“My calling and the calling of AdventHealth is to sow seeds of hope, healing and wholeness… To embody the privilege of extending the healing ministry of Christ. What about you? Will you join me?”

This was the question posed by President/CEO Terry Shaw on the opening night of AdventHealth’s 33rd annual Conference on Mission. The conference was attended by AdventHealth Board members and executive leaders, key representatives from the Seventh-day Adventist Church and local community leaders. It was an invitation to reflect on the efforts of the past and acknowledge the work that lies ahead.

With 2023 being an anniversary year for AdventHealth, the conference was a time of both celebration and reflection of the company’s 50-year history, since its founding in 1973 when representatives from standalone hospitals across the southern states made the decision to join together and form the health system.

“We want to get a handle on what mission means to each of us on a personal level, as well as professionally and certainly culturally,” said Jillyan McKinney, president and CEO of the AdventHealth Medical Group in Central Florida and co-presenter during the conference’s business session. “Are we being effective in how we deliver on our mission promise? Are we consistently staying true to our roots?  How has our history shaped our mission, and what does the future have in store?”

The event kicked off with an awards ceremony where over 450 people in attendance recognized the work, service and dedication of key individuals. The 2023 awardees were:

  • Lanell Jacobs and Linda Lynch: Christian Service Award for exemplary commitment to the mission of AdventHealth through outstanding job performance and loyalty to organizational values and service standards.
  • Pat Northey and Reverend Ron Hawkins: Trustee of the Year Award for exemplary service as a board member for one or more entities affiliated with AdventHealth.
  • Abel Biri and David Banks: Crystal Angel Award, AdventHealth’s highest recognition of outstanding Christian leadership in specific mission-related achievements, projects and programs.

The next day, attendees explored five decades of AdventHealth history through a unique multi-media experience titled “50 Years: United in Mission.” Through on-stage guides, video interviews, live testimonies and surprise guests, attendees discovered the unbroken thread of mission woven into the essence of Adventist health care, starting with the legacy of Christ’s ministry on earth and continuing with pioneers who founded the church’s earliest sanitariums.

“God’s been so faithful and has bestowed abundant blessings on His healing ministry. The evidence of His presence and providence over these past 50 years, since 1973, is incredible,” said Tim Cook, chief mission integration officer at AdventHealth.

The group explored the foundation of our health care ministry, the culture of AdventHealth that refuses to allow mission drift and the role that innovation plays in sustaining that mission and carrying it into the future. In this exploration, the level of intentionality was evident in the training and mentoring of AdventHealth leaders as well as succession planning in order to keep the unbroken thread of mission integrity going.

Key leaders from AdventHealth’s history shared their unique perspectives on how the mission advanced during their time and how each person’s efforts brought momentum to the continuous weaving of the unbroken thread of mission.

“AdventHealth grows and develops leaders to continue to seek opportunities to innovate and advance our mission,” said Craig Moore, chief operating officer at AdventHealth Kissimmee and on-stage guide during the conference’s business session. Former AdventHealth leaders who experienced this growth first-hand were in attendance, including Tom Werner and Mardian Blair, former system CEOs, and Ed Reifsnyder, founding CFO.

“This is our mission: extending the healing ministry of Christ,” said Cook. “There isn’t a wasted word. It isn’t a preamble. It isn’t the beginning line of a complicated dissertation. It’s simple. It’s profound. It’s intentional. It’s active. And it’s complete.”

Legacy, intentionality, future focus

In response to this in-depth reflection, a panel convened on stage to discuss key themes that surface from the organization’s history and how we might use what was learned to continue our mission into the future.

At the end of this exploration of AdventHealth’s history, attendees were invited to share the ways and spaces in which they have seen God’s leading and faithfulness in the past. They were also invited to look to the future and consider how the mission would grow even stronger in the next 50 years. “It’s important we take time to reflect on our story of mission – on that thread that weaves through time and brings us here today,” said Cook.

The themes of legacy, intentionality and a focus on the future were echoed during the Sabbath morning address by Leslie Pollard, PhD, DMin, president of Oakwood University, where he spoke about the biblical account of the paralytic man who was carried by four men and placed before Jesus to be healed. “Those four friends remind us of our one Great Friend who, 2,000 years ago, came on a mission to deliver critical care,” Dr. Pollard said. “May we carry forward His healing ministry across the next 50 years with audacious, roof-rupturing faith.”

A tradition from previous years, music was integral to the three-day event and featured the AdventHealth Orchestra and the AdventHealth Choir for the first time. Both groups, made up of AdventHealth team members, led more than 740 attendees in reverent worship on Sabbath morning – the highest attendance of Conference on Mission to date. The musical performances highlighted the desire of all individuals present to continue the legacy of Christ’s healing ministry, extending it to all people.

“Tim Cook and I put significant thought and energy into how we could celebrate AdventHealth’s 50th anniversary by utilizing our team members and performing some of the most inspiring music that has ever been written,” said Richard Hickam, director of music and the arts at AdventHealth. “One of the things I love about musicians from all over coming together is that a number of them come in as strangers, but we served together, and we all left united in mission.”

“It was a privilege and pleasure to have the opportunity to attend the 50 Years United in Mission Conference,” said Peter Landless, M.B., B.Ch., M.Med., director of health ministries for the Seventh-day Adventist Church world headquarters. “I was richly blessed and deeply inspired by the well-planned, masterfully presented programs.” Dr. Landless also shared how he was encouraged by the informative experience of reliving the history of AdventHealth and seeing the trajectory of national growth and the expansion of mission initiatives overseas.

“The AdventHealth Orchestra and chorus transported the attendees into the atmosphere of heaven and was the crowning offering on an elevating and inspiring Sabbath morning!” said Dr. Landless. “The real-life stories of pain, despair and then hope and even healing punctuated this celebration of mission and left one invigorated and energized to embrace, promote and fully experience the God-given work and opportunity of extending the healing ministry of Christ. My prayer is that the Lord we love and serve will continue to richly bless AdventHealth in all its endeavors for Him. Maranatha.”

Elizabeth Camps is a senior communications specialist at AdventHealth.