August 28, 2017: For the first time in the history of the Adventist denomination, the church’s North American Division will have its own separate headquarters. The new location in Columbia, Maryland is located 12.5 miles northeast of the General Conference headquarters in Silver Spring.
The 120,000-square-foot property sitting on 11 acres at 9705 Patuxent Woods was purchased for $19.5 million and renovations will total about $11 million. No debt was incurred as funds were transferred from reserves to cover the costs. In addition, the GC gave the NAD $3 million to help pay for the new building.
For much of the church’s history, the NAD was not viewed as its own entity. When the denomination was legally formed in 1863, it was an entirely American organization.
By the time the current organizational structure was set up in 1901, with union conferences as the constituent members of the GC, it had become an international body but the U.S. was the “home base.” It was an American organization with overseas projects and branches. It was not until after World War II that a more international structure emerged with the “divisions” of the GC able to function on behalf of the GC in various continental regions around the world.
The NAD was not considered its own entity until 1985, and not until September of this year will it move out of the GC building into its own headquarters.
The relocation is as much a symbolic move as a physical one. In an interview about the transition on the NAD website, Dan Jackson, president of the Adventist Church in North America, said that the new headquarters excited him because of the statement it was making: “The North American Division, as part of the world mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, is growing.”
Jackson gave both practical and philosophical reasons for the move. From a logistical point of view, the current building housing the GC and NAD is running out of space. Also, over the past 20 years, the NAD has spent over $20 million in rent and services at the GC and has no NAD-owned building to show for it.
The bigger reason is more philosophical. Jackson said that the NAD was one of the youngest divisions in the church. For many years, NAD ministries were essentially run by the GC. People handling specific ministries for the world church would handle the needs of the NAD as well.
Since the NAD forged its own identity in the mid-1980s, growth has meant the need for “more space to dream, to plan, and to collaborate in order to develop the kind of programs that will impact the local church,” said Jackson.
Tensions in the world church over the issue of women’s ordination have some claiming that the NAD’s move has to do with a disagreement with world church policy on women’s ordination.
Delegates voted at the 2015 San Antonio-based General Conference Session not to allow Divisions (sub-entities of the GC) to decide for themselves on whether to ordain women.
Several Union Conferences of the world church—including in North America, Europe and Australia—that were in favor of women’s ordination have since struggled to reconcile what for many is a matter of conscience and biblical teaching. Their status is more complex given that they have their own constituencies, and which in some cases have voted for equal recognition of women in ministry.
Jackson pushed back on suggestions that the move to separate headquarters had to do with “poor relations” with the GC.
“Do we have some differences of opinion in the world church? Yes, we do. But the move to this building has everything to do with mission—absolutely nothing to do with somebody being upset with somebody.”
Jackson squashed rumors that lawyers were working to finalize the separation between the NAD and the GC: “There are no lawyers representing the North American Division doing any such thing.”
Jackson said he told GC President Ted N.C. Wilson, “What you cannot see when you’re close to the trees, when you move back…you will be amazed at the loyalty of the North American Church when you see it at a distance.”
The new address for the NAD will be:
Seventh-day Adventist Church
North American Division
9705 Patuxent Woods Dr.
Columbia, MD 21046
Image courtesy of NAD/Pieter Damsteegt
30 August: Correction made regarding statement about “women’s ordination remaining forbidden per church policy.” There is no church policy that explictly forbids ordination of women.