While the primary purpose for the Executive Committee of the General Conference’s Spring Meeting is to conduct official business such as assessing the income and budget of the church, this year it also was a time for stories of service and success, to pray for the work in each division of the world. Only 78 of the 211 members of the committee had registered at the start of the meeting Tuesday, April 14, but a quorum is 40 so the proceedings went forward. Spring Meeting is shorter than the Annual Council session which occurs each October and typically draws fewer people, plus budgets are being saved for the upcoming GC session in San Antonio, so the smaller crowd was not a surprise.
San Antonio will mark the end of a five year term for elected officers. News of impending retirements were scattered throughout the meeting. Orville Parchment, assistant to two General Conference presidents, gave the opening devotional and then was honored for his long service to the church with a standing ovation.
Treasurer Robert Lemon presented the financial reports and the good news about supplemental income for the year. President Ted Wilson lamented that Lemon could not be cloned, because Lemon, too, is retiring.
Vice President Mike Ryan who has played a significant role in strategic planning and global missions was acknowledged for his efforts to take the message to unreached people groups. San Antonio will mark the end of his vice presidency.
John Graz’ 44 years of service, including his time representing the church in religious liberty, were part of his testimonial on Tuesday.
Revival and Reformation, the program inaugurated by President Ted Wilson five years ago to inspire Bible reading and prayer, led the agenda. It was referred to as the umbrella that has blessed the church. Testimonials of its impact and success are being collected to be presented in a booth at the General Conference session. Vice President Delbert Baker said that it has been so successful people have asked that it continue into the next five years. The plan is to continue with the theme, but this time to emphasize it on a personal level.
Mission to the Cities reports from all thirteen divisions followed.
Stories of the free health care delivered to 6,000 people in San Antonio earlier this month and valued at $20,120,000 were a highlight. President Wilson wanted to make a point about such “comprehensive health evangelism” so it came up frequently over the course of the meeting.
In his financial report Treasurer Robert Lemon described the effect the strong dollar and the decline of other currencies has on the General Conference budget. It means fewer US dollars of income to the General Conference but an increase in local currency units for organizations receiving appropriations in US dollars. In 2014 over 50% of the tithes and offerings received by the General Conference came from currencies other than the U.S, dollar and were subject to currency exchange fluctuations.
“In spite of the strengthening of the U.S. dollar in 2014 there was a slight increase in worldwide tithe when stated in U.S. dollars. Worldwide tithe was up 0.7%, totaling US $2.396 billion. Tithe in the North American Division was up 1.7% over 2013 and totaled US $966 million as compared to US $949 million in 2013. Tithe from divisions other than the North American Division was up 0.1% and totaled US $1.431 billion compared to US $1.429 billion in 2013. In local currency the tithe in divisions other than the North American Division was up substantially, but because of the exchange rate shift tithe was almost flat when stated in U.S. dollars.”
The good news was that the increases in tithe and the fact that the General Conference operated under budget by approximately US $6.3 million meant there was supplemental budget money to be distributed among the divisions, each of which went home with an additional $200,000.
Several projects received significant funding, too.
Hope TV – Japan was given $1,325,000. Middle East North Africa Union Mission received $1,500,000. Multiple needs in the Euro-Asian Division were noted and the Division awarded $1,500,000. Andrews University received $1 million for a health and wellness center. A $500,000 allocation went to youth evangelism on non-Adventist campuses. The single project that received the highest funding was the SDA Encyclopedia, which the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research (ASTR) will coordinate over the next five years. Describing the project during a subsequent business session, ASTR director David Trim pointed out that the encyclopedia was created at a time when the Adventist Church numbered 1.8 million. Membership has now passed 18 million, and numerous entities exist that are not accounted for in the current edition of the encyclopedia.
During departmental reports, Adventist Review editor Bill Knott unveiled the inaugural issue of the redesigned magazine. Knott stated that the new Review specifically aims to connect with young adults and young families—those “with kids still in the home.” Knott also noted that the Review will now be published monthly rather than weekly. In addition to a graphical redesign, the new magazine is smaller in size, though with more pages per issue.
At the end of the day Tuesday, there was a special constituency session for Loma Linda University, since the GC Executive Committee members are also members of that constituency. The name of the umbrella organization that includes the hospitals, medical practices and university was officially changed to Loma Linda University Health. First steps were taken to consolidate the three boards that exist at Loma Linda—the one for the university, the hospital, and the one for the faculty medical practice. The university board was enlarged to include representatives from all three entities and the current board was given the power to select the additional board members for the time until the next regular constituency meeting.
David Trim, director of the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research, presented the results of A survey of the Mission and Health Emphasis in Ministerial Training Curriculums of Adventist institutions in all parts the world (available online from the Office of Archives, Statistics and Research). Trim’s survey concluded that:
* Courses on cross-cultural mission are more likely to be included in ministerial training curriculum than are courses that cover the church’s health message. But they they are not commonly taught and usually not by faculty with qualifications in mission.
* Health courses are even less likely to be offered—but more likely to be taught by qualified faculty members.
* There are few mission courses presently being taught that focus on urban, post-modern society—an area of recent focus by the church’s leadership.
The meetings concluded with presentation of the video “What Might Have Been” a dramatic recreation of Ellen G. White’s vision about the 1901 General Conference session. Additional footage had been added to the video emphasizing that what might have been was a revival of the church. Earlier versions of the video had been criticized for its interpretation of Adventist history and suggestion that what might have been was the second coming of Christ.
Title Image Courtesy Ansel Oliver/ANN.
Bonnie Dwyer is Editor of Spectrum Magazine.