Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee Meets In Person, Sets Priorities
Story by V. Michelle Bernard
This weekend, members of the Columbia Union Conference Executive Committee met in person for spiritual rejuvenation, renewal and to set the priorities for the remainder of the quinquennium.
Dave Weigley, Columbia Union president, welcomed attendees, reminding them of the ultimate reason for the event: to encourage evangelism. Speakers throughout the weekend focused on various aspects of this goal.
On Friday evening and Sabbath morning, speaker Kendra Haloviak Valentine (pictured), professor of New Testament studies at La Sierra University (Calif.), encouraged attendees and union staff to embrace and seek to share the radical good news of the gospel. Noting the story of Simon of Cyrene, she challenged everyone to pick up the cross of Jesus and become suffering servants.
For Sabbath School, Gil Valentine, an Adventist historian and adjunct teacher at La Sierra University, shared insights from his research on early Seventh-day Adventist leaders. He said that Ellen White, one of the church founders, functioned as an agent of change, continuity and unity—noting the need for and tension between all different gifts of leadership, such as prophecy, submission, teaching, apostleship, etc.
On Sunday morning, prior to the executive committee meeting held online and in person, Franklin David (pictured), pastor of Potomac Conference’s Southern Asian church in Silver Spring, Md., encouraged members to seek personal revival so they can better reach others.
Setting the Priorities
Weigley reminded attendees of the union’s core values—christlikeness, equality, unity, respect, service, excellence and integrity—and shared several examples of how the union is living out these values, such as during Adventist HealthCare’s recent event honoring the legacy of Lucy Byard, (Read more about this event here) intentional evangelism and by methodically evaluating and setting priorities for the rest of the quinquennium.
Weigley noted that the union leadership was very intentional in creating the proposed priorities and took the time to gauge many constituents in setting them.
The process started in September. In October, union and conference administrators and executive committee members responded to a survey and weighed-in on the challenges facing the church, opportunities for service and suggestions.
“I am not surprised that the grassroots input from across our union was spot on, in touch and relevant, because it was representative of the age, gender and ethnicity that comprises our union family,” says Celeste Ryan Blyden, union executive secretary, who oversaw the process. “It will help to inform and guide our focus, work and shared initiatives during this quinquennium.” (Read more about the priorities here.)
The voted priorities are:
- Spiritual renewal
- Mission engagement
- Leadership development
- Community engagement
During the meeting, members also heard reports from Emmanuel Asiedu, union treasurer, Blyden and representatives from Washington Adventist University, Kettering Health and Adventist HealthCare. Other presenters included Frank Bondurant, vice president of Ministries Development, and Rubén A. Ramos, vice president of Multilingual Ministries.
Weigley and Asiedu honored Blyden for her 20 years of service in the union’s communication office as communication director and Visitor editor and publisher. The meeting was the first that Blyden served as executive secretary, and is the first time a woman has held this position in the union. (pictured above, L-R: Weigley, Blyden and Asiedu)
- Weigley thanked recently retired Harold and Christine Greene for their 20-plus years of service to the union. (Read more here.)
- Blyden reported that, at the end of December 2021, union membership was 145,044 with 863 churches and companies.
- Asiedu shared that the union is in a strong financial position, with a 10.54 percent increase in tithe as of December 2021.
- Bondurant said that each year the union sets and helps resource funds to local projects. In 2021, his office helped local churches, church plants, projects and outreach initiatives receive $618,200 for ministry efforts. He noted that the union helped fund 66 church plants in 2021.
- Pandemic concerns prevented the Multilingual Ministries Department from hosting their celebration of evangelism at the Baltimore Convention Center this winter. But they received back 100 percent of their deposit—a huge answer to prayer, reported Ramos. Instead, the team took the event to local churches. Ramos organized a caravan that stopped in 16 locations, ministering to members and friends at 26 churches. Jose Esposito, the newly appointed assistant to the president for evangelism, preached at the locations, urging members to get personally involved in the mission.
- Ramos also shared that in 2020 and 2021, despite the pandemic, 3,635 new members joined churches speaking a language other than English. These churches experienced a 26.4 percent tithe increase.
- Three new executive committee members joined the hybrid meeting for the first time (pictured left to right): Cecil Calliste, Jr., Potomac Conference; Karen Burke, Potomac Conference; and Jennifer Merino, Allegheny East Conference.