being discussed and in the near future, promoted throughout the NAD, is the idea of fostering better teamwork between pastor and teachers which is viewed as not only critical to the success of our schools, but recognizes that when the relationship between the two leadership entities is not characterized by mutual respect and commitment to success of the school, the result is enormous harm to the mission of education.

We live in a very challenging era for SDA Christian education, and as you'll note, this report, and our discussion DID NOT address the declines in NAD College and Universities, an equally sobering landscape in and of itself! 

 The final slide I share below, is of a few of the NAD Year End Meeting attendees who were lining up at the various microphones to be heard on the issue of the "Statement on Mission and Unity" from the GC. As one might surmise, there was a LOT of passion in the 'air,' as several young adults, representing the SA Presidents from various Universities, stood to air their disappointment and deep concern over the future of the Church that, in their view, is "majoring in minors" at best, and at worst, giving millennials more reasons to leave Adventism. I want to add however, that one young man from Canada, rose to address the attendees and stated that in his view, the action of the GC as reflected in the Statement is and was an appropriate reaction and that many of his peers agree that it is the two Union's which have caused the potential for disunity and not the GC!

This sentiment was expressed by a couple of other attendees who suggested this is an opportunity for humility and seeking the will of God rather than our own impassioned convictions. However, it seemed that by far, the majority of those addressing the issue were strongly verbally passionate about the perceived "injustice" of the GC statement, the potential harm it will cause the NAD, and finally, their view of the unbiblical and unsupported claims of "male headship"  and "last generation" theology which was expressed as the driving ideology behind the desire to prevent females from being ordained to pastoral ministry.

A couple of interesting votes were proposed from the floor on this matter:

One, that NAD delegates would today,  thru voted action, state NAD refusal  to engage further in the six-month period the GC has asked for, beginning now, that desires  and requires NAD leadership to approach the Columbia and Pacific Unions and ask for their compliance on ordination policy. This proposal was offered in recognition, stated again today, and representing the expressed opinion from the NAD,  that the two union Executive Committees and their leadership, and possibly their constituencies, will NOT reverse their votes regardless of being approached and asked to do so.  This recommendation for voted approval, was strongly resisted by NAD leadership, who made it clear that abiding by the request of the GC was their desire, no matter the predicted outcome of the two unions expected sentiments on the issue.

A second voted recommendation ended the day, and that was a motion from Dr. Randall Wisbey, President of La Sierra University, that the GC leadership be requested to recognize Sandy Roberts, the only woman in the SDA denomination serving as a Conference President, as a duly elected and fully recognized president, and that she be issued credentials to that effect and her name be placed in the SDA year book, where there is presently a "blank" beside the title President, S.E. California Conference.  This action was voted by a margin of about 141 for, and perhaps 43 against? 

It is my own view that the GC is unlikely to abide by this voted request as it would represent a violation of present policy which denies the authority of being a Conference or Mission President to anyone who does not hold the credential of "Ordained Minister," and even though Pacific Union has conferred that  credential upon Sandy, the GC does not recognize the legitimacy of the credential.  I expect that we will likely return to the "Statement" issue when we reconvene for business, Sunday morning. 

A statement made late today reflected my own sentiment: it will take a miracle of God to bring a peaceful and acceptable resolution on this matter, and it is well to remind ourselves, God IS bigger than our challenges, . . . and . .  his "defective" church, is the "supreme object of his love and affection."

Thursday, October 27, 2016

1st Day Year End Meetings

This year has introduced a new meeting to the week of meetings here in Maryland that are commonly grouped under the title "NAD Year End Meetings."  They often begin on Wednesday with a half day meeting with ARM (Adventist Risk Management), include additional meetings that are optional, such as Review and Herald luncheon meeting on Friday, last year's Women Clergy meeting on the campus of Washington Adventist University, Philanthropic Services meeting, and at least one year, a meeting for Conference Presidents with Andrews University Seminary Dean. Those are simply the additional meetings, added on to the main meetings, held in the GC building from Thursday thru next Tuesday.

The new meeting added yesterday, and one in which I changed my flight schedule to accommodate as conference presidents were alerted on Monday of the new meeting for Wednesday, was driven by the NAD officers desiring to meet with local conference presidents. While this is a meeting that will now continue as an annual part of the meeting agenda going forward (and I publicly affirmed Elder Jackson for having a meeting where WE can learn first-hand issues and information), there is no question THIS meeting was initiated in response to the crisis over the GC Annual Council vote on "Statement of Unity" and the two NAD Unions vote to ordain women pastors. I use the word "crisis" intentionally and not recklessly, as I believe a true "crisis" is in the making over the next one to two years as this process of "consequences" for Pacific and Columbia Union's unfold.

