Closed for nearly eighteen months, Wood Green Community Church separated from its sister church, Hackney, and reopened its doors on 14 August 2021. Wood Green then set its course for the rest of the year by starting as it meant to go on.
On 4 September Wood Green held its annual Harvest Thanksgiving Service. This was well attended by members and the community. The children from Junior Sabbath School were stars of the show; they brought produce to the church from their visit to the pick-your-own farm, an adventure laid on by the Family Life Department, supported by members of other departments. Apart from contributing to the harvest display, the children also donated a portion of their farm produce to the Community Food Bank. The afternoon programme was used to relaunch the Pathfinders’ Department at Wood Green.
Continuing in the harvest ingathering theme, Wood Green had its first baptismal service for 2021. Christina Landi publicly declared her love for the Lord by being baptised into the family of Christ at Wood Green Community Church on 25 September 2021.
Wood Green continued its comeback with a Religious Liberty Day on 16 October 2021. The theme for the day was ‘Prophecy Countdown’. Leading presenters for the day were an international speaker, Elder Tristan Cuniah, and Dr Brighton Kavaloh, who conducted an excellent afternoon programme: ‘No Jab – No Job’, followed by a Q&A session.
Wood Green then went on to challenge the creeping compromise of Hallowe’en celebrations. The Family Life Department hosted a multi-faceted programme on 30 October 2021. The theme for the morning programme was ‘The Glorious Dawning’ with guest speaker Pastor Ray Patrick. The afternoon programme, ‘Light in the Darkness’, highlighted the hidden Hallowe’en satanic dangers for Christian adults, their children, and the impact on the unchurched community. The programme took the form of a radio broadcast for a wider audience. It was well attended by the local community, as well as members from other local Seventh-day Adventist churches. The finale involved releasing balloons with spiritual messages to counteract the normal ‘trick or treat’ activities on the final day of October.
The events just kept on coming. The month of November was packed with special services, ranging from the ordination of Elder Daniel Cudjoe and a baby dedication to the wedding of Ike and Nadina on Sunday 7 November.
Wood Green continues its Zoom relationship with Hackney Church by collaborating on the hugely successful daily Prayer Line, the nightly Bible studies, the Wednesday prayer meeting, and Friday night vespers.
Who would have thought at the onset of COVID-19 that an amazing spiritual relationship would develop between the Wood Green and Hackney churches? But, with the help of Zoom technology, here we are, two years later, going from strength to strength. Wood Green hosted a baptism service for Hackney on 27 November, when three new saints joined the family of God. Wood Green and Hackney have also enjoyed several fellowship lunches, which have served to strengthen the relationship between the two churches. This was made possible at the initiative of Pastor Joojo Bonnie, who, guided by the Holy Spirit, brought out the best in both churches. To God be the glory.
In 2022 Wood Green continues its bounce back, and on 26 March hosted a ‘Mothers, you have greatness within you’ agape feast, attended by members from the community and also from our neighbouring Adventist churches.
by Ervin Herbert
‘Where, O death, is your victory?
Where, O death, is your sting?’
(1 Corinthians 15:55, NIV.)
Some people belonging to a sceptical class frequently and emphatically assert that the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ didn’t occur. They go so far as to state that there is no evidence Jesus Christ, or anyone else for that matter, once dead, can live again. So confident in their assertions are they that the trusting, believing Christian is eagerly challenged with the enquiry: ‘How can you believe; how do you know Jesus Christ rose from the dead?’
To this the trusting, believing Christian need only state simply, ‘He was seen!’
‘He was seen!’ – a maxim, of course, well documented in the Bible. Let us enumerate some of the occasions on which the risen Christ was seen.
He was seen by the Roman guards (Matt. 28:2-4, 11-15); Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9; John 20:14-17); other ‘devout’ women (Matt. 28:9, 10); Peter the apostle (Luke 24:34; 1 Cor. 15:5); two disciples on the country road to Emmaus (Mark 16:12; Luke 24:13-32); ten of the disciples during Jesus’ first appearance in the upper room (Luke 24:33-48; John 20:24, 25); the eleven disciples, including doubting Thomas, a week later during Jesus’ second appearance in the upper room (Mark 16:14; John 20:26-29); seven of the disciples while they were on an early Monday morning fishing trip (John 21:1-23); five hundred witnesses (1 Cor. 15:6); James the apostle (1 Cor. 15:7); the eleven disciples once again on Ascension Thursday when ‘he was taken up’ (Mark 16:19, 20, NIVUK; see also Luke 24:50-52; Acts 1:4-11); and, lastly, Paul the apostle: ‘He was seen by me also’ (1 Cor. 15:8, NKJV).
