Dr. Ella Simmons, the first woman to serve as a general vice president of the General Conference of Seventh-day

PC: Adventist Review

Adventists, has announced her retirement effective this month. Simmons, a former provost at La Sierra University and former vice president of academic administration at Oakwood University, was elected in 2005 to serve at the GC with responsibilities largely in the area of education.

An educator throughout her career, Simmons has also served as chair for departments of education (Kentucky State University) and as associate dean (University of Louisville).

Simmons has filled the vice president role for 17 years, providing professional leadership education and evaluation, as well as spiritual guidance, to church administrators around the world. In addition, she has chaired the Seventh-day Adventist International Board of Education, whose decisions impact over 9,000 schools serving more than 2 million students worldwide, according to the General Conference website. 

Simmons acknowledges that leadership is not easy. “You’re always going to face challenges…it still always comes back to just remembering this is God’s work,” she said in a Columbia Union Visitor interview. “He has it, and He has me, and I need to keep my mind on Him in order to do what He would have me do, and to have peace while I’m doing it.”

Two New Vps

Lowell Cooper, chair of the nominating committee, presented the names of seven individuals to serve as general

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vice presidents for the coming term. Cooper explained why the vice-presidents were being presented as a block, rather than individually.

The names include five current vice-presidents, Abnor De Los Santos, Artur Stele, Geoffrey Mbwana, Thomas Lemon and Guillermo Biaggi, and two new individuals, Audrey Andersson and Maurice Valentine. Andersson was serving as executive secretary in the Trans-European Division and Maurice Valentine, who was service as a vice-president in the North American Division.

“We would ask the session to accept the report, rather than voting on individual names…The nominating committee has discussed the matter carefully, recognizes the challenges that comes from trying to balance depth of experience with breadth of representation.”

The motion passed with more than 96 percent of the vote.

Elder Gary Thurber, president of the Mid-America Union, stated that Maurice Valentine is “a product of Central States Conference and the Mid-America Union. He served in our territory as a pastor, union ministerial director and vice president for administration, and as CSC conference president. We wish him the very best as he begins his new journey.”

Elder Roger Bernard, current president of the Central States Conference, shared some insights into this year’s Nominating Committee processes. “I am serving on the Nominating Committee for the General Conference Session for the first time, and it has been enlightening,” said Bernard. “I’ve learned how difficult it is for the nominating committee to come to consensus on those that will serve the Seventh Day Adventist church on the General Conference level of this church.”  
There are 268 members on the committee, with the North America Division only having 21 representatives. “Everyone wants representation, so you can imagine how difficult of a task it is to get the right people elected. Much prayer is needed before we enter all General Conference Sessions,” Bernard added.

Where does accountability lie for GC leaders?

The highest level of authority at each segment of denominational organization is within the constituency session. In addition, each officer is accountable to the organization’s executive committee. An executive committee (or board, in the case of institutions) is entrusted through policies or constitutions and bylaws with authority to govern between constituency meetings. However, the executive committee/board members are ultimately accountable to their constituency. We have checks and balances in place in the constitution to help keep erratic leaders from hijacking the church.

Shaping the Adventist Church

“Today, with more people operating across the globe, the Adventist Church’s decisions must be made with increasing care for the massive spectrum of humanity they serve,” said Caleb Eisele in a recent article (Gleaner, May/June 2022). “Policies, leadership and decision-making bodies are a vital part of that process in our modern-day, and they remain an important way a local church member can participate in shaping the Seventh-day Adventist Church for future generations.” 

Members who desire to change the church for the better can volunteer to serve on their local church board, conference executive committee or the bylaws committee. These are the most powerful decision-making groups and the most effective means of creating change processes in Adventism.

“I firmly believe the Holy Spirit is leading, and that gives us hope for the future of the Adventist Church, in spite of our shortcomings as human beings,” said Gary Thurber, president of the Mid-America Union Conference. “Right now we all need to be praying for God’s guidance at all levels of the church as we continue to focus on our mission of sharing the good news that Jesus Christ offers hope and healing to everyone.”

Quick Questions Answered About GC Session 2022

Why St. Louis?

America’s Center is conveniently located in the heart of downtown St. Louis, close to hotels, dining and public transportation. The city has an international airport and can comfortably house the large number of delegates. The 58th session was also held in St. Louis in 2005, and the 62nd session in 2025 is scheduled again for St. Louis. Only a handful of cities have the facilities to host the GC session.

What’s different this year?

In addition to accommodating virtual participation by delegates, there are no ancillary meetings or exhibits or booths. There is, however, a virtual exhibition hall. “The exhibition hall will be open 24/7 of course, but there will only be presentations and webinars in the booths in between sessions, during meals and throughout the night,” Sharon Aka, GC Virtual Events and Adventist Collective Consultant, explains. “During Sabbath hours, the virtual exhibition experience will be available for attendees. Sales of goods will not be available during Sabbath hours”. 

According to Aka, there are more than 150 booths scheduled for the virtual exhibition. Each may have from 2-10 presentations, most being about 15-20 minutes. “We’re looking at potentially 500-750 presentations during the event over the course of six days,” said Aka. “So there’ll be no shortage of content for people to enjoy!”  There will also be a poster hall to present academic research and innovation.

The 66,000-seat stadium (America’s Center Convention Complex) is open to the public during the business meetings and on Sabbath. However, due to the pandemic and the change of location from Indianapolis to St. Louis, many of the community service activities and evangelistic events that usually accompany a GC session are not happening in 2022. 

Due to time zone differences that will make Friday in the U.S. actually Sabbath in some countries, the business sessions will conclude on Thursday, allowing four days for business this year instead of seven or eight as in years past. 

For more information go to gcsession.org/questions

How can I get more updates on what’s happening? 

Watch the live stream at www.gcsession.org or sign up for myOUTLOOK e-news, a free email newsletter produced by the Mid-America Union communication team that will be sent daily during the session (you may unsubscribe at any time).