Three delegates—from the longest attending to the newest—voice their perspectives.
A Backward Glance—1946–2015
Religious liberty advocate has attended more GC sessions than any other living Adventist.
A young man of 18 accompanied his parents and two sisters on a visit to Takoma Park, Maryland, to attend the 1946 General Conference session. It was a stop on the way to Pacific Union College, where he and his sister, Jo Ray, would continue their education. This was soon after World War II, when they had been cut off from the world outside of Switzerland, where he and his family were living at the time. This was an exciting occasion for the family. I know, because I was that boy.
The session took place in the newly constructed Sligo Adventist Church. Today it is hard to imagine a GC session being held in a local church. On Sabbath we met in the D.C. Armory.
In those days many delegates avoided hotels and stayed in private homes of local members. We were privileged to stay with Heber and Carolyn Votaw. Heber was the GC Religious Liberty Department director, and Carolyn was the sister of a former U.S. president. Heber was a great storyteller and primed me for some of my future responsibilities.
In Switzerland our churches were relatively small, so a meeting of several thousand Adventists was a new experience. I was asked to serve—not as a delegate; that would come eight years later—but as a “messenger boy” attached to Secretariat. It was an important task to find and contact people before cell phones and other communication gadgets took over. By the end of the session I knew every GC and division officer and department head. This served me well in the years of future sessions and denominational service. In addition, I earned $50, which felt like a fortune!
The growing size of GC sessions has become a challenge. Two sessions were held outside North America, but that plan had to be abandoned for technical and financial reasons. I remember when the balloting on the Nominating Committee took a seemingly endless amount of time; now each member simply pushes a button, and the completed vote appears on a large screen.
I recall hearing leaders at earlier sessions say, “This could probably be our last session.” I haven’t heard this said at recent sessions. I hope this is because we have become wiser, not weaker, in our eschatology.
Another noticeable change is the “metamorphosis of color.” Early sessions were attended largely by Whites. I can remember at the 1954 session a Black man, Kata Rangoso, who had a cannibal background from the Solomon Islands, being the star attraction. The church, thankfully, has moved ahead. Just look at the racial diversity and colorful cultural dress of the Nominating Committee and platform party.
There is also increased professionalism in such things as the music and the mission pageant. When my father was GC secretary, he would use his oratorical gifts to ad-lib the mission pageant; now we use and pay for professional help and provide greater precision.
Friendship continues to be part of a GC session. We make new friends and see “old” friends. Already I’ve received many messages saying, “See you in San Antonio!”
As we gather in San Antonio, let us commit to doubling our efforts to prepare a people to meet the returning Lord.
Bert B. Beach served as director of GC Public Affairs and Religious Liberty until his retirement in 1995.
A Young Perspective
A first-timer now strives for fuller church involvement.
My father is an ordained minister, and my mother is a pastor’s child. I was born and raised in the church. What didn’t come naturally to me was the sense of pride and duty I now feel for my church.
“Some people live with the unfortunate misconception that unless they are ordained ministers, or work directly in the church organization, they cannot be included in its administrative and election processes.”
Growing up, my siblings and I often left the comfort of our beds so strangers could sleep in them. At times we ate leftovers because we had more people over than we had food for. Only as a teenager did I understand the lesson behind it all: service to God is actually service to others.
Some people live with the unfortunate misconception that unless one is an ordained minister, or works directly in the church organization, he or she cannot be included in its administrative and election processes. But the inclusion of church members from various ages and socioeconomic groups in the GC session as delegates goes a long way toward proving that ours is an all-inclusive church.
I take my invitation to attend this year’s session as a young delegate as evidence that our church values young and old alike. The sense of responsibility we have as youth and first-time delegates, being included in the very crucial processes of church organization, prepares us to carry the torch of ministry to our generation. I have a newly found urge to become even more involved with my church.
I pray that everything we do here may be filled with wisdom from God and guided by the Holy Spirit.
Kelvin Nathan Walemba is a delegate from East-Central Africa Division.
A young delegate comes to session backed by experience.
It is both a privilege and a responsibility for me to be a part of this GC session. I’ve been a delegate for the General Conference Executive Committee these past five years, so I come with a background of what has been going on in preparation for the session.
I’m excited to be a part of it, and also expectant regarding what are we going to let God do with us during these meetings. It’s a crucial moment when we can grow as a church, not in numbers but in the process of overcoming our differences in order to continue united in God’s work. That will be a great legacy to younger generations.
I’m starting to see more youth and young adults involved in these meetings, and I hope that we will continue to grow in number. We are all part of the present church, and we can bring a special input to the discussions. At the same time, we need, and can benefit from, the experience of older generations. So it is good that we are all part of it.
One of the main challenges that we face after a GC session or other world church meeting is sharing everything that we experience during these days with our local churches in such a way that we can strengthen and encourage them to continue doing our mission in unity.
My hope is that we will leave the 2015 GC session with our hearts revived by the Holy Spirit and our commitment to finish God’s work renewed, so we don’t need to have a GC session 2020.
Marlene Müller-Bulich is a delegate from the South American Division.