Letter from Annual Council


As I begin to write this newsletter I am sitting in the auditorium of the General Conference (GC) office. It is the last morning of the Annual Council of the General Conference Executive Committee. There are probably 300-400 people in the auditorium. Almost 300 are members of the committee. The rest are spouses, invitees and some observers. Attending with me are our GC Committee members: Lawrence Tanabose, Rod Brady, Leigh (and Barbara) Rice, Glenn (and Pam) Townend, Chester (and Robyn) Stanley, Brad Kemp, Aho Baliki (a layperson from Papua New Guinea Union Mission) and his wife Veronika, Owen Ryan (a layperson from Trans Pacific Union Mission) and his wife Anna, Alban Matohiti (a pastor from the Australian Union Conference), and Evelyn Will (layperson from New Zealand Pacific Union Conference). These annual meetings are important, setting the agenda in many ways for the world Church in the coming months and years. I will share a number of relevant items from the agenda with you in this newsletter.

Mission to the Cities

2013 is almost history. I wish you the blessing of the Lord as we close out this year and look forward to 2014.

Just before the Annual Council started an Urban Mission Conference was conducted. This year has seen the start of a global strategic initiative to reach the urban areas. We actually started the ball rolling with “The Last Empire” in Sydney. This was followed by Christchurch, Lae and right now Apia. In every division a large city has been selected and considerable resources deployed. Cities like New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Moscow, Lagos and Mexico City are being targeted. There are cities here of over 20 million citizens, with hardly a Seventh-day Adventist. In 2014 every conference and every mission in the world will choose a large city in their territory and intentionally target it with a comprehensive evangelistic strategy. 

NZPUC president Pastor Brad Kemp addresses the chair during Annual Council at the Adventist Church’s world headquarters auditorium on October 16.

Mission to the Cities in Apia, Samoa

As I write, the special evangelistic program which is part of Mission to the Cities, has just commenced in Apia, Samoa. I have received an initial report which I summarise here for you. The program is being transmitted live to 23 outlying centres in Samoa and American Samoa as planned. The theme of the campaign is “The Last Empire” and the opening followed a weeklong church spiritual revival conducted by Pastor Jean Noel Adeline. This was also transmitted live via internet.

Attendance: Attendance by non-Adventist guests for all the sites combined during the first three nights were 500-plus for the first night, 600-plus for the second night, and for the third night 700-plus. Among the guests on opening night were the country’s Acting Head of State, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, the President of the Lands and Titles Court and other lesser government lights. The Head of State (and spouse) and the President of the Court (and spouse) have continued to attend and have indicated a desire to come to as many evenings as possible.

Program: The 30-minute long health talk by Dr Chester Kuma has been well received and addresses important health issues to the government and people of Samoa including the Church in the two Samoas. The music by Vincent Clairmont is a blessing as is the preaching of the message by Pastor Jean Noel Adeline. The main message is being translated into Samoan.

Venue: The main venue is the new government Conference Centre in the heart of Apia, the nation’s capital. With expected growth in numbers, plans have been made to have a screen in the spacious and airy veranda to accommodate any outflow from the main hall. The facility has full connectivity which makes it ideal for transmission via internet to the outlying centres. There is room in the facility for a children’s programme which is running at the same time as the main event. People have been trained specially to conduct that programme.

Outlying Centres: There are 23 outlying centres for receiving transmission via internet. Five centres are on the island of Savaii, 15 on Upolu and five in American Samoa.

125th Anniversary of 1888

I am sure you will be aware that this year is the 150th anniversary of the founding of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. It happened in 1863 in Battle Creek, Michigan. Elsewhere in the country the civil war was occupying the lives of Americans.

What I had not realised was that 2013 is the 125th anniversary of the historic 1888 General Conference session. This gives us an excellent opportunity, not only to acquaint our people with some important events in the history of our Church, but also to focus on righteousness by faith and God’s amazing grace.

Theology of Ordination Study Committee update

Dr Artur Stele, head of the Biblical Research Institute and chair of the Theology of Ordination Study Committee gave an update on the proceedings of the group. As you may well know, a consensus statement on the theology of ordination has been released. That was voted at the June meeting with a sizeable majority. The committee is now specifically considering ordination without reference to gender. Papers have been presented from both sides of the issue. Those papers and all others that have been presented in the course of the work of the committee are available on the webpage of the General Conference Archives and Statistics. At its January meeting the committee will receive reports from each of the Division Biblical Research committees on the issue. There will be papers presented critiquing the papers presented thus far. And then there will be two important papers presented which map the way forward for the Church. One paper will be presented from the perspective of those who do not favour ordination without reference to gender. One will be presented from the perspective of those who do favour ordination without reference to gender. I have been asked to write and present the latter paper. I need your prayers for this assignment. It will be time-consuming and I dare say it will be written late at night. If you have any thoughts on how the Church may proceed into the future in the context of some differing opinions on the issue, I would ask you please to respond to me as soon as possible after you read this newsletter. I am consulting widely as I put this together and it will need to be complete within the next few weeks.

The Creation: A media evangelism project

A new DVD depicting the events of creation was released at the Annual Council. This DVD has been produced in Germany under the auspices of the Communication Department of the General Conference. It will be available for distribution and use by our churches shortly. You will be informed once we have stock available for distribution.

The Creation: The Earth is a Witness is a movie that will soon be available for worldwide distribution and use in outreach initiatives. [Photo courtesy: Ansel Oliver]

Fundamental Beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists

Some editing work on the Statement of Fundamental Beliefs was introduced on the floor of the executive committee. No vote was taken as the plan is to circulate the proposed changes over the next year and to collect responses. The responses will be taken into account and a document returned to the Annual Council in 2014 for consideration and recommendation or otherwise to the General Conference Session of 2015. Many of the changes are editorial. Gender inclusive language is one proposed change for example. But other changes are substantive and I would encourage you to consider the proposed changes and respond as you wish when the document is circulated. We will certainly be considering it and responding from the South Pacific Division (SPD) Biblical Research Committee. You may either respond through our Biblical Research Committee or direct to Dr Artur Stele.

Impending retirement: Pastor Lawrence Tanabose

I am sure most of you have heard that Pastor Lawrence Tanabose is planning to retire at the end of 2013 and return to his home island of Choisel, Solomon Islands. We rejoice and thank God for Lawrence and Rosina Tanabose but we are going to miss them terribly. As the first Pacific Islander to be elected to the senior leadership of the SPD, Lawrence has demonstrated a level of commitment, wisdom and discernment that has ensured that he has contributed immeasurably to this Division. His knowledge of particularly the work of the Church in the island nations of the Pacific has been invaluable. He is a wise counsellor, friend and brother in Christ and we wish him and his family good health and happiness as they return to live and work with the people of Choisel and the Solomon Islands. God bless you Lawrence and Rosina and family.

Well, I need to send this to you. As often happens I have written in fits and starts as I have travelled home over the last few days. I am now safely back home again and looking forward to getting back into the office ready to gear up for our year-end round of meetings. 2013 is almost history. I wish you the blessing of the Lord as we close out this year and look forward to 2014. I want you to know just how much I value each of you and thank God for the committed, talented, focused team we have in the various entities in this Division. I am always proud to represent the SPD at global events where we continue to “punch way above our weight”. My prayers are with you and your families as we serve our God together.

Dr Barry Oliver is president of the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.