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And So It Begins: Annual Council Diary I


Annual Council Diary I

Every five years the Seventh-day Adventist church holds a General Conference session to elect officers, vote changes in the policies and practices of the church, and review beliefs and mission statements. The Annual Council session of the General Conference Executive Committee that vets all items for that meeting opened Thursday evening. Speculation about how the issue of women’s ordination will be handled has been swirling about since the completion of the Theology of Ordination Study Commission ended in a three-way divide over the issue.

Finally, today the agenda for the Annual Council session was distributed both in electronic and paper form. The work of endless committees combing over details of beliefs, manuals, and motions was complete. Delegates who preferred a hard copy received a notebook with 268 pages of material.

It is a fascinating document to page through and get a sense of what is to come. Speculation about the Tuesday session on women’s ordination has been circulating through the hallways. Should there be a vote at Annual Council on the subject, or should the report from the Theology of Ordination Study Committee (TOSC) simply be received and passed on to the 2015 General Conference Session in San Antonio? Or, should a motion at Annual Council be crafted to frame how the topic is discussed in San Antonio? The General Conference officers and division presidents spent a day debating that topic.

Section 120 of the General Agenda outlines a 14-step process for consideration of the issue. First, there will be an introduction and brief history. That will be followed by a prayer session. Next will come a review of the work of TOSC. The consensus statement on ordination in general voted by TOSC will be presented. There will be a discussion and vote to receive and endorse the Consensus Statement on a Seventh-day Adventist Theology of Ordination. That will be followed by a prayer session.
The TOSC committee reports will be given. The three statements on the way forward will be presented. Then there will be a prayer session. The General Conference and Division Officers recommendation to Annual Council will be explained and moved for acceptance, followed by discussion and voting on the motion. That will be followed by a prayer session. 

If the number of prayers is any indication, the officers are worried about this one. No other section of the agenda stops so frequently for prayer. Of course, there will be prayer at other times, but the outline for moving through the Fundamental Beliefs and the Church Manual, both of which have multiple items to consider do not list breaks on every other line for prayer.

Once delegates received their agendas and their electronic voting devices, it was time for consideration of the Adventist health message and “Life to the Full”. Dr. David R. Williams, the Florence and Laura Norman Professor of Public Health and Professor of African and African American Studies and of Sociology at Harvard University addressed the delegates on the unique opportunities for ministry that exist because of non-communicable diseases. He described the challenges that come from living in a culture that encourages and rewards unhealthy behaviors. And he talked about the social inequalities in health. “In virtually every country, your social and economic standing says a lot about how long and how well you live,” he said. He talked about the risk factors for adult depression that are embedded in adverse childhood experiences.  Given the prevalence of early adversity, he suggested that Adventist Health Ministries must find a way to provide parenting education and enhance the skills and support of parents. Quoting Ellen White, he also called for churches to establish various industries so that poor families can find employment.

Fred Hardinge, the associate health ministries director of the General Conference, then shared data on the health experience of Seventh-day Adventists from the two major studies that have been done with church members. He summarized the findings that show Adventists have better physical and mental quality of life than others. While the vegetarian diet has clear and important effects on reducing risk of chronic disease, other factors for the better quality of life include Sabbath keeping, and religious coping assisting with the reduction of stress.

In the third presentation of the evening, Peter Landless asked the audience “Are you fit to lead?” and challenged them to get beyond the information-behavior disconnect. The problem, Landless said, “is not knowing about healthy lifestyle. It’s following through on the good one knows. “

As the meeting drew to a close, General Conference President Ted Wilson brought  British Union Conference president Ian Sweeney to the microphone. Sweeney lost 34 kilos (75 lbs) in the last year. ” Sweeney told the audience that he turned to the Lord to help him when he realized that he could not in good conscience share a health book with a neighbor, because he was personally not living a healthful life. “The Lord gave me victory over running. He gave me bicycles.”

Mark Finley brought the meeting to a close with a call to a healthier life. “Tonight have you heard the spirit calling you to diet, to exercise?” he asked. The power for lifestyle change comes from Jesus, he said.

With prayer the first meeting came to a conclusion. Friday’s session will include case studies in pastoral leadership. 

Bonnie Dwyer is the editor of Spectrum Magazine.

Photos courtesy Ansel Oliver / ANN

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