In the Picture
It’s one of those odd coincidences of history that the story of modern photography and that of the Second Advent movement began at almost the same moment. The 1839 introduction of the daguerreotype—forerunner of the modern photograph—occurred at just the same time as the wide public preaching of the second coming of Christ through the ministry of William Miller and his associates. Thus, from the earliest years of the organized Seventh-day Adventist Church, we’ve been handed a remarkably rich archive of photographic images that offer us glimpses of those who first led this movement, taught in its schools, crossed oceans to share the three angels’ messages, and brought the healing ministry of Jesus to untold millions of suffering human beings. Indeed, many of us find it hard to think of the era of the church’s pioneers without summoning up the black-and-white photographs that seem today so solemn and impassive.
We know this intersection of faith and photography in the everyday life of contemporary Adventism as well: almost no church gathering, however humble, goes undocumented or unphotographed. The images—once coated with silver iodide, then mass-produced on Kodak paper, now digitally obtained and digitally transmitted—powerfully remind us of shared history and shared mission, of joys and sorrows, celebrations and sadnesses that come to a pilgrim people.
“Discovering the great things God is doing in His church is of little value unless we are propelled by what we learn to join His mission and enact His love.”
Some years ago, while pastoring a congregation in the U.S. state of New York, I happened upon a large 9" x 12" photograph that showed the membership of that congregation during a pivotal 1943 evangelistic series conducted in the old church sanctuary. The photo was taken from behind the pulpit, looking out at the congregation, and revealed at least 200 faces, some of them still known to me 50 years later.
But there was one strangely arresting face among the many sober countenances in the black-and-white image. Sitting on the front row was a woman decked out in a jaunty hat, complete with a long bird feather, wearing dramatic makeup and conspicuous jewelry no Adventist of that era would have ever thought to wear to church—my as-yet-unbaptized Italian grandmother! I hugged that long-forgotten photo to my heart: in God’s mercy, I had stumbled across the intersection of my family history with the wider story of God’s remnant people.
What you hold in your hands just now is a family photograph of sorts—more like an album—covering the past five years of our story as a global church. No album could be large enough to convey the whole story of 18 million baptized Seventh-day Adventists or the millions of friends, relatives, and neighbors who worship with us as they grow in grace and understanding. But in these pages you will see and read the story of how God has been at work in the experience of this people. Each of the major departments, ministries, and institutions of the church’s General Conference is given opportunity in this General Conference Bulletin Supplement to briefly review the providences and challenges that have accompanied their service since the world church last gathered in Atlanta for the 2010 General Conference session.
If you are one of the nearly 2,700 official delegates to this year’s session in San Antonio, Texas, you will find this Supplement immediately useful as you prayerfully make decisions about the future leadership of the church and its many ministries, and as you help it set priorities for mission. If you are one of the hundreds of thousands who will see this family photograph online or in print, you will discover again how faith-building it is to learn the wider story of what the Spirit is doing in the church.
It’s overwhelmingly a story of grace and mercy, for in His goodness our Lord has allowed each of us to be included in this picture too.