by Elwin Dunn
August 29-30, 2011 Ontario Convention Center, Ontario, California
This meeting was not about worship, happiness, or back slapping. It was held because the bylaws of the Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists requires it. It was a working session held to fulfill the legal requirements of a rather tired and outmoded organization.
Let me explain:
In the early years of the 1980’s, members of the Adventist Church were affected, as were all United States citizenry, by the country’s financial malaise. They demanded a review of business as usual, particularly in regard to funding, at all administrative levels of the church. One of those who truly heard the message was Tom Mostert, President of the Pacific Union Conference. By 1995, Elder Mostert’s re-organization program had eliminated almost two-thirds of Union employees – to less than 40 today. Similar was done in other Unions, but not nearly to the extent which occurred in the Pacific Union.
The end product not only streamlined the Union organization, but had the effect, even though they underwent some of the same reduction in force, of increasing the authority of the Unions component Conference Presidents, who make up the driving force of the Union Committee.
This process left an organization which, in essence, made it the ATM of its constituent conferences. Union leadership primarily served as facilitators for its constituent conferences and as agent for financial management. The only oversight the Union had left was its constituent universities, Pacific Union and La Sierra, and its mission, Holbrook Mission School in Arizona.
Ricardo Graham, current President of the Pacific Union, in his reprise as the 'State of the Pacific Union,' at the session, made this point quite clearly when he said his current primary function is to serve as chair of some 28 committees, and a facilitator of policies (implementation) which generally originate at NAD or General Conference levels of Administration. His associates complement this process. Graham’s expectation for the future: “policies and more policies.”
During most of the 20th century, the Pacific Union was a completely different organization. It not only was recognized for its leadership in the denomination, providing countless talented leaders, and generally seen as the major funding source for 'the work.' Being called to serve in the Pacific Union, from other locales in the United States, was often viewed by workers as the closest thing as going to heaven, as actually doing so!
The Pacific Union Conference as it exists in 2011, is far more cosmopolitan than which existed half a century earlier. Currently, the Union church membership, ~225,000 strong, is very representative of the overall population, with over half of that number as non-Caucasian. The Conference Presidents reflect this makeup. Of the seven, two are African-American, two are Hispanic, and the remaining three are of Caucasian background. Their associates reflect the same profile. Membership growth strongly reflects this trend.
With the Pacific Union Conference’s basic role limited to serving as facilitator and banker for its constituent Conferences, one must question the need of even the current level of staffing which exists.
As part of the North American Division hierarchy, what should constituent members expect from this level of governance?