Snakes don’t bother me that much, and a spider or two plodding through the house is no real cause for distress either (unless it’s bigger than a pizza). What really makes me snap to attention and begin to fret are reunions!
Reunions are those events, usually a significant milestone date, when it seems you’ve only got around three months to come up with a good account of what you’ve been up to over the years. The pressure is trying to come up with a story good enough to remotely compete with those who’ll be at the function sporting laugh lines around their pockets or a back catalogue of achievements the length of a fluorescent light or two.
The Australian Union Conference is about to celebrate a milestone date: 125 years of the creation of a union in Australia—which happened to be the first union in the world. But not this year. Next year. The Australian Union Conference—it has actually had a few name changes over the decades—came into existence officially in 1894 and that marks next year as its 125th anniversary.
But the story started earlier than that, on May 10, 1885, when 11 Americans set sail from San Francisco with hopes to “open up a mission in Australia”. Pastor Stephen Haskell, Pastor Mendel Israel, Pastor John Corliss, Henry Scott—a printer from Pacific Press—and William Arnold—an Adventist bookseller—would eventually become the pioneers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific.
They arrived in Sydney on June 6, 1885. While Haskell and Israel stayed in Sydney, the others went on a three-day ride in a small coastal steamer to Melbourne, the city selected to be the base for the Church’s Australian activities. The following year, after both successes and triumphs, the first Seventh-day Adventist church in Australia, the Melbourne Seventh-day Adventist Church, was formed on January 10, 1886, with 29 members.
Establishment of local churches, schools, medical facilities and a deliberate commitment to spread information through literature distribution saw the Advent message spread across the country very quickly in those early days. In his brief address to the 10th Annual Session for the Central Australian Conference—held in Balaclava, Victoria in 1898—president A G Daniels expressed “deep gratitude” to God for the “innumerable mercies of the past years”. His further encouragement and response from those with him is indicative of the passion and commitment to ministry both laity and those employed had for the work of the Lord.
Meeting minutes from the early years testify to the fact that mission, as a response to the great commission (Matthew 28:19, 20), was at the forefront of the Union’s strategic goals. By the first quarter of 1918, what had begun with a couple of families just over 20 years earlier had grown to around 6500 church members.
Today, our Church membership has reached more than 63,000—not including children—and our goal remains the same, plainly and simply: mission. But as the years continue to rumble by, how will the Church account for what has transpired over those 125 years in Australia? As we look to our pioneer roots, it’s interesting to note that the mission of the Church has not been diluted by time and culture. So how then can we as individuals, in our churches, educational institutions, medical facilities, aged care facilities and the like, continue to bring the message of a living Christ to a dying world?
As it was in the beginning, so it remains today: it’s all dependent on our commitment to the gospel commission and mission of the Church. Continue to pray that, as we march toward our 125th anniversary, it will be a time of praise for the ways the Lord has led us individually and corporately in the past. May it be a time of thanks for the ways He promises to lead us in the future. May it be a time of recognition and appreciation that the gifts of the Spirit continue to promise unity for the Church and the fruit of the Spirit brings harmony among our ranks. And may it be a time where we continue to focus on mission.
“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done” (Revelation 22:12, NIV).
Now that’s a reunion I’m really looking forward to! Are you?
Pastor Murray Hunter is Media Project Officer for the Australian Union Conference.