Finding Hope in Toronto

by Jolynn R. Fisher


               I joined the ranks of the more than 60,000 other Adventists in their pilgrimage to the 57th General Conference Session in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Like many of these pilgrims, I passed through customs before entering Canada.

               The line was long and my customs agent particularly thorough. As she reviewed my documents she asked what I was in town for. “Meetings,” I replied, trying to rush the process.

               “What meetings,” she pressed.

               “The Seventh-day Adventist Church’s General Conference Session.”

               Without missing a beat she fired back, “when was the Great Disappointment?”

               I blinked. The flight had been long and I was totally unprepared for this pop quiz. Then I noticed the twinkle in her eye.

               “1844,” I finally blurted out, relieved I knew the answer.

               “Welcome to Canada,” she said smiling.

               With that brief exchange the enormity of the Adventist impact on Toronto began to dawn on me. The Session was heralded as the largest convention ever held in Toronto and our distinctive fingerprints were everywhere—like the local hotdog stand serving vegetarian dogs and vending machines stocked with decaffeinated drinks. But more than affecting the consumption of soy products in Toronto, delegates and guests met to share our unique hope through the theme “Almost Home.”


Taking Hope to the Streets

               According to statistics cited during the Session more than 70 percent of Adventist members are under age 30. While the average delegate—male, age 50—didn’t come close to reflecting this statistic, Impact Toronto participants certainly did!

               Impact Toronto, an evangelistic outreach running concurrently with the Session, drew youth and young adults from around the world. Toronto streets were flooded with our youth sharing hope through Street Preaching, Mime Ministry, a Christian Café and Door-to-Door out reach to name a very few of the activities.

               In addition to Impact Toronto, youth also served as pages (running messages and giving out directions) and reporters for the press booth during the session. The youth presence was also felt in the convention center where many helped run booths, pass out information and perform on stage.


General Conference President and Officers Elected

               Jan Paulsen, Ph.D., world president of the Adventist church was elected on the second day of the Session. Paulsen, a Norwegian, was coming to the end of his sixteenth month in office. He has extensive pastoral and administrative experience as a missionary, teacher, college principal, and church administrator.

               “It is both a privilege and honor to serve the Church and our Lord. God is the one who calls and sustains us,” Paulsen said in his acceptance speech. “Were it not for that conviction I would run a long way away. But I am reassured by the long-held conviction my wife, Kari, and I share that God gives guidance to us. We will do out best to discharge the duties you have placed on our shoulders. We will try to do something wonderful for the church and our Lord. It gives us strength to know that you remember us in your prayers.”

               The president’s election by the 1,946-strong delegation came after the Session’s Nominating Committee—composed of 174 members from around the world—put forward his name.

               The elections of Matthew Bediako as secretary and Robert Rawson as treasurer filled the top three leadership posts in the General Conference (GC).


Electing a North American Division President

               Don C. Schneider, 57, was elected to lead the church in North America following Al McClure’s retirement from the presidency in July. He has served the church as a pastor and church administrator culminating in his serving as president of the Lake Union Conference for the past six years.

               As Schneider, watching the returns from the Nominating Committee, realized his name would be put forward as the next North American Division (NAD) president he bowed his head and rededicated his life to the Lord.

               “I knew that in my strength I do not have the wisdom to do this great work,” he said. “Coming from a simple family background I do not know why I should be given the opportunity to serve in this capacity, however, I want God to lead since He is the one who has called me.”

               Schneider, who replaces McClure, will serve on more than 100 hospitals, school and organization boards in the Adventist church.

               Taking over the NAD presidency is no small task. The territory is vast covering the United States and Canada. There are more than 5,000 churches in the Division with more than 900,000 members. Not only is it the NAD the birthplace of Adventism but also it continues to move at the forefront of community service, education, healthcare and international mission work.


“Hope” Heard Round the World

               For the first time in our church’s history viewers from every continent could watch the GC Session. In 1995 only viewers in North and South America were able to watch the GC Session in Utrecht.

               Each weekday three hours of events, music, sermons and reports were uplinked. On Sabbaths, six hours of programming were uplinked. Programming was provided by General Conference Television (GCTV) produced jointly by Warren Judd, Adventist Media Productions CEO and Ray Tetz, Mind Over Media president/owner.

               Not only was GCTV seen globally, but also staffed by technicians, editors, and engineers from around the world. They came to share in the ministry of hope through sharing their technical skills. The United States, Australia, Germany and France were a few of the countries represented.

               The Adventist Communication Network (ACN) carried the programs throughout North America while the Adventist Global Communication Network (AGCN) carried programming to the rest of the world. The signal was also available to Three Angels Broadcasting Network (3ABN) and other private distributors.


Convention Center

               Adventist institutions, churches, ministries and members from around the world set up booths in the Toronto Metro Convention Centre attracting an estimated 20,000 visitors a day. The booths, dominating floor space equivalent to three football fields, were laid out in an eclectic pattern with ministries, institutions, and publishing houses forming walls and isles in the massive Centre, just a five-minute walk from the SkyDome.

