Consideration for the Church Manual amendment titled “Pastor and Other Church Employees” has been suspended due to time restraints, according to General Conference (GC) Associate Secretary Gerson Santos.
The amendment, designed to explain the role of conference leadership, caused debate last Tuesday, June 7, about if women should serve as conference presidents. The proposed amendment as it reads in the session agenda also caused concern about conference secretary qualifications and the need for more defined roles. The amendment was referred back to the Church Manual committee and reviewed on Thursday, June 9, during lunchtime.
On Thursday evening, Santos said the committee did not have time to address all the revisions to the six-page item. The Thursday night business meeting was the last business meeting scheduled for the 2022 GC Session, so there would not be another time for delegates to vote on the revisions.
“I think it’s too bad that we don’t have time to address that item,” Santos said. “We had a few observations in different parts of the document—it was a long document. And because there were minor revisions in other parts of that section, it became extremely complicated for us in just a few minutes. We were already out of time for the committee, and we decided those items should not be taken lightly. . . . I believe at this point, this is the best way to move forward.”
A Church Manual addition designed to better prepare couples who are planning to marry and decrease potential divorce rates was passed during the Thursday morning business meeting. The addition, titled “Premarital Education/Counseling,” received 98.3% approval.
According to the session agenda, an excerpt states: “Premarital education/counseling should be offered by a professional counselor or specifically trained individuals, including specifically trained spiritual leaders.”
Some delegates expressed both support for the addition and concerns about resources, funding, and pastoral training.
“I like the idea of the professional counselors, but in Africa—particularly in Kenya—we do not have many of these professional counselors,” said Fredrick Nyagah, East Kenya Union Conference delegate. “. . . The membership relies mostly on pastors.”
Nyagah said the church needs to ensure that pastors have proper training in premarital counseling.
Some delegates suggested that the Church Manual include more additions for mental health, post-marital support, and divorce and grief counseling.
“Divorce is one of the most difficult and tragic things that a person can experience,” said Michael Nixon, GC delegate. “. . . I think that just as it is important for there to be premarital counseling from trained professionals, I think the local church body should also be empowered to have trained grief counselors to walk with fellow members who may be going through the painful road of divorce . . . because for a lot of people, as painful or as difficult as that is, it’s unavoidable.”
Delegates referred a Church Manual amendment regarding the church’s missionary purpose back to the Church Manual committee during the Thursday morning business meeting. Some delegates recommended that the statement be more inclusive of people with different worldviews and flexible with missionary tactics.
Hilde Huru, North Norway Conference delegate, suggested that the term “people from a non-Christian religion” in the amendment be rephrased to include secular people.
“I live in one of the most highly secular areas of Scandinavia, probably of the world,” Huru said. “We have the privilege in our church to have a lot of refugees coming from the Middle East. Some of them were seeking our churches just because of the way we were able to meet them and help them in the community. And I have found it is easier to get Muslims—[who are] supposed to be very hard to evangelize—but it’s easier to get them to join and to take part and to walk into our churches than the secular Norwegians. So, I really want us to have a focus on mission to all people.”
Southern Asia Division delegate Paul Bhaggien made a suggestion regarding the following amendment excerpt: “Leaders of these groups (missionary groups) should make every effort to lead the people into membership in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.”
“Coming from a sensitive region of the world where religious conversion is often met with persecution and even death, I would still recommend that our approaches be as flexible to encourage innovation and creativity,” Bhaggien said. “Any rigid prescription would only kill the mission of the church. I believe as a church, we do recognize that while there may be individuals like Cornelius, the Ethiopian official, or the jailer of Phillipi, there may be others like Nicodemus who may choose to be secret followers of Christ until an opportune time.”
The amendment was reviewed during lunchtime, and revisions were presented to the floor during the Thursday night business meeting. The amendment passed with a 99.1% approval vote.
Until Next Time
The end of the Thursday night business meeting concluded the business portion of the 2022 GC Session. After the final Church Manual amendment passed, there were applause and a few cheers.
“My friends, tonight we are finished,” said Tom Lemon, chair of the evening meeting. “We need a motion to adjourn. . . . It will close our meeting until it’s called to order again, back here in St. Louis in 2025.”
The 2022 General Conference Session continues on Friday, June 10, with reports from the 13 world divisions of the Adventist Church.
Megan Yoshioka is a reporter for Spectrum and a recent mass communication-writing/editing graduate from Southern Adventist University. She has lived in California, Hawaii, and Tennessee.
Title image: the floor of the 2022 GC Session. Photo by Josef Kissinger / Adventist Media Exchange (CC BY 4.0)
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