Greetings from St. Louis after the first day of the 61st General Conference Session. It is a hybrid model this time with about 1,500 in attendance here and about 400 via Zoom. Gary Thurber, Mid-America Union Conference president, shared, “So far, I sense a sweet spirit here at the session. I marvel at how they are able to accommodate a hybrid meeting for so many people.”

Zoom attendees slow down discussion and voting, but it’s getting done. Here are a few highlights of today’s meeting (8:00 a.m. – 9:00 p.m.).

  1. The theme is “Jesus is Coming! Get Involved!”
  2. Three worship talks were presented to begin the day (Mark Finley, Dwight Nelson, Barry Black) each followed by group prayer. Mark shared that we can only “finish the work” with the presence of the Holy Spirit based on the book of Acts. Dwight built upon the need of daily surrender and not to rely on big and occasional “revival events.” Barry built on the link between trusting and believing God’s word with receiving the blessings of the Holy Spirit.
  3. After the necessary procedural votes to get the Session officially started, Ted Wilson shared the president’s report. There were some good stories of mission and growth from around the world with regular reminders about “Total Member Involvement” (TMI). There was also a baptism of two soldiers from the Philippines.
  4. Several new Unions, Union Missions and Union of Churches were voted into the sisterhood of Unions (Zimbabwe Central Union Conference, the Zimbabwe East Union Conference, and the Zimbabwe West Union Conference, North Ghana Union Conference, Belize Union Mission, Malaysia Union Mission, Southeastern Asia Union Mission, Eastern Ethiopia Union Mission, Western Ethiopia Union Mission and Netherlands Union of Churches Conference).

Several minor changes to the Constitution and Bylaws took a couple hours.

  1. Significant discussion about some Church Manual Changes:
  • Authorized Speakers—Only speakers worthy of confidence will be invited to the pulpit by the local church pastor, in harmony with guidelines given by the conference.* The local elders or church board may also invite speakers, in consultation with the pastor, and in harmony with conference guidelines. Individuals who are no longer members, or who are under discipline, should not be given access to the pulpit.
  • School board clarification (not significant)
  • “Baptism service” to be used consistently as it was referred to as “baptism ceremony” in some places. (Yes, there was some discussion and some voted “no.”)
  • Making it “legal” to consider Zoom attendees at church board meetings as “present for quorum.”
  • Clarification of “who” is allowed to call a church business meeting.
  • Significant discussion about the ordination of elders. There was an attempt to derail it into a discussion of female elders Although the vote ended up overwhelmingly supportive, it was not one of our churches most healthy moments. There were several trying to overturn the 1984 decision to allow female local elders.

Ordination of Elders—Election to the office of elder does not in itself qualify one as an elder. Ordination is required before an elder has authority to function. When a church in a business meeting votes the election of new elders, it also authorizes their ordination. Between election and ordination, the elected elder may function as church leader but not administer the ordinances of the church.

The ordination service is performed only by an ordained pastor currently credentialed by the conference. As a courtesy, a visiting ordained pastor may be invited to assist. However, only on the specific request of conference officers would a visiting ordained pastor or a retired ordained pastor conduct the ordination.

The sacred rite of ordination should be simply performed in the presence of the church and may include a brief outline of the office of elder, the qualities required, and the principal duties the elder will be authorized to perform. After the exhortation, the ordained pastor, assisted by other ordained pastors and/or local elders who are participating in the service, will ordain the elders by prayer and the laying on of hands. (See p. 37 of the agenda.)

Once ordained, elders need not be ordained again if reelected, or upon election as elders of other churches, provided they have maintained regular membership status. They are also qualified to the deaconate.

  1. Significant, and somewhat discouraging, discussion about some clarification about the ordination of deaconesses took place. Although NOT about their ordination, several delegates kept trying to turn the conversation that way. Again, after long discussion, it passed overwhelmingly.

Ordination Service for Deaconesses—Such a service, like the ordination of deacons, would be carried out by an ordained pastor currently credentialed by the conference. The ordination service should be characterized by simplicity and performed in the presence of the church.

If they retain church membership, deaconesses do not have to be ordained again if they move their memberships to other churches. When the term for which they were elected expires, they must be reelected if they are to continue to serve as deaconesses.

Elders subsequently elected as deaconesses should not be ordained as deaconesses because ordination as elder covers this office.

  1. Ted Wilson was reelected as General Conference President by a 74% / 26% margin.

There are many more Constitution and Bylaws and Church Manual items to address over the next several days. If you want to see the agenda click here.

As important as church organization is and how difficult it is to keep a world church together, we need wisdom to know how to allow the world church to operate with freedom and trust in their particular region. Somehow we need to dismantle the “hierarchy” that has evolved into Adventist theology. Unfortunately, there are many delegates who see their cultural bias as spiritual directives. As important as some world-uniting decisions are, I am more and more convinced of the importance of trusting God’s leading in the local church. It’s not easy to keep the church moving forward together, but I am afraid we are trying to keep together in areas where regional needs of the local field must be respected.

“The worship and prayer times Monday morning were very special with a sincere call for the Holy Spirit to come and take control of our session. The baptismal story at the end of Elder Wilson’s report was very tender and heartwarming,” says Gary Thurber.

Thanks for praying for us this week in St. Louis.


Written by Elder Ron Carlson, president of the Kansas-Nebraska Conference.