by Monte Sahlin

By AT News Team, August 7, 2014

The Adventist denomination's Lake Union Conference has opened a new office building this week just a few blocks from the campus of Andrews University where it has been housed for many years. The new facility cost $4.6 million to construct and is smaller and more energy-efficient than the old building, which has been taken over by university departments and centers to house expanding programs.

The 26,000-square-foot building on 11 acres near the freeway interchange off U.S. 31 which leads to the main road in Berrien Springs, Michigan, will house 25 staff members plus a five-person auditing unit from the denomination's General Conference. "This is a smaller number of employees than the organization had when the old facility was built," a retired denominational administrator told Adventist Today. "The number of staff at the union conference level has been significantly reduced over the years."

The "union conference" is an intermediate judicatory in the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, interfacing between the local conference, which is a group of cooperating congregations, and the international organization. There are eight union conferences in the United States and one in Canada, as well as one in most nations in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. In general, the union conference serves as the national denominational organization, except in a few of the largest countries such as the U.S., Brazil, India and the Philippines.

The Lake Union Conference includes five local conferences; state conferences in Michigan, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin, as well as the Lake Region Conference, which includes the historically African American congregations in the same four states as well as Minnesota. It includes 573 churches with a total of more than 85,000 members and 90 schools with about 2,500 students in Kindergarten through Grade 12.

The lower floor of the new building is constructed into the side of a hill and this provides a more energy-efficient situation for heating and air conditioning. Along with LED lighting and other new technology, the savings in energy bills will pay for the new construction over the next decade or so.

Adventists in the U.S. often complain about "too many layers" in the denomination's structure and ask about "getting rid of" the union conferences, but this is a concept rarely heard in other parts of the world, such as Canada, where the function of the union conferences is clearly understood and appreciated. In Europe the common solution to the concern is to flatten the union conference and local conference into a single entity. For example, the union conference in Italy functions as both a union conference, dealing with the international denominational organization, and as a local conference, constituted as a group of collaborating congregations. This same solution is being discussed in some parts of the U.S.