Corrected September 27; September 26, 2016: Pastor John Freedman, president of the Adventist denomination’s Washington Conference, was voted president of the North Pacific Union Conference (NPUC) yesterday (September 25) by the constituency delegates at the session held every five years. Despite an unprecedented effort against his election by a network opposed to women serving as pastors, Freedman was approved by 72 percent majority.
Pastor Max Torkelsen had announced his retirement as union conference president months ago, as reported by Adventist Today at the time. The nominating committee began its search for a new candidate many weeks ago, as specified by the NPUC bylaws. When it became known that Freedman was being considered, a letter was circulated stating that he “should not be elected” because he “presided over the adoption of a commissioned minister policy contradicting” the denomination’s Church Manual and Working Policy.
“His role in the adoption of the Washington Conference policy makes him a symbol of defiance,” the letter stated. “We believe his nomination to be a grave error.” It was signed by nine of the 450 congregations in the NPUC as coming from their church board in each case, all of them relatively small, rural churches in the Upper Columbia Conference and the Washington Conference. They averaged a membership of 148, with a typical attendance of about 75 and most likely no more than 10 individuals involved in each of the church board meetings.
The Washington Conference policy for which Freedman was condemned is not considered to be a violation of denominational policies by any official of the denomination, so far as Adventist Today could determine. It was adopted following the vote by the General Conference executive committee at its 2014 annual meeting, adopting a statement of the Adventist theology of ordination and specifically states that it is in line with that document. It was meant to encourage women serving as pastors with a Commissioned Minister credential.
Specifically the policy in question gives Commissioned Ministers permission to perform baptisms and weddings within the Washington Conference without first getting permission from the conference president on a case by cases basis. It also specifies that they may ordain local elders, deacons and deaconesses and “hold any leadership position in the Washington Conference.” This is common practice among Adventists throughout North America and Europe, as well as other places around the world.
As the meeting got down to business, the delegates were repeatedly faced with motions regarding Freedman’s nomination. First, a delegate asked to invoke a rule that allows delegates to have a nomination returned to the nominating committee while they meet privately with the committee to discuss their concerns. The assembly voted against this option, which means that it would require a vote of the entire group to return a name to the nominating committee, not just a request from one person. When the report of the nominating committee was presented, three different delegates, one after the other, moved to refer Freedman’s nomination back to the nominating committee for further study, and one of those asked for a recount at one point because he felt that delegates might have been distracted by people making points of order during the vote. Each had the same basic objection along the lines of the letter described above. Each time a large majority of the delegates voted against the motion. When the vote on Freedman’s nomination was finally taken, nearly three out of four delegates voted for him.
“We have differences of opinion and that’s alright,” Freedman stated in his remarks following the vote. He stated that he knows that presidents don’t get one hundred percent of the vote, and he still loves each person in the room. He has served as president of the Washington Conference, which includes only the western, urban half of the state, since 2002 and prior to that spent a year as vice president and three years as evangelism director. He was a pastor for many years in New Jersey, Colorado and California.
Pastor John Loor was re-elected vice president of the NPUC and Mark Remboldt as chief financial officer. In each case more than nine out of ten delegates approved.
Earlier in the meeting, Loor had reported that the NPUC had passed the 100,000 mark in membership despite an annual church growth rate of less than one percent. During the years 2011 through 2015, a total of 11,525 individuals were baptized or made Profession of Faith, while 9,668 died or were dropped from membership, many of them as “missing,” meaning that their local church no longer had a current address, phone number or Email address. The net gain in five years was only 1,857. Average attendance on Sabbath reported by church clerks was equal to 42.5 percent of membership, although a significant number of clerks turned in no attendance report for their churches.
Remboldt’s financial report stated that over the last five years there had been a three percent increase in the total given to the Tithe Fund in the local conferences. This compared to an increase of about 20 percent in the previous five-year period and in each five-year period since 1991 in the NPUC. The local conferences retained 74 percent of the Tithe Fund, while nine percent was used by the NPUC, another nine percent was used by the North American Division (NAD) and seven percent used by the General Conference. One percent was shared with smaller, poorer conferences in the NAD.
Torkelsen reported to the delegates regarding the NPUC position in support of women in ministry. He stated that the NPUC leadership believes there is no scriptural prohibition for women being ordained. “We affirm Christ as the center of our theology and mission,” he read a statement voted by the NPUC executive committee. “We affirm the appropriateness of women serving as elders in our local churches and as pastors and in other professional ministry roles on behalf of our church’s mission. We will seek to grow the opportunities for women in ministry.” He noted that there are currently 12 women serving as pastors in the NPUC.
Pastor Gene Heinrich, chairman of a special committee to re-engage church members who are not attending and senior pastor at the Rockwood Church in the Oregon Conference, reported on a concern for the growing number of inactive and former Adventists, especially among young adults who grew up in Adventist families. “We must find a way to engage each of our children in a relationship with Jesus Christ and our church,” he challenged the delegates personally. “Your prayers for your children may get your kids to the doors of the church, but it is the people within those doors that determine whether those kinds will stay. It will take someone in that church sacrificially investing in their lives.” His committee will continue to search for tangible ways to make a positive difference.
Some changes in the NPUC constitution and bylaws were voted by the delegates. The most important changed the legal standing of the union conference from an unincorporated association to a nonprofit corporation, combining what were two separate entities into one. Some nomenclature was change, including the titles of two of the three top officers, and provision was made for the election of vice presidents at constituency meetings instead of being appointed by the executive committee as are the department heads. Another amendment specified the General Conference Rules of Order as the parliamentary procedures authority for constituency meetings.
The six local conferences in the NPUC caucused separately to nominate members to serve on the executive committee. There are a total of 43 members on the governing body, 15 of which are ex officio; the six officers of the union conference, the six local conference presidents, and three top administrators of key Adventist institutions. Two of the local conference treasurers serve on rotation and the remaining 26 members include one pastor from each of the six local conferences and five lay members from each of the two largest conferences (Oregon and Upper Columbia), four from the Washington Conference and two each from the three smallest conferences (Alaska, Idaho and Montana). The three institutions included Walla Walla University, Pacific Press and Adventist Health.
Pastor Tye Davis covered this meeting as a reporter for Adventist Today as well as serving as a delegate from his local conference. We also had reporting from other sources, including the NPUC communication department. The photo with this report is of the North Pacific Union Conference office in Ridgefield, Washington.