The above sketch – what a powerful sketch! It confirms that, up to 40 days between the resurrection and ascension, Christ was seen alive, not dead, by real flesh-and-blood people. And this runs contrary to the cynical views of modern opponents to the doctrine of the resurrection.
As Seventh-day Adventist Christians, our faith in the resurrection is based, may I suggest, not on the possibility that Christ was not seen, but on the truth that He was seen! I believe what I know, and know what I believe, because ‘He was seen’ after His bodily resurrection – ‘seen’, I repeat (for it’s worth repeating), alive and not dead.
Now, if Christ were never seen fishing, walking, talking, eating and drinking after His resurrection from the grave, yet His followers engagingly put it about that He had risen, there would be serious cause for concern. But the fact that there were eyewitnesses who heard directly from Christ makes their testimony on the resurrection of particular value. I stress this point, for we who are Christ-followers today are not witnesses as were His followers during His lifetime. Now this dictum, ‘Seeing is believing,’ is correct only up to a point. Christ’s contemporaries saw Him and heard Him speak, and that experience caused them to believe. We, on the other hand, believe without seeing His resurrected form or hearing His heavenly voice.
Our belief in that event is based on faith rather than on sight: faith, I might add, in the word of others, others who had no need of faith. What need had they of faith when they were actual eyewitnesses? Once more, the Christian faith in the resurrection is not built solely on the word of those who actually had seen and heard from Christ, but on Jesus Christ, the Restored One, who urged: ‘You study the Scriptures diligently. . . . These are the very Scriptures that testify about me’ (John 5:39, NIVUK). Yes, our Lord’s resurrection was validated by many witnesses, recorded in a trustworthy and inspired book. Thus the inspired Scriptures are another line of evidence confirming our faith.
I must say – although we are correct in believing from the Holy Scriptures that all those who have died in Christ will live again – that I find it strangely ironic that those who sneer at the Bible and laugh bitterly at Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead are firm believers in the theory that life arose spontaneously from non-living matter, yet they still cannot believe either in Christ’s resurrection or the future general resurrection of the dead, because, according to their scientific dogma, it’s ‘incredible’ and ‘contrary’ to science.
The agnostic who was once called ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, Thomas Huxley, admitted that the alleged event of non-life producing life had no witnesses, but stated that ‘analogical reasoning’ led him to believe it, saying, ‘Recollect that I have no right to call my opinion anything but an act of philosophical faith’ (cited by Francis David Nichol, Answers to Objections [Review and Herald], p. 467). Anti-supernaturalism and pro-evolutionary critics who see themselves as believers in science, not faith, are not being consistent. Their origins dogma is based on faith. Why will they not permit themselves to admit to what Huxley acknowledged?
Now, in the book of Saint John’s gospel it’s recorded that Thomas refused to believe that his fellow disciples had ‘seen the Lord’. I suggest, however, that it was not the report of Christ’s resurrection that he didn’t believe, but the word of his fellow disciples. It appears that Thomas was saying, ‘I hear what you guys say, loud and clear, but I am sorry: unless I see Jesus for myself, I will not believe that you guys saw Him.’ I have wondered why on earth Thomas could have doubted the word of his fellow disciples. Had their word been proven unreliable in the past? Had there been a history of mischief making among them?
Well, the Bible doesn’t say anything about why Thomas failed to believe his fellow disciples, other than the fact that he wanted to see Jesus for himself. No faith on this occasion for him, then!
Thomas only finally believed that Jesus had risen when he literally saw Him and heard Him speak. To Thomas Jesus said: ‘Stop doubting and believe’ (John 20:27, NIVUK). And Thomas did, causing him to exclaim: ‘My Lord and my God!’ (John 20:28.) Thomas finally joined that long roll call of witnesses. But notice that Jesus was not done with Thomas; Jesus had a word of mild reproof for him, and words of encouraging praise for future potential followers of God. ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’ (John 20:29, NIVUK). Believers in Jesus . . . that’s you! That’s me! Believing without having seen Him for ourselves makes us, according to Jesus Himself, blessed of God. Thomas believed when he saw Christ. There is no blessing for that. We believe without seeing Christ. There is a blessing for that! At that we should be pleased and not be dumfounded!
