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Wilona Karimabadi

is an assistant editor at Adventist Review and is editor of KidsView, Adventist Review’s magazine for children.

This Summer In San Antonio

​GC session isn’t just for church workers

Sari Fordham, now an assistant professor of English at La Sierra University, was 14 years old at the 1990 General Conference (GC) session in Indianapolis, Indiana. “My father was a pastor, and so his employer was supporting his attendance. I believe we were there before the session began, because there were meetings for ministers,” she remembers.

Each session sees many kids—as Sari was—at the event because a parent or parents are there in some sort of work capacity. While they attend meetings or work in the exhibition hall, their kids either enjoy hotel amenities or explore the dome and corresponding convention center. The family unit may regroup for meals and attend evening programs together, or perhaps explore surrounding attractions.

In Sari’s case the Indianapolis session created a unique, albeit accidental, volunteering opportunity. “My former Sabbath school teacher [from many years earlier] had a baby and left me with his infant through the whole session,” she recalls. “I met another preteen, and we watched the baby together in one of the hotel lobbies near the convention. Other parents attending GC assumed [incorrectly, of course] we were an official child-care center, and we ended up with a group of five to 10 kids on any given day!” she says.

But when the big Sabbaths hit with thousands of visitors flooding the venue, session turns into a giant megachurch/camp meeting/reunion of sorts. It is always a busy time, especially if you are there for work, because during the week GC session functions as a series of business meetings for the world church. Important, yes. But summer vacation fun for the entire family?

Many saints in this movement count attending a General Conference session as one of the highlights of their lives. Indeed, the opportunity to “Adventize” a prominent city—taking over a major sports complex; filling it to the rafters with fellow believers from all over the world; and fellowshipping and worshipping together—is pretty special. Aside from the accidental babysitting gig, Sari remembers finding the whole thing pretty interesting. “I was amused at how often I would see one person walk up to another and say, ‘I recognize you,’ and they’d exchange information, and actually not have a connection. Of course, more often than not, people did have a connection,” she says.

Let’s be honest: If you are Adventist, even if you never attended Adventist schools from kindergarten through college, or worked in any of our hospitals or organizations, there is a strong likelihood that attending GC session will result in a long-lost reunion with someone from your past. And truthfully, that can be a lot of fun. But is taking an entire week of hard-earned vacation time to bring your spouse and kids to San Antonio this July—if you are not a church employee—worth the effort? Reunions aside, what does this year’s event in Texas offer a family badly in need of a little summer vacation time?

60 Sessions In

The San Antonio gathering will mark the sixtieth General Conference session, an event—for those who may not know—that now occurs every five years. The world church gathered last in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2010 and will gather again in 2020 back in Indianapolis, Indiana.

These are challenging times in the world and certainly for the church. The past five years have seen many tough discussions about hot-button topics facing our worldwide membership, and this year’s session will certainly address some of them. “Many important issues will be in focus at the session,” says General Conference secretary G. T. Ng. “Worship and fellowship notwithstanding, mission will remain the main focus of the session. Matters pertaining to the Church Manual and fundamental beliefs will be discussed. Of interest will be the decisions relating to women’s ordination,” he adds. “Reach the World,” a major initiative of the world church for the next five years, will be introduced. The importance of the Spirit of Prophecy will be highlighted, as will the Mission to the Cities emphasis. As with all sessions, nominating committee reports will be a major agenda item—as this is the time church leaders around the world will either continue on in their posts or move forward to other service opportunities. While delegates to the meetings will take an active part in decision-making, lay members are certainly not barred from witnessing the process.

“Any layperson may attend GC session,” adds Ng. “The main floor is reserved for delegates, but other than the restricted area, members may sit anywhere in the stadium. The business meetings of the church are conducted openly and can be seen and heard by anyone. Transparency is the order of the day.”

If you have the slightest bit of curiosity regarding the inner workings of major church business, this event does present an opportunity to come and see for yourself.

To be well informed about the church you belong to is certainly not a bad thing, and we can help you with that. Adventist Review becomes a daily publication during the session, carrying minutes and proceedings from each day’s meetings, along with timely reporting and related feature pieces capturing the best of the session. Those bulletins will be available for sale daily at many convenient locations throughout the convention center and dome—just look for our News Kids and their kiosks.

Big Sabbaths in a Big House

If you’ve ever attended a large event in a sports stadium, you’ve likely noticed that there are an awful lot of people in the same place at the same time. If you dislike crowds, that can be an uncomfortable situation. But imagine that crowd of tens of thousands are all family members, folk with whom you share something deeply in common. Now close your eyes for a minute and listen to the sound of all those people singing a hymn, a hymn everyone seems to know by heart. Listen to the collective sound of all those people saying amen in unison at the conclusion of a prayer. And watch the jumbotrons—instead of broadcasting touchdowns or unbelievable interceptions, they’ll pan across the room and show a lot of heads simultaneously bowed in prayer or chuckling at the same funny anecdote the speaker shared. Honestly? It’s kind of awesome.

