by Bjorn Karlman  |  12 October 2020  |

Annual Council (GCAC) in the age of COVID is lacking the (occasional) buzz that comes from the usual in-person gatherings. Although presenters are doing their best to capture the attention of the exclusively online audience, things just aren’t the same. Social media specialist @Skangelita summed up the mood in a Sunday evening tweet: “There’s not a joke alive that would get me up early enough to cover #GCAC20.”

Annual Council organizers seem to recognize the enthusiasm gap, and only scheduled the Monday Annual Council session to run 7:00 am to 11:30 am EST.

The day started with worship by Anil Kanda, a former Hindu from a Sikh family. The pastor currently serves as director of youth and young adult ministries in the Central California Conference.

“We can learn powerful lessons from Paul’s life,” said Kanda in a worship thought geared at a cooped-up online audience watching from home (if awake). “He went through a period of separation, a period of innovation, and a period of elevation.”

Kanda spoke to the feelings of separation and being alone that are commonplace today. He emphasized that separation can allow for positive things like “reflection, evaluation, and an appreciation of the things of God.”

After Kanda’s presentation, the business session kicked off.

  • Merlin Burt, the new director for the Ellen G. White Estate (Burt replaced Jim Nix, who retired last month), was approved as General Conference (GC) field secretary by a vote of 208 to 4.
  • A recommendation to dissolve the Trans-Caucasus Union of Churches Mission in the Euro-Asia Division and instead form the Georgian Field and Armenian Field passed 211 to 4.
  • The business session featured a number of policy-related items and amendments, including the deletion of Public Campus Ministries policy GC FA 55. The General Conference voted earlier this year to have the Youth Ministries Department absorb this ministry to Adventist university students attending public institutions. A May 22 press release this year from the GC’s Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries explained the cut as “the direct result of a decrease in tithes and offerings coming to the General Conference’s budget due to the 2019 parity vote that significantly reduces the General Conference income coming from the world divisions.”
  • Discussion on proposed policy amendments was minimal, and all presented in the morning session were passed by a vote of 194 to 18.
  • During a discussion on mission offerings, Gary Krause, Director of Adventist Mission, emphasized the urgent need for giving. Randy Robinson, the North American Division treasurer also spoke up: “We need to be able to focus to tell our story better, to tell our story clearly, to make clear where dollars flow.”
  • GC VP Guillermo Biaggi spoke to what he called the “importance of systematic and proportional benevolence through our offerings.” The urgent calls for offerings make sense in light of the October 8 GC treasurer’s report, in which Juan Prestol-Puesán said giving is suffering worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Juan Prestol-Puesán called 2020 a “survival year.” In his report, Prestol-Puesán said division treasurers around the world were reporting decreases to tithe income of between 5-25% and decreases to mission offerings of between 10-40%, depending on the region.
  • David Trim, director of the denomination’s Office of Archives, Statistics and Research and unapologetic possessor of (this must be said) the best hair at this and every Annual Council for years, added some historical insight during the mission offerings discussion. He said that during World War II, tithe remained stable but mission offerings giving collapsed. He said the same trend was evident today in light of the pandemic. ASTR 2014-2015 research showed there’s a lot of confusion in the North American Division about how to give to mission offerings, and that the confusion is stemming from the large amount of giving options.
  • Part of the morning agenda (although not one that got a lot of attention from official denominational Twitter accounts) was the issue of domestic abuse and abuse at church. Harvard sociologist and educator David R. Williams spoke to the importance of the Adventist #EndItNow campaign aimed at stopping violence and abuse. The initiative is a multi-departmental project spearheaded by Women’s Ministries. Williams spoke about the “4Rs” of domestic abuse: recognize, respond, refer and record. He stressed the need to address the “common practice of resolving clergy-parishioner sexual involvement by simply moving ministers to a new district.” In his presentation, Williams called the practice “inappropriate and irresponsible.” Williams stressed the need to believe the victim. He added that many abused women feel they cannot approach their church pastor due to church silence on the issue. Associated shame and stigma, as well as the possibility that the abusive party might be part of the congregation or its leadership, also contribute to silence, according to Williams.
  • Updated plans for the postponed GC Session were also presented. The session that was supposed to take place this summer is now scheduled for May of 2021.

General Conference President Ted Wilson let everyone know that public attendance will not be allowed due to the extraordinary circumstances. The 2021 session will be livestreamed for those that wish to see it.

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