There are people in this world today who say, however, that they cannot believe in Jesus the Son or God the Father, since they have neither seen nor can see either of Them; and to accept the words of others, who claim to have either heard Their voice or seen Their form, would, to these non-believers, be illogical, absurd. But can such doubters imagine what the world would be like if everybody was a doubting Thomas, just doubting everything until they experienced or witnessed it for themselves? It would be chaotic! Nobody would be able to trust the word of anybody. And how scary would that be?
I am reminded in this instance of a black slave named Jethro who, during the 1676 American Indian wars, saved Plymouth from being massacred. Here is a good example of a situation that could have ended up pretty scary if the people had remained headstrong on the grounds that Jethro was black, and a slave – why on earth should his word be trusted? Secondly, they themselves couldn’t see any Indians on the horizon, and until they did they had no definite reason to believe. But, fortuitously, none of the above came into play; that is why the report of his valour reads: ‘I do not find anywhere else an adequate acknowledgement. The Englishmen of Plymouth Colony were (indebted) to this Negro for saving Taunton from destruction.’ E. E. Cleveland, Living Soul – ‘We Shall Overcome’, p. 22. A postscript to this story: Jethro’s reward for his vigilance was to remain in bondage two more years. What ingratitude!
As Christians, however, we need not despair. Remember, we have a loving Saviour who died and rose again and is coming back again for a people who believe – not because they were actual eyewitnesses to His first coming, His death, His resurrection and His ascension, but because they believe with every fibre of their being that ‘He was seen,’ alive and not dead. And will be seen again when He comes the second time. This time ‘every eye will see him’ (Revelation 1:7, NIVUK), be they foe or friend. To this the friends of God will say: ‘Come, Lord Jesus’ (Revelation 22:20, NIVUK). Come. So ‘Stop doubting and believe’ – ‘He was seen!’ The evidence is in the witnesses who did the seeing back then, making it possible for us today to have believing, living, evidence-based faith.
Additional reading: see Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, chapter entitled ‘The Lord Is Risen’, pp. 779-787.
by Divinia Reynolds
The commission Jesus gave the Church in Matthew 28:18-20, starting with the immortal words: ‘Go ye therefore’ (KJV), echoes down through the ages. Yet some have found endeavouring to reach out to others a struggle, or felt the need to recalibrate how we carry out Jesus’ command as the era of the COVID-19 pandemic draws on. This is why the return of the British Union Evangelism and Mission Summit (BEAMS) last weekend (5-7 November) in Daventry, Northamptonshire was so welcome. On the agenda – powerful worship and training for present times.
The event was co-hosted by newly re-elected BUC departmental directors, Pastor Eglan Brooks and Dr Kirk Thomas. Exceeding all expectations, the number of participants was 352. In his welcome at the opening of the meeting, Dr Thomas remarked: ‘With all the circumstances . . . militating against this programme happening, the mere fact that we were able to bring this programme to you . . . is testament to the fact that God still hears and answers sincere prayers made to Him.’ ‘Welcome to God’s miracle programme.’
Homing in on the word ‘nevertheless’, keynote speaker Dr Mike Ryan (Assistant to the President of the General Conference and deviser of the ‘I Will Go’ initiative) explained that, despite a long night of unsuccessful fishing, when asked by Jesus to push his boat back out on the water and try once more, Peter responded, ‘Nevertheless at Your word . . .’ (Luke 5:5, NKJV). ‘There has never been a greater need for a “nevertheless generation”,’ Dr Ryan observed, quoting from Ellen White’s book Testimonies to the Church, vol. 9, p. 19: ‘Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light bearers. . . . There is no other work of such great importance’ as proclaiming the three angels’ messages.’ ‘Tonight,’ Dr Ryan continued, ‘Jesus is calling you to say, “I will go.” ’
With characteristic humour, and accompanied by a salvo of quotable practical points, Pastor Roger Hernandez (Ministerial Secretary of the Southern Union) challenged participants about the paradigm, ‘I will do . . . eventually.’ Grounding his thoughts on Matthew 28, he said, ‘We are educated well above our level of obedience’ because of a discrepancy between what we say is important and what we actually do, as many do not participate in evangelism. However, he stressed the need to ‘take the guilt out of it’ and instead ‘fall in love with Jesus’, as this is the ultimate motivator. Jesus was the pastor of a divided church of disciples, but ‘mission is a great uniter’. Pastor Hernandez’s key word, ‘whatever’, meant saying to God in prayer: ‘Whatever You want, Lord, however You want,’ while looking for divine appointments. ‘Start before you are ready’; ‘do it afraid, but in the power of Jesus, because He has called us,’ he said, praying that God would personalise what ‘go’ means for each of us.
