On 6 June 2022, the global gathering of Adventist delegates opened the 61st General Conference Session. Since I was asked to write a reflection piece on the Session, I thought I would focus on the experience as a life-long Adventist, but a first-time delegate.
The Sunday before the Session opened, I was up early ready to catch the flight that would take me to my eventual destination in America. As I entered the airport, I was on 'Adventist Watch'. I remember stories of previous GC excursions where planes are full of Adventists and would even provide renditions to their favourite song on the plane. With those thoughts at the forefront of my mind, I was aware there was a high probability that I would meet another Adventist along my journey.
I found myself experiencing a sense of Adventist 'pride'. The idea of meeting other people that have broadly the same values, and a shared expectation of Jesus' soon return gave me a deep sense of belonging.
As I entered the humid city of St Louis, I was privileged to witness our globally diverse membership. It makes you stand in awe to think how God moved such a small group of Christian outsiders to spread God's messages in such global proportions.
And this leads me to reflect deeply on the duties of the Session. What piques the interest for most, is the election of officers for the upcoming term, as whoever is elected can guide the direction of the mission in their territory.
However, for me, what is interesting is how this behemoth of an organisation seeks to 'drive the mission forward', in different geographical locations, with a plethora of needs and often differing viewpoints. The constitutional and church manual changes are considered by some to be boring. But from my observations, it seems like an attempt to keep in balance (and tension) the idea of a global church while maintaining flexibility to respond to local needs.
For example, the voted statements of Ellen White and the Holy Bible initiated a lot of debate. This reflects the various ways we believe God expresses Himself in time and space.
One question has intrigued me surrounds the implications of a representative system of governance. In practice, it is very hard for items to be rejected or changed at this GC Session level. Before any item reaches the 'floor' for public discussion, it would have gone through a robust consultative process i.e. eight, nine or ten different committees made up of representatives from all stakeholders. Consequently, what your average member sees is the livestreamed Session and not the consultative process. This may give the impression that GC is a rubber-stamping exercise, and doesn't make dissenters feel heard. Of course, there is an option to 'refer' back or reject an item. But the long consultative process makes this unlikely. I can feel how challenging this process feels to many who want to see the Church move in a different direction.
Finally, St Louis forced me to reflect on the impact of the mission. What I didn't know before we arrived was that St Louis has one of the highest rates of crime in any American city. When we arrived, you could see that the architecture of the buildings echoed a once-great city. However, it has succumbed to decay, dilapidation and deprivation. It was clear that many residents were struggling 'to make ends meet'. In their city, entered over 2000 Christians who, with all their heart believe that one day there will be no more pain, death or tears and in the here and now, seek to express the love of God in actions and deeds.
It reminded me that we aren't just to wait for our Lord to return but to heal, and restore broken people now. My reflections on GC Session overall were having a great sense of pride in being an Adventist, but a recognition of the mighty challenges that stand before us on how we guide our church for the future of our mission. As we wait for God, how do we provide healing and restoration from real pain and suffering? GC Session was more than just a meeting, it was a subtle call to shape the future, especially in our territory.