The One Project is a weekend program run by Adventist employees and members to emphasis Jesus and His centrality to Adventist doctrine. Dr Graeme Humble, field secretary for the South Pacific Division and member of the Biblical Research Committee (BRC), attended recent One Project gatherings in Australia. This report is an edited version of what he presented to the BRC and is based on the ethnographic method of gathering data, known as “participant observation”.
Each session was decidedly Christocentric and consistent with Adventist belief and practice.
I participated in two gatherings of The One Project: Sydney (August 20, 21) and Perth (August 27, 28), in order to observe the gatherings firsthand. To prepare, I researched the official One Project website <https://the1project.org> but chose not to prejudice objectivity by accessing the plethora of negative material available on the web. I also chose not to profile my attendance as field secretary but maintained a low profile, only making direct contact with one of the organisers (Tim Gillespie) at the last session in Perth.
The gatherings were professionally organised and coordinated by Rod Long, an active and well-regarded member from Kellyville church in Sydney.
Approximately 175 people attended the Sydney gathering at the Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Education Centre, while the Perth gathering at the Technology Park Function Centre in Bentley attracted around 120 attendees (despite a vigorous negative email campaign by some Adventist members/churches). These figures include children, who attended parallel child-specific sessions. Attendees at both gatherings included a generational cross-section of church members, together with a variety of division, union, conference and institutional employees. In conversation with other attendees, I learned that the gathering also attracted (and brought encouragement to) some who might be considered on the peripheries of the Church. I was impressed with the number of youth and young married couples who dedicated a whole Sabbath and Sunday morning, and invested $A170 or $A150 in order to participate.
Each of the gatherings was infused with a deeply worshipful ambience, featuring contemporary worship music and a number of old favourites/hymns set within a contemporary praise and worship genre. Worship was led by soloist guitarist and vocalist Pastor Elia King. Noticeably absent were a band and “karaoke singers” which tend to overpower many contemporary Adventist worship services.
Both gatherings predominantly featured speakers from the USA. Their messages focused on particular aspects of Jesus’ teachings, as outlined in chapters of William Johnsson’s books: Jesus of Nazareth: His Life and Jesus of Nazareth: His Message, His Passion. The majority of the speakers were ordained Seventh-day Adventist pastors or institutional employees:
• Japhet De Oliveira (senior pastor, Boulder Adventist Church)—his topic: “What Jesus taught about the kingdom of God.”
• Terry Swenson (campus chaplain and associate professor, School of Religion, Loma Linda University)—”What Jesus taught about the end.”
• Jessyka Albert (discipleship pastor, Boulder church)—”What Jesus taught about discipleship.”
• William Johnsson (retired, former Adventist Review editor)—”What Jesus taught about the Sabbath”; “What Jesus taught about genuine religion.”
• Dena King (businesswoman, part-time treasurer, Boulder church)—”What Jesus taught about the Trinity.”
• Elia King (worship pastor, Boulder church).
• Dilys Brooks (campus chaplain, Loma Linda University)—”What Jesus taught about prayer”; “What Jesus taught about grace.”
• Tim Gillespie (lead pastor, Crosswalk Adventist Church, Redlands)—”What Jesus taught about power, sex and money.”
• Andrew Skeggs (personal ministries/Sabbath School director, Western Australian Conference) led in the final session in Perth.
Each session was decidedly Christocentric and consistent with Adventist belief and practice. The gatherings—and speakers—were supportive of the Church they served and loved. There was nothing expressed or done that led me to believe otherwise.
At the conclusion of each doublet of sessions, an opportunity was provided for “Recalibrate” breakout discussion groups (four large classroom groups in Sydney and tables of eight in Perth). Discussion sheets provided key questions, led by one of the presenters. The object of Recalibrate was to dialogue and process the content of the sessions in “hard, honest conversations about our heritage, legacy and trajectory”.
At all the sessions I attended I observed a candid and open conversation in a safe environment. The discussions were healthy, robust and respectful and I came away from each session with a sense of confidence in Jesus and my Church. At times I was challenged in various areas of spirituality in my personal life. My observation is that this can only be a good outcome of participant observation at The One Project gatherings.
One of the gatherings (Perth) featured a Question and Answer session, where participants were invited to ask any question of The One Project organisers. A variety of penetrating questions were fielded—and openly addressed and satisfactorily answered. The organisers said they had nothing to hide and their candid and honest answers appeared to be appreciated and accepted by the participants.
My exposure and involvement in two One Project gatherings has left me in no doubt as to the value of such experiences for our Church. As I spoke with fellow attendees, I was impressed with the degree of their commitment and personal investment in the programs. Some had chosen to ignore the advice of naysaying friends and fellow church members who told them to boycott the gatherings. While I did not speak with multitudes of attendees, I did not detect or encounter negativity towards the content, organisation or speakers. To the contrary, all that was said and done was faith building and affirming, and resembled a condensed super-spiritual camp meeting.
If Adventists are seeking revival and reformation, then participation in a One Project gathering could be a good place to start.
Dr Graeme Humble is field secretary for the South Pacific Division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.