Sabbaths in San Antonio will be a big deal, but not just for the main service portion of the day. There will be Friday night vespers programs on a much bigger scale than what you might be used to—definitely an unforgettable way to bring in the Sabbath. And on Sabbath morning, General Conference youth and children’s ministries invest a lot of time in creating outstanding Sabbath school programs your kids can attend. Just as at your home church, but bigger. Much bigger. Beginners, kindergarten, primary, juniors and senior youth will all have their meetings on July 4 and 11. Rest assured, security is tight and ever-present at these meetings, and there are systems in place for properly identifying children and parents and making sure everyone is properly connected to their guardians and charges accordingly. Further information on either of those programs can be found by visiting www.gcchildmin.org and http://gcyouthministries.org.

But San Antonio? In the Summer?

So now that you know Sabbaths are pretty special at GC session and that you can sit in on business meetings, what else is there to do? Every GC session has a vast exhibition hall in the convention center, featuring booths from any Adventist entity you can think of. And yes, you will be filling up bags with lots of Adventist “swag,” so you may want to take that into consideration in allotting packing space for the trip home. GC Children’s Ministries will have resources to give away as well as puppet shows at certain times. There will also be a resource room for children’s ministry leaders from around the world where you can pick up materials free of charge. Many ministres will offer similar things throughout the exhibition hall, which makes a visit—or three—a must-do.

If you have members of the family in the 18-35 range, you probably don’t have much control over their attendance at session. But before you rule out San Antonio for the millennial set altogether, we have three words for you: Impact San Antonio. Impact San Antonio (iSA) is the latest installment in a series that has run concurrently with previous GC sessions. According to its Web site, “Impact San Antonio is a window of opportunity for the global Seventh-day Adventist young adult community (18+) to bring hope to the city. Organized in conjunction with General Conference session, iSA is an initiative of the GC Youth Department, hosted by the North American Division Youth Department.” During any GC session the Impact movement undertakes a variety of unique service projects in the host city that run the gamut from street art to community service, to health ministry, and even
an outdoor youth rally/concert. Find information at www.impactsa2015.com.

Which leads us to that host city itself—San Antonio, Texas. So you’ve been to the dome and sat in on meetings, you’ve attended and enjoyed the evening programs, you’ve been inspired and blessed by the Sabbath experience, and you’ve collected more swag than you’d like to admit to at the exhibition hall. What then? Well, there’s still a pretty nice city to explore.

Secure accommodations sooner rather than later. Hotels within walking distance of the Alamodome include: Riverwalk Vista Inn, Valencia, Hotel Havana, the Menger, Crockett, St. Anthony, and Sheraton Gunter; and larger delegate-heavy places such as the Marriott Rivercenter and the Grand Hyatt. In the downtown area you’ll find Holiday Inn, La Quinta, Marriott, Hyatt, and Hilton as well. Book now, because places fill up fast. Start at visitsanantonio.com/english/browse-book/lodging .

You might also put a call out on your favorite social media outlets to friends living in the San Antonio area; they may offer you a place to stay, or at least point you in directions known only to the locals, which is always valuable.

San Antonio is perhaps most famous for the Alamo, a former mission that was the site of an important battle during the Texas revolution. You’ll surely want to visit that spot, but here are other places to consider: Missions National Historical Park, the River Walk and River Walk Cruise, SeaWorld San Antonio, Six Flags Fiesta Texas, Do Seum (a 65,000-square-foot children’s museum), Morgan’s Wonderland (the world’s only ultra-accessible theme park for people of all abilities), the San Antonio Zoo, Botanical Gardens, and Japanese Tea Garden.

See You There?

There are a plethora of reasons to attend a GC session at least once in a lifetime. And we hope you realize there really is something for everyone to be found there. While the host city offers fun attractions for the family, there is indeed a great blessing to be found from the meetings themselves.

You will hear from renowned speakers you never thought you’d see in person, and you’ll enjoy music from the best artists this worldwide movement has to offer. You will be reminded of the amazing internationality of this church, and you will gain an education overall that will likely inspire and renew your personal faith. Truthfully, you will likely never have the opportunity to worship and visit with the sheer magnitude of this many like-minded believers until heaven. And that alone is an experience that indeed points us to what we can look forward to.

So how about it? This summer in San Antonio?

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