               AWR occupied the largest amount of space on the floor with their broadcasting area where they translated the GC proceedings into Spanish, French, Portuguese, Russian and Romanian. The feed was sent directly to Europe, Africa and the Americas. It was also broadcast on the Internet. The AWR station in Guam picked up the Internet feed then broadcast it to all of Asia.


Global Mission of Hope

               For many of the attendees the Session was more then a review of the church manual and the vote actions taken on the main floor, it was also a time of fellowship . . . something akin to a camp meeting, bringing in more that 55,000 people to the Sabbath meetings.

               Throughout the week meetings were held in the convention center for groups that included the Prayer Ministry and Women’s Ministry. On the SkyDome’s main floor delegates and attendees received reports from around the world during “Window’s on Missions.”

               The Global Mission stage, located in the convention center, provided a forum for ministries from around the world to share their progress, mission and vision. Global Mission saw constant action throughout the week on the large stage area with musical guests such as: The New England Youth Ensemble, Faith First, Wedgwood Trio and Victor and George Acquah.

               The stage also presented Pastor Anthony Alexander who shared his experience of wrongful imprisonment in a Sri Lankan prison. While spending more than two years in prison, Alexander conducted up to 50 Bible studies each week as well as working on a Tamil translation of The Desire of Ages, according to an Adventist News Network May 15th press release.

               Some of the church’s foremost pastors and speakers shared what was on their hearts in an “If I Had Only 15 Minutes to Preach,” segment. Speakers included: Hyveth Williams, Campus Hill church senior pastor; Ron Halvorsen, Keene, Texas senior pastor; Rose Otis, Texas Conference vice president; Mark Finley, It Is Written, speaker/director; Clifford Goldstein, Liberty Magazine editor; José Rojas, North American Division youth director; Charles Bradford, retired NAD president; Doug Batchelor, Amazing Facts speaker/director; Andy Nash, author Unleash the Dream; Dwight Nelson, Pioneer Memorial church senior pastor; and Byard Parks, Colorado Springs South/Flacon/Franktown district pastor.


Business Session Overview

               The first business meeting of the 57th GC Session kicked off June 29th at 3 p.m. Over the next seven business days between 9:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. delegates discussed many agenda items including the Church Manual where talks on Divorce and Remarriage finally stalled. On Thursday, after several days of discussion, the amendment to add “abandonment” as a cause for divorce but not remarriage was tabled and referred to a subcommittee with a final vote to occur at the next GC Session in St. Louis, Mo.

               Many delegates were surprised Friday morning when a motion to overturn Thursday’s decision to table the issue passed. Within minutes the amendment was again made and passed. A re-vote was called. Again, the amendment passed.

               In addition to discussing and voting on the Church Manual delegates also voted in GC officers and Division presidents. The business meetings ended Friday, July 7, at 4:30 p.m.

During the Session the church released position statements on gambling, child welfare, and proselytism during a series of press conferences.


Tithe-sharing Plan

               The GC Executive Committee adopted a new tithe-sharing plan, allowing world divisions to share more equally in funding GC operations. The decision dramatically revised the funding formula for sharing expenses of the worldwide church.

               The new plan, to be phased in over a five-year period, provides that each division share equitably to fund GC headquarters operations. Committee members voted that each world division of the church will send two percent of tithe for this purpose, thus creating the first equal financing plan in the denomination’s 137-year history, according to the Adventist Review, July 2, 2000.

               Traditionally North America contributed 11 percent of its tithe while other divisions contributed only one percent. In addition to the two percent the NAD has agreed to send six percent of their tithe to support world missions and in recognition of the benefits of having the GC headquarters office and several GC institutions located in its territory.


Hope in Our Family

               The 57th General Conference Session closed Sabbath evening by celebrating our world family. Delegates from every nation represented dressed in native garb and carrying their country’s flag marched in a dazzling procession through the SkyDome.

               Yes, we came to the General Conference Session more than 60,000 of us. We discussed the Church Manual, voted in church leadership and listened to speakers and musical groups from around the word. We even reestablished old friendships but more than anything we came away with a sense of hope. Hope in the strength of God’s incredibly diversity. Hope that we truly are almost home.


Jolynn R. Fisher is assistant editor for the Pacific Union Recorder


Sidebars Information

President Paulsen Fast Facts

C      Before his current leadership role, Paulsen served as vice-president of the World Church from 1994-1999.

C      Paulsen has also served as president of the Trans-European Division based in St. Albans, England; college lecturer and principal in the U.K.; missionary in Ghana and Nigeria.

C      He is married to Kari Trykkerud Paulsen and has one daughter and two sons.

C      He is the second non-North American to serve as GC president since the office was formed in 1863.


Church Growth Fast Fact

According to Global mission, in 1990 there were 5,000 groups of a million people in the world and only 2, 700 of them had an Adventist presence. Since then, world population has grown to 5,800 groups of a million people and 5,100 of those have an Adventist presence.