Meet the Ministry Leaders
Columbia Union Conference officers and departmental directors provide guidance, support and a sense of unity among members and ministries. What’s their role, and what challenges and opportunities do they see ahead?
Secretariat & Ministerial
Rob Vandeman, executive secretary, provides administrative leadership, governance and support services to local conference administrations, executive committees and other Columbia Union entities. His office handles archiving for the union; monitors the growth of the church within the union by tracking the number of members, employees and congregations; and serves as the organization’s watchdog for denominational policies and procedures.
Vandeman also functions as a liaison with the North American Division (NAD) and conference-level Ministerial Departments. He says that nearly 50 percent of all NAD pastors will be eligible for retirement within the next five to 10 years. “Finding quality candidates that sense a call to pastoral ministry and encouraging their spiritual development and theological training is a top priority,” he notes.
In addition to managing the tithes and offerings, creating budgets, processing payroll and furnishing financial reports, Seth Bardu, treasurer, sees his office as a resource center for ministry and mission.
Finding funding for mission and operations continues to be a challenge. “Local conferences and churches need adequate resources for capital purposes, evangelism and Christian education,” he says.
Bardu plans to continue recruiting and training ministry-minded people to manage the financial resources of the church. Through mentoring programs and other initiatives, he helps them identify needs and opportunities for ministry, participate in the mission of populating Christ’s kingdom and prepare for greater service to the church and community.
Walter Carson, vice president and general counsel, provides legal advice to the various ministries of the union, offers guidance to church members seeking workplace religious accommodation and seeks to preserve and protect the union’s assets, which are dedicated to the mission of the church.
As the ministry and mission of the union continues to grow, Carson says there are an increasing number of situations where church activities and government regulations may intersect. “This intersection of church and state will require careful attention to protect the integrity of the union’s mission,” he says.
He will continue to promote religious liberty, host the educational podcast Talking About Freedom and support efforts to strengthen laws that protect church members seeking workplace religious accommodation.
“Our desire is to help students develop a lifelong encounter with Christ,” says Donovan Ross, vice president, whose team collaborates with local conferences and the NAD on curriculum and program development, teacher certification, school accreditation and educational policies.
They look forward to completing implementation of the new Encounter Bible Curriculum in all the union’s schools. They’re also working to support the strengthening and growth of small schools and early childhood centers, robust leadership development and mentoring programs and full implementation of the new Standards for Accreditation of Seventh-day Adventist Schools.
“We are challenged to make Seventh-day Adventist education more affordable, increase enrollment, keep our schools open and operating with balanced budgets, retain qualified educators and gain support from more church members,” he says. He would also like to see more partnering between schools and churches, beyond constituent relationships.
Frank Bondurant, vice president, connects local conference departmental ministry leaders, such as youth, health and community services, etc., and facilitates planning and collaboration for their unionwide meetings and events. In addition, he partners with and supports conferences in developing and funding creative outreach ministries that transform and evangelize communities. Bondurant says that diminishing finances and a secular post-Christian society are a challenge. He also says that as the church continues to age, we must find ways to engage and empower young adults as leaders.
Bondurant would like to see a greater emphasis on identifying, cultivating and highlighting churches and ministries that are evangelistically effective, innovative, relevant and cross-cultural. “These could then serve as ministry models to other churches which can apply these proven ministry principles in their own local context,” he says.
Rubén Ramos, vice president, supports local conferences by helping to develop and grow their vision for the multilingual community; collaborating with pastors; empowering lay members through training; and organizing evangelistic events such as the Spanish “Caravan of Hope” series and Evangelism Festival.
Ramos says the multilingual community is facing many challenges due to the government’s new proposed immigration initiatives. “They are going through times of fear and insecurity,” he says. “Our churches should become centers of hope and spiritual comfort for them.”
He notes that multilingual communities also bring the challenge of big growth opportunities without the corresponding financial and human resources. This provides an opportunity for every member to develop their gifts, serve the church and help spread the message.
Strategic Communication & Public Relations
“Our role is to tell the story of what God is doing in and through His people in the Columbia Union,” says Celeste Ryan Blyden, vice president. She sees the continually changing and growing communication and technology landscape as a challenge that also enhances the opportunity to connect and engage the union’s diverse, 149,000-member family in “real time,” less expensively and in environmentally friendly ways.
Her Visitor team shares news and stories across print, online, video and social media platforms in hopes of sparking conversation, cultivating ideas and inspiring members to participate in the Adventist mission.
Blyden also creates resources, conducts workshops and helps union, conference and school administrators communicate effectively about initiatives, issues and crisis situations.
Harold Greene, director, and his team help employees across the Columbia Union use technology effectively to enhance their work and ministry. “Changes in technology and security are two of our biggest challenges,” says Greene. “Technology changes so fast it’s very difficult for most people to keep pace. The balance of keeping systems secure with the freedom to get work done requires constant vigilance and fine-tuning.”
Columbia Union Revolving Fund
Emmanuel Asiedu, secretary/treasurer, says the Columbia Union Revolving Fund (CURF) provides low-cost financing to constituent churches, schools and other entities for capital projects. Some churches and entities who may not qualify to obtain commercial loans from banks are able to obtain such loans from CURF.
Asiedu says the challenge CURF faces is funding all the loan requests from our entities without putting extreme financial burdens on our conferences who are partners in the process. In the next five years, he expects that more members (noteholders) will deposit their funds with CURF “so we can continue our mission of making ministry possible.”