I began my service in the conference office as the Director of Youth Ministries back in 1990. Back in those days, I was one of the youngest people in the conference office-that is hard for me to imagine now.
When I came to the conference office, we were in the process of moving from the old building to the building where we are now. The old conference office was considerably smaller than the building the Lord has blessed us to have now.
Here is how small the old conference office was: In the few months I worked in that building before the new building was completed, not only did I not have my own office-I did not have my own desk.
There was just enough room to accommodate the staff that they had prior to my being elected as Youth Director. But my predecessor in the Youth Department, Elder Joseph McCoy, also served as Conference Secretary, so when the constituency voted to divide his responsibilities, that meant adding another person to the staff.
But there was no office space to accommodate anyone else in the old building. Elder McCoy was kind enough to allow me to share his desk-he worked on one side of it and I worked on the other. It is interesting and amazing to look back and see how far the Lord has brought our conference.
While I was Youth Director, I began the practice of sending a monthly newsletter to the Pastors and the Youth Leaders of our conference. At the end of the newsletter, there was a section called “News and Notes from All Over”, where I shared various things that were going on around the conference and other places.
I want to reprise those days in this article-by the way, I loved those days-I tell people all the time that no one ever loved being Youth Director more than I did-and do a one time “News and Notes from All Over” kind of column. It will be made up of six (6) news notes.
(1) Camp Meeting, 2014: Is now history, but how the Lord blessed us during this past Camp Meeting. Of all the responsibilities that are associated with this office, Camp Meeting is what I enjoy the most-I do not think that anything else comes close.
I suppose a lot of it comes from being an old-fashioned, traditional Seventh-day Adventist. I know that is not in style any more, but that is who I am. My father used to take his vacation every year and use it to take our family to camp meeting in the old Allegheny Conference-back in the days before Allegheny East and Allegheny West were divided into two conferences.
My father would load up our 1957 Ford station wagon (which did not ever run well on the highway, but we made the 1,000 mile round trip every year anyway. Eventually, my father replaced it with a 1960 Rambler; he was so disgusted was Ford that not only did he never buy another Ford again, none of his four children ever owned a Ford either)-I have no idea how he fit the six of us and all of our clothes and food and the equipment that is needed to live in a tent for 10 days-but he did it.
You would think that there was no way for six people to live in a tent for 10 days in the middle of summer (despite the fact that it was July, Pine Forge, Pennsylvania-where Allegheny Camp Meeting was-could be warm during the day, but cold at night) without it being the worst experience in the history of mankind, but the truth of the matter is that I have nothing but great memories of those old camp meetings. The fellowship, the music, the preaching-one year, the guest speaker at our Youth Tent was a young Conference President by the name of Elder C.E. Dudley. He did a great job!
Every day, my brother and my younger sister and I would head off to the Children’s Tent. It was called “Joyland.” A nice lady named Mrs. Walker was the leader. She and her husband, Elder Donald Walker, later came to South Central, where he became the Conference Treasurer. They had some children, one of whom was Donna Walker. Donna later went to Oakwood, where she met a young Theology student named Eddie Polite.
They married andhad some children-one of whom, they named Michael, who later became a Pastor in the South Central Conference-the Associate Pastor at Nashville Riverside Chapel. He was one of the evening speakers at Camp Meeting this year, preaching on the subject “Stay Thirsty, My Friends.” It is amazing how small a world the Adventist Church is!
I do not think I could go back to those old days of staying in a tent (if I did, I am afraid I would be staying there by myself-Mrs. Edmond would definitely not be going with me!) but I just think that there is something special about camp meeting-especially, in the South Central
The theme this year was “ We Are Blessed”, based on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We intentionally limited the preaching at Camp Meeting to the Pastors of our conference. We said that every year, our Pastors are invited to preach for 10-15 camp meetings, or more-literally, around the world-we would like for them to preach for us this year.
And preach they did! The Lord richly blessed the preaching of our Pastors and the ladies that the Mrs. Edmond and Mrs. Shirley Scott assigned to preach for the annual Women’s Ministries Day at Camp Meeting.
The Lord blessed the music to keep pace with the preaching. Our Music Coordinator, Cleveland Wilson, arranged a nightly mini-concert and the Sabbath Services for the adults featured the South Central Mass Youth Choir, known as Jesus Crave and the First Church Inspirational Choir. What a blessing from the Lord those choirs were !
