Extending God’s kingdom to every community
63rd Session of the North England Conference
Dr Daniel Duda presentedthe devotional talk
On Wednesday 8 September, 270 delegates met together at the Jury’s Inn, Hinckley, Leicestershire, to conduct the business of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the North England Conference (NEC), to look back over the past, and to plan and trust in God for the future. The delegates represent a 10,000-strong membership who meet in 137 congregations from as far south as Worcester in the English Midlands to Newcastle-upon-Tyne in the north-east of England.
With the session chaired by Pastor Geoffrey Mbwana (General Conference Vice-President), and supported by Todd McFarlane (Associate General Counsel of the General Conference) as the parliamentarian, Pastor Richard Jackson (NEC President) and Pastor Alan Hush (NEC Executive Secretary) officially opened the proceedings.
The first significant item on the agenda was a proposal from the Executive Committee to reduce the departmental budgets from 8.5 to 7.5. ‘The reason for this,’ said Pastor Jackson, ‘is to deal with the reality of our finances. The Lord has blessed us, and we have seen a positive turnaround in our finances, but we are not there yet.’ He went on to explain that the Conference is ‘guided by denominational policy to return to 100% of both liquidity and working capital, in order to be compliant with the Working Policy of the General Conference’. One of the measures to help recover the financial position is ‘by reducing our overheads and finding ways to deliver our ministry differently – hence the proposed reduction in the departmental budget’.
Delegates in response were quick to question the decision based on its implications. Particular concern was raised about the reduction of Pathfinders and Children’s Ministries into one budget. As the current Children’s Ministries Director, Pastor Patricia Douglas, pointed out, ‘I would like to see the Conference be proactive in investing in our children. ‘I agree,’ said Grace Charles; ‘Children have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19.’ The other major concern was about the loss of the Sabbath School budget. When it came to a vote, delegates voted to reject the reduction to 7.5 departmental budgets, and to keep in place the 8.5.
Supported by a video presentation, Pastor Richard Jackson described the current quinquennium as being ‘a time of adversity, challenge, change and growth’. Referring to COVID-19, he described the ‘last 18 months’ as having ‘almost eclipsed life before March 2020’. ‘In addition,’ he continued, ‘for six years we have been dealing with employee relations matters. But much work has been done by this administration, working together with you as members, from 2016 until now. I encourage you to reflect on all we have done.’
Pastor Jackson then went on to explain how the administration has been ‘working to resolve financial attrition’ in numerous ways, including:
- Making training events cost-effective
- Stopping overnight accommodation at hotels, instead using NEC-owned Ravenhurst Street Birmingham apartments
- Investing in churches and technology as centres for training and meetings
- Finding multiple revenue streams from the BUC, TED and GC, including receipt of a three-year grant of $900,000 to support Hope FM radio and new media centre (expected to be open by October)
- Developing the NEC app for Android and Apple phones, providing a convenient way to return tithe and donate offerings and many useful ministry features
A major achievement of the administration pertained to Harper Bell School. ‘When we began our term of office, Harper Bell School was in the hands of the local authority,’ said Pastor Jackson. ‘This administration sought to get this school back. Our prayer team prayed and we went to work! This school has been returned to us, owned and run by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.’
As he concluded his report Pastor Jackson commented, ‘What cannot be overlooked is that any one achievement cannot be attributed to any one staff member, but to each member of the NEC church family. During this pandemic, I want to give a big thank-you for the staying power of ministers who had to be furloughed. Even though financial liquidity and working capital has been weak, no workers have been made redundant. Likewise, we just want to express our thanks to the elders for holding the fort. We are all enjoying the success in finding ourselves in a better place.’
It is custom for the President’s report to be accepted and voted on without a time for questions from delegates, as it is regarded as an overview of all that has taken place by the administration and directors. However, in the interest of openness and transparency, time was given for Pastor Jackson to answer questions from delegates. The main thread of the questions concerned the role of area co-ordinators, the organisation of line managers, the legal cases, and the purchase of the land at Aberdaron.
Executive Secretary’s report
Pastor Alan Hush, Executive Secretary, enthusiastically began his report by reporting an increase of 10 congregations over the session term, with a total of 100 churches, six companies, 29 church plants and two branch Sabbath schools.
The membership as of 31 December 2015 was 10,312, and by 31 December 2019 it had grown to 11,467 – an increase of 1,155. With 229 baptisms per year, this gives an 11.83% increase on the 2015 membership. ‘Of particular joy,’ noted Pastor Hush, ‘2019 saw a turbo-charged year of baptisms.’ It was noted that a number of transfers into the NEC were also processed.
