Far away–not only geographically

I write this blog on the day that the quinquennial world congress starts in San Antonio, Texas (Thursday morning, 2 July). This is the first time in a few decades that I do not attend a GC session—but the GC session seems to happen anyway! In 1966 my wife and I were weekend visitors of the session in Detroit. It was a few hours drive from from Andrews University, where at the time I was studying for my MA. I remember the car trouble on our way back from Detroit in my less than reliable Pontiac Tempest more vividly than the congress itself.  In 1975 I was a guest at the GC world congress in Vienna. And I went as a delegate to the sessions in New Orleans (1985), Indianapolis (1990), Utrecht (1995), Toronto (2000), St. Louis (2005), and worked for the Adventist Review in Atlanta (2010).

This time, while the General Conference Session is taking place, we will enjoy our vacation in Sweden. At this moment, while I write these lines) we are just about to depart for the our second day of driving to Kramfors , about 600 kilometer North of Stockholm. We are about to leave from the Vejle area in Denmark (mid-Jutland). We will drive some 240 kilometers , to Frederikshavn, from where we will take a three hour ferry to Gothenburg in South Sweden. Tonight we are booked into the Ibis Styles Hotel in Örebro. Tomorrow (Friday) we hope to reach our final destination after another 650 kilometers over Swedish roads.

During the coming  ten days I will keep abreast—mostly by digital means—of the main events  of the session in San Antonio. Of course, I want to know who will be the new world leaders (although I am almost sure Ted Wilson be re-elected as president for a new term), and who will be leading out in the Trans-European Division in the coming years. The Adventist Church in the Netherlands is a part of this administrative regional unit. Together with many others I hope a fresh, less conservative, wind will begin to blow from Washington in the next quinquennium. But I fear I will be disappointed.

And, of course, I am curious to know what will happen when the discussion and voting takes place concerning some changes in the Fundamental Beliefs, in particular with regard to article 6 (about creation). It is proposed to close some alleged loopholes and to emphasize that a literal creation took place in six literal days, in recent times (i.e. between 6.000 and perhaps 10.000 years ago). To me these changes seem unnecessary and undesirable, and I am, afraid many members will not be able to agree in good conscience. Then, later in the week, it will be decided whether the thirteen regions will be allowed to decide for themselves whether or not to ordain female pastors in their part of the world or whether there are strong cultural impediments to go that route. At the beginning of this congress it is impossible to predict which way the vote will go. Rarely have different parties in the church lobbied as intensely as has been done regarding this topic in the past months. I assume that even now during the early days of the congress both groups will continue to win further support for their particular viewpoint.

Yes, it would have been interesting and pleasant to be in San Antonio during the coming ten days and to be in the midst of all this. I would have liked to meet with many friends and ex-colleagues and to taste the atmosphere. But not to be there also gives the chance to relativize things. I will not deny that what happens during such a gathering has impact on the world church. However, it is just one aspect of being-church and for (perhaps as many as) 95 percent of the 18.5 million Adventists around the world San Antonio is very far away in more than  just a geographical sense. Their church is primarily the local church where they have their membership and where each week they worship together with other fellow-members of the same faith community.

My wife and I experienced a very good illustration  of what it means to be a Seventh-day Adventist, when we arrived in Denmark where we were going to spend Wednesday night. A couple  we had known over the years, but with whom we have been  much closer in  recent time, had invited us to stop at their home on our way to Sweden. Wednesday evening we sat around the table for a great meal on the deck behind their house, with a magnificent view over the Vejlefjord. They had also invited another couple that lives just a few kilometers from there. I know the man quite well, since many years ago we were both involved with the publishing work in the church, and we would meet quite regularly . He has been retired for quite some time but continues to be active in the Danish Adventist Church.

So, the six of us had a very pleasant evening: six friends and fellow-believers. In spite of all our differences it felt like we really are family. We spent a lot of our time together talking about developments in the church—worldwide, in Europe, in Denmark and in the Netherlands. In fact, we were a small-scale illustration of what it really means to be part of the same faith community. Realizing this also made the meeting in San Antonio fo me into something happening far away—in geographical distance, but also other more important ways.