I just returned from my first General Conference session. The session itself (the every five year global gathering of delegates from throughout the Seventh-day Adventist church) will continue through next weekend; I went for a chaplains’ meeting that preceded the GC, and stayed the first weekend. I wasn’t one of the 2400 delegates, merely one of the tens of thousands of visitors filling the Georgia Dome and milling around the exhibits. This was the first time I went, and only got a small glimpse of what it is about. I attended only part of one business session, so can’t say much about that; I attended church on Sabbath morning.
But as I wandered the vast exhibit hall I was reminded of an article by Gerald Wheeler in a 1985 issue of Adventist Heritage. Wheeler (with some credited help from Paul Landa and some uncredited assistance from a grad student who was working for Landa) painted a picture of GC sessions as more than mere business meetings, but as pilgrimage festivals. Here, we get a sense of richness, diversity, and unity of the global church. Here, we strengthen bonds with friends and fellow believers.
I ran into former professors and academic dean from my college, college and grad school classmates, folks I knew only from Facebook and AOL and Spectrum and Adventist Today. I enjoyed the serendipity of running into people I didn’t know were there–folks who looked me in the eye with a twinkle in theirs and said, “Do you know who I am?” I chatted with Dick Stenbakken, who in 1977 came to Broadview Academy and spoke about military service and military chaplains, and sparked an interest that became a vocation.
For all of us, delegates and visitors alike, this is the heart of a GC session. Not votes (which in SDA polity tend to rubberstamp decisions of other committees and boards), not “elections,” not reports or music. It is the sense that this is our family, and that we belong.