News

Pennsylvanians Convene 13th Business Session

By Celeste Ryan Blyden

“We love Pennsylvania, and we carry in our heart God’s work here,” said Pennsylvania Conference president Ray Hartwell warmly. “We’re committed to move God’s last day message forward.”

Hartwell, executive secretary Barry Tryon, and new treasurer Ron Christman, had just been re-elected for a three-year term at the conference’s 13th triennial constituency session. Held last month at the stained-glass window church on the campus of the conference’s Blue Mountain Academy (BMA) in Hamburg, Pa., the daylong session drew 302 delegates and a number of invitees.

Right from the start they were engaged in the process---voting to re-order the agenda, passionately speaking for or against motions, and sharing their concerns in two-minute allotments.

In his video and verbal report to members, Hartwell outlined a number of successes---the conference's 15 schools, the SALT and Equipping University training events that have engaged more members in ministry, the development of Mission Intentional Churches that focus congregations on mission, the six new churches planted during the last three years, youth ministry Cool Camps, and the wholistic evangelism initiative that churches like Philadelphia’s Chestnut Hill are embracing. “Seeing the example of Jesus and listening to the insightful counsel of Ellen White, our church has committed to connecting with our community in ways that focus on the whole person and their places of need,” explained Pastor Tara VinCross.

In addition to using the microphones a lot, delegates made good use of their voting cards. They voted to accept reports from the auditors, nominating committee, constitution and bylaws committee, Pennsylvania Conference Association, Health Services Foundation, Adventist WholeHealth Network, and new Blue Mountain Academy principal Craig Zeizmer who assured attendees that “operations are sound” and invited those who own businesses to bring forth potential ventures. They also heard a financial report, the last one for Rudolph “Mo” Pelley, who retired after 22 years with Pennsylvania and 50 years in ministry. He praised the Lord that despite the bad economy, tithe is up 2.3 percent and gave delegates a detailed review of how their $10 million tithe dollars has been used. When he was finished, they gave him two standing ovations and flowers to his wife.

Hartwell also reported on areas that need work. While the 10,433-member conference saw 991 baptisms during the last three years, “68 percent of our churches are stagnant or declining, and there are still 12.7 million residents in Pennsylvania to reach with the precious Adventist message,” he announced. He also set aside an hour to discuss the conference’s 55-year-old camp which is underutilized, heavily subsidized, and causing great concern among constituents. Vernon Bramble, a consultant and member of the Bucks County church in Hatboro, Pa., was asked to examine the camp’s operations, efficiency, and viability. He ended his eye-opening report with a question: “How are you as stakeholders prepared to utilize Laurel Lake so that it can be an effective, viable operating entity that is aligned with the broader mission of bringing souls to Christ?”

While the constitution and bylaws committee sought to extend the session to five years, delegates decidedly voted to keep it triennial, and called for the next one to convene in 2012.