Pastor Hush then went on to encourage churches/church boards to update their membership records in the interest of accuracy, recognising that churches can be reluctant to do this because they want more delegates at session. Because of this reality many names registered as members but who no longer attend. The church needs to be honest in relation to ‘missing members’.
Most of the limited time given to the Secretariat report was devoted to questions from delegates. Maureen Kerr from Northampton wanted to know why lists from the NEC Church Clerk’s department are returned incorrect to the local church clerk, when the local church has been through the process of updating the local membership records. In reply, Pastor Hush apologised for the human error, and explained that ACMS (the membership record system which now devolves administration of the local membership list to the local church clerk) would resolve that matter.
As the question time came to an end, Pastor Hush thanked his support staff and concluded by saying, ‘I have found it at times tough, humbling, and rewarding. It’s been a pleasure.’
It is clear from reading the Treasurer’s report contained in the session report booklet that the treasurer is buoyant about the Lord’s leading in the finances of the NEC over the past four years. Currently serving as the interim treasurer, Earl Ramharacksingh reported that ‘God has blessed us as a people, and we have reciprocated with our faithfulness in returning tithes for 2016-2020 of £31,772,807. We can see He has also blessed us with a £4.1 million increase (15%) over the previous quinquennium.
But it was also clear as he stood up in front of delegates that he had a mission to explain, not least in relation to an earlier decision to reduce the number of departmental budgets that was subsequently rejected by the delegates. So he asked a question:
Where are we financially today?
To answer his question he referred delegates to the balance sheet, ‘because,’ as he explained, ‘it is the balance sheet that gives you a real sense of the health of our organisation.’ What we have (assets) and what we have to pay (liabilities and funds).
‘Be assured,’ Earl continued, ‘we have more work to do in partnership with the Lord on this matter. I am already encouraged by what I see happening so far in 2021. By July 2021, tithe to date received by the NEC is £3.89 million, 20% increase on 2020 and 5% up on budgeted – even in a pandemic year, God has blessed us tremendously. The benefits of the Gift Aid system to the church was outlined followed by summary of the main aspects of how Tithe funds are used, namely: ministers and other worker’s salaries, evangelism, department’s support to local churches and operations of the NEC office.
As for the previous reports, time was given for questions – for example, one from Victor Sibanda from Newcastle, who asked, ‘Where’s the money coming from for the ongoing court cases?’ Earl Ramharacksingh explained that there are two aspects to the payments: 1. to ministers – payments which will be made to the ministers from tithe funds; 2. legal costs – which will be paid for from non-tithe funds such as Gift Aid.
Victor Sibanda then raised a further question, a recurring question which continued to puzzle many delegates. ‘If the NEC is now experiencing significant tithe increases, can you explain why the budget needs to be cut and constrained?’
In reply, Earl agreed that, ‘While tithe had decreased during the pandemic period, by the end of 2020 the NEC had returned to 90% of 2019 levels. Looking at our working capital and liquidity, we need £1.5 million to return to a 100% liquidity, and £1.7milliion for working capital to meet denominational prudent reserves policies.’ With a note of caution, he concluded, ‘It may not even be achievable over the next quadrennium, but it is the NEC Trustees responsibility to implement strategies to regain our financial position to ensure continued financial viability and sustainability.’
Personal Ministries, Sabbath School, Women’s Ministries and Communication reports
The Personal Ministries Director, Pastor Mike Simpson, shared extensively about the missional reach of HOPE FM and its further expansion, noting a survey which suggested that the station is attracting a younger audience than first thought.
Beulah Plunkett, Sabbath School Ministries Director, focused in her presentation on the big ideas which have been her theme, including empathic fellowship among the saints, enabling prayers, excellence in teaching, engaging Bible study, enriching mission work, and empowering personal evangelism.
Beulah is also responsible for Women’s Ministries, and highlighted two powerful women’s prayer conferences which took place in 2017 and 2018 with an attendance each time of 700 people.
Lungani Sibanda highlighted in his Communication report the advance of the media centre and the call on his expertise of many local church ministers or AV leaders requesting technical support. His focus has been in the area of digital evangelism. As one delegate noted, should there not be a separation of roles in the area of Communication Director for the NEC and Digital Evangelism Director?
But, as this report of Wednesday’s account of the NEC Session ends, we return to the morning devotional given by Dr Daniel Duda, Education Director and Field Secretary for the Trans-European Division, who – basing his thoughts around the ministry relationship between John the Baptist and Jesus (John baptised Jesus) – left delegates with a question: ‘Is repentance for you or for someone else?’