It was THIS topic which was the sole agenda item presented last night with, I believe, perhaps 40 of the 58 conference/mission NAD Presidents in attendance.  Here's some things I learned last night, in no particular order of importance, as they were ALL important!

1. Interestingly, there are 13 NEW conference Presidents across the NAD, many of whom seem to represent regional conferences, and two new ones from Canadian Conferences.

2. There is a HUGE philosophical  and practical "divide" between NAD leadership and GC leadership over what defines the term "consequences" for the two Unions out of policy on this issue.
Elder Jackson made clear last nite that he has never defended "no consequences" position for the two unions over this issue; he takes great exception to the more drastic forms of those "consequences" as suggested by the first documents presented at GC session earlier this month. And that leads to the next points . . .

3. I learned last night, that in the Pacific Union, the seven conferences which make up its constituency are not all practicing ordination of women. Only three of the seven actually practice and implement it: Northern California, S.E. California, and Southern California, meaning Central Cal, Nevada-Utah, and Arizona do not.  However . . . . one of the other presidents from the four NOT practicing it, made a stirring speech last night to the effect of "make no mistake about it; all seven of our conferences ARE in solidarity and unity that our Union will NOT be mistreated over this issue by the General Conference!"

4. There were several speeches of righteous "anger" from local conference Presidents, and no, I wasn't one of them, that the GC has taken a heavy hand in this issue with the possibility of fragmenting and wounding the NAD and, according to several who quoted some GC leadership, a willingness to "lose hundreds of thousands of members" over this issue if need be. I hope that is not a correct understanding of those who quoted such intentions, but, it was stated by several who said they have heard this stated. More anger was vented over what was/is viewed as an intentional GC strategy that is being publicized as a generic "statement on unity" or, "addressing ANY division that might be out of policy compliance," only to be viewed by several in the room as a thinly veiled strategy to punish the two unions and the NAD and having no other intention than that outcome, and that outcome alone. In other words, this re-newed initiative from the GC is entirely about punishment of Pacific and Columbia Unions, AND, the desire for them to return to policy compliance. ON that point?   Number five below.

5. NAD leadership, as well as those present representing Columbia and Pacific Unions reiterated with if anything a growing and deepening resolve (perhaps which was always there?) that they will never, never, never,  (a quote ) retreat on this issue, as Unions, and will never vote to "discriminate" again, as the church has in the past (in their views) on this issue. I'll also add, that many of our African American presidents seem to join in the opinion, that this IS a social, moral, discrimination issue similar to what they, as American blacks, have first-hand experience with in the country, and in the church. The point as you can tell is this: the opinions "against" returning to policy compliance on ordination, seem to be openly growing MORE entrenched and more in solidarity, even including the more moderate presidents, as the issue of being "under attack" by the GC is perceived to be rising (I'm only sharing what I sensed in the room by the way).

I have a good friend who I've known for many years, who is a President in Columbia Union. A President who rarely says anything in these meetings, and with his voice laced with anger, spoke for probably six or seven minutes on the topic of "catholic like power" that Adventism has always rejected in terms of GC authority and the historic recognition of the church and Ellen White that men of conscience not be bullied and intimidated into conformity on a matter such as this. He ended his speech with his intention to personally visit with Elder Wilson.

The meeting lasted just under three hours, and it was/is clear to me that for many in the room last night, this issue IS a matter of equal rights, non-discrimination,  the threat of harming the church in North America over the simple biblical dynamic of recognizing men . . .and women . . .  to serve in ministry. I will add that is not my own view, though I affirm women serving in ministry; again, I'm simply sharing what I heard and sensed in the hours together . . .

I did make a brief speech last night, that when we're together at pastors meeting, I'll share my expressed thoughts at last nights meeting, but I'll conclude by adding, this issue is NOT going away; it is headed toward perhaps a distracting and volatile and possibly divisive horizon, and I am personally grieved that
this has/is, and will become, THE major point of ecclesiastical "war fare" going forward in the NAD, and, with implications, possibly for the World Church at large ( I will share THAT possibility as well when pastors meet in January).

It is my belief that, once again, I'm reminded that only God can bring peace out of this most challenging issue that I've ever witnessed for the church at large during my ministry. Perhaps thru prayer, and God's spirit, an outcome that presently doesn't seem possible right now, might prevail.