On July 8-11, the Regional Conferences, the Regional churches in the Pacific and the North Pacific Union and the Bermuda Conference came together for an historic virtual convocation.
This first of its kind event would have been all but impossible without technology. The physical assembly of people from across North America-sort of a North American General Conference for Regional Conferences and their affiliates on the West Coast and Bermuda-would have been prohibitively expensive-the cost would have been in the millions. And Covid 19 has prevented individuals from assembling in their local churches-much less a massive gathering that an in-person gathering would have entailed.
But inside the Regional Presidents Council-a group that consists of the 9 Regional Presidents, the 2 West Coast Union Vice Presidents and the President of Oakwood University (the Bermuda Conference president is an invitee) and is convened by the Office for Regional Conference Ministries (ORCM)-was led by God to take advantage of some of the existing technology to have 4 days and 3 nights of virtual worship, fellowship and dialog.
The idea was not just to come together for virtual worship-though that was important. But the broader idea was to begin an honest dialog on how best to collectively address the issues facing Regional Conferences and people of color in the United States and Bermuda. The plan is for all of this to culminate in a Regional Conference Summit, in Dallas (coronavirus permitting; virtually if not) on March 5-7 of next year.
The issues raised at the Convocation are to be directed to various task forces and subcommittees for policy proposals to be sent to the various Regional Conference Executive Committees for their consideration and vote.
Each evening, therefore, began with what was called a Critical Issues Roundtable. The nightly subjects were “Evangelism, Efficiency and Education-dubbed by the planners, “the 3 E’s”. A lively discussion ensued each night, with questions being taken from the online audience on the final 2 nights.
The conferences were grouped into geographical areas for the purpose of leading out in the nightly services. The Midwest/Southwest Region, which consisted of the Central States, Lake Region and Southwest Region Conferences-opened up on Wednesday night. The Conference Executive Secretaries/Vice Presidents for Administration for each conference collaborated in the selection of platform participants from across the 3 conferences, while the Conference Presidents selected the evening’s speaker. Additionally, each President gave a brief welcome each night. The idea was to give viewers from across the country an opportunity to see the leaders of conferences other than their own. Additionally, pictures of the administrative officers of the various conferences were scrolled at the end of each service.
The keynote speaker for the Convocation was Pastor Tricia Wynn-Payne, Pastor, at Detroit Conant Gardens. She was followed on Thursday evening by Dr. Ainsworth K. Morris, the Senior Pastor of the Riverside Kansas Avenue SDA Church.
Thursday night was the one exception to the geographic groupings of conferences for the purpose of platform participation, as on this night the Pacific Union and the North Pacific Union were joined by the Bermuda Conference. A geographically awkward combination, but one designed to ensure the inclusion of entities that are aligned with Regional Conferences.
Friday evening service was led by the East Region-Allegheny East, Allegheny West and Northeastern. The speaker was Dr. Daniel Honore, President, Northeastern Conference.
Sabbath was a full day. The services began at 4:00 p.m., Eastern Time, to avoid conflicting with local services across the nation and Bermuda. Things began with a worship led by the Regional Conferences in the Southern Union-the South Atlantic, South Central and Southeastern Conferences. The sermon was delivered by Elder Debleaire Snell, Senior Pastor, Huntsville First SDA Church.
The worship service was followed by a virtual concert headlined by recording artists Jonathan Nelson and Elder Wintley Phipps. Enormous work was done in the coordination of the gathering of the artists and the editing of the virtual concert by Stephen Manders of the Oakwood University SDA Church. We are enormously indebted to him for his dedication and ministry.
In between the concert and the final event of the Convocation was the virtual introduction of the new President of the North American Division (NAD), Dr. G. Alexander Bryant. In one of his very first acts as President after his election two days earlier, Dr. Bryant-who prior to his election as the Executive Secretary of the Division-had served as a Regional Conference President (Central States)-greeted the online viewers and asked for their prayers and support in this new responsibility.
After his remarks, a special dedicatory prayer was offered by one of the venerable and iconic leaders of our church-Elder Charles E. Bradford, the first President of the NAD, as well as the only African-American to hold that position prior to Dr. Bryant.
A nice touch to the proceedings came when the outgoing President and First Lady of the NAD, Elder Dan and Donna Jackson, joined the meeting from their home in Maryland and gave farewell remarks. Elder and Sister Jackson-though largely unknown by the average Regional Conference constituent-were great friends and supporters of Regional Conferences and will be greatly missed as they retire.
The Convocation closed with a lively roundtable discussion by the Regional Conference Presidents, Oakwood University President, Dr. Leslie Pollard, the Bermuda Conference President, Dr. Kenneth Manders and the 2 West Coast Vice Presidents, Elder Virgil Childs (Pacific Union) and Elder Byron Dulan (North Pacific Union).
A candid and spirited discussion ensued on things such as Woman’s Ordination, racial and social justice, church restructuring, etc. The panel was moderated by ORCM Executive Director, Elder Dana C. Edmond, NAD Associate Youth Director, Elder Vandeon Griffin and South Central Treasurer, Mrs. Sonja M. Crayton.
The second half featured questions from the online audience. The questions poured in-so much so that the roundtable was extended by nearly 30 minutes.
The day ended with a commitment to an organized follow-up on the issues raised in the Convocation. The first step in that process was a report by Elder Edmond, which can be found on this website, as well as on the ORCM Facebook page.
Enormous thanks go to the Oakwood University Media Department, which was responsible for editing and putting together all of the programming that came in from all over the country and from Bermuda. Without the patience and professionalism of Professor Dwayne Cheddar, Dr. Maquisha Ford Mullins, Thamar Pericles and Jonathan Johnson, the Regional Conference Convocation would not have happened.