I enjoyed the fellowship. The coming together, the connecting and the re-connecting with, as the old folks used to quote the Bible, “brethren of like precious faith” is a vital part of who we are in the Seventh-day Adventist Church and in the South Central Conference.
I hope that you can join us next year for Camp Meeting, 2015, on June 12-20. Our theme will be “Come, Holy Spirit.”
While our Pastors will do the bulk of the preaching, we shall return to the practice of inviting guest speakers. Our 2015 guest speakers will be:
Elder Roger Hernandez, Ministerial Director, Southern Union
Dr. MyRon Edmonds, Senior Pastor, Cleveland Glenville SDA Church
Dr. W.T. Cox, Sr., President, Allegheny West Conference
Dr. G. Russell Seay, Jr., Associate Professor of Religion and Theology, Oakwood University
I got so excited recounting the blessings of Camp Meeting, 2015, that I only have time to tell you about one more “News Note;” I’ll have to tell you about the other four next time, in Part II.
(2) “You Are Not Forgotten”-Emphasis on Visiting Small-Medium Sized Churches in 2015. I was visiting one of our smaller churches this year; I suppose there were about 20 people there that day.
I keep remembering what the First Elder said to me, as we were preparing to go out for Divine Worship. “Elder”, he said, “Thank you for coming. Sometimes, we can feel neglected,” meaning, by the conference office.
In a conference this size-South Central borders Allegheny East, Allegheny West, South Atlantic, Southeastern, Southwest Region, Lake Region and Central States; every regional conference except Northeastern-with 150 churches, it is easy (but sad) for a church to feel as though they do not matter to the conference office.
In my visits to the smaller churches of our conference (I visited 31 churches in South Central last year whose membership and/or attendance was less than 100), sometimes members will say to me “The conference does not care about the small churches.”
Well, the truth of the matter is that most of the churches in South Central are small. Approximately one-third of our churches returned $25,000 or less last year in tithe-roughly 55% returned less than $50,000 in tithe. So, to not care about smaller churches would be to not care about most of the churches in the conference. And that is not true.
The fact is that we need everybody to do everything that God has told us to do. It is certainly true that the large churches carry the heaviest part of the financial load for the conference. The 25 largest churches in the conference return approximately 70% of the tithe in our conference.
But it is also true that:
(1) The 30% that the other churches return is vital to the operation of our conference and to the spread of the gospel around the world.
(2) No matter how many gifted people there are in say, Huntsville and Nashville, they cannot finish the work in Belzoni, Soso and Sylacauga. Only the people in those places can take the gospel to those places. And until the gospel goes everywhere-including the small places-none of us are going anywhere.
It is easy to forget sometimes, that there is interdependence in the body of Christ-we all need each other. There is no ministry in Kingsport, Tennessee, where I was the other day, with 7 members, without the Oakwood University Church. Those faithful members could not afford to have a Pastor in Kingsport on their own. The tithe from Oakwood University (and other large churches) subsidizes that. There is no Kingsport without Oakwood.
But even if Oakwood (and the rest of the churches in Huntsville) kept every single dollar of tithe they turned in, so that they had the money to baptize every single person in Huntsville, pay for every single child to go to church school, had enough money to fund every single ministry they ever dreamed they could fund, that still would not be enough. It still would not finish the work around the world so that the people in Huntsville (and everywhere else) could go home.
It is true that there is no Kingsport without Oakwood. But Oakwood cannot take the gospel to Kingsport from Oakwood. They need the people of Kingsport to do that. So, Oakwood needs Kingsport, too.
The mission that God gave us is to take the gospel to all the world. And to do that, we need everyone. Everyone is important. The small churches need the large churches. The large churches need the small churches.
And all of us need the Lord. May God help none of us to forget that. To emphasize that-to emphasize that all of the churches in our conference are important-I have asked the officers and the departmental leaders in our office to make the bulk of their visits next year to the smaller churches of our conference. We shall visit the large churches, too. But we want to be as intentional as possible next year in visiting the smaller churches. We want them (and everyone else) to know “You Are Not Forgotten.”
I’ll finish this next time.