During Sabbath morning’s devotion, Pastor Adriana Fodor (Evangelism Sponsor for the Welsh Mission) asked the question, ‘What is in your bag?’ based on Hebrews 12:1 with the invitation to ‘lay aside every weight’ and ‘run with endurance the race that is set before us’ (NKJV). Carrying a heavy backpack, Pastor Fodor explained how problems can slow us down, hindering our ‘going’ for the Lord. Pastor Fodor urged participants not to look at the contents of their bags, but rather at Jesus by reading His word, learning how God deals with problems, and getting to know Jesus more. In this way, the weight will be dropped and we can focus on ‘going’ for the Lord. Her appeal was to ‘keep moving towards Jesus’.
We then learned more about the strategic plan for the new quinquennium as Pastor Brooks conducted an interactive session in which attendees reflected on how to embrace the ‘I Will Go’ initiative. He explained that the desire behind the initiative was to get most of the church involved in serving for the Lord, and Dr Thomas highlighted the need to refresh and update our practices.
In groups, attendees devised a spectrum of exciting ideas for outreach, including:
- Social media content
- Prayer services
- English classes
- Help in writing CVs
- Help in developing ICT skills
- Community cafes
- Befriending people to combat widespread loneliness
- Breakfast clubs for the elderly
- Health ministries
- Outreach for men, addressing their mental health
- Help with gardening, shopping and foodbanks
Further suggestions included holding meetings in public areas to connect with local people, and reaching out to local councillors who know the community. This was to be informed by being prayerful disciples and genuine friends ourselves. Pastor Brooks urged everyone to establish strategies the church can benefit from in the remainder of the five-year strategic period.
In his second plenary, Dr Ryan promoted confidence in the Bible as our lamp (John 5:39), sharing how the fulfilment of smaller-scale prophecies (such as the predicted siege of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 21:7) builds conviction that the Second Coming is sure. He presented Jesus’ urgency and passion for the salvation of souls (evidenced in His heavy schedule in Matthew 8 and 9) as a model. Recalling that the blind men who were healed ‘spread abroad [Jesus’] fame in all the country’, Dr Ryan asked stimulating questions: ‘Do we have Jesus’ fame to spread in the neighbourhood . . . ?’ ‘How is “I Will Go” defined in my life?’
In Pastor Hernandez’s second plenary, his theme was ‘I Will Go. . . . Who Is Coming?’ which addressed the theme of reclamation ministry during Divine Worship. Speaking from Luke 15, Pastor Hernandez encouraged his listeners to search for the 41% of baptised members who disconnect from the church: a rate that would be unacceptable in other fields or professions. His solution was captured by the acronym, ‘RAMP’:
- Research the reasons each individual left.
- Avoid church conflict, undue anger, or making people feel guilty as a strategy, and avoid assuming that individuals will never change.
- Meet with people through visits and social activities.
- Prepare for such meetings by being intentional and welcoming. ‘The deeper the wound, the fewer the words’; ‘Nothing you can say is going to console someone who has been hurt by the church except the two most important words: “I’m sorry.” ’
The plenary of Dr Samuel Telemaque (Missions & Sabbath School Director for the Inter-American Division) was through a video presentation called ‘Sharing Christ with All the People of the British Union’. He explained that our work often involves reaching out to individuals different from us, including people groups who have arrived in the UK as migrants, who face issues of identity crisis, isolation and other predicaments, along with educational, economic and legal issues. He suggested that we can minister to these needs in demonstrating the Gospel. As opportunities arise to proclaim the Gospel, he encouraged showing that the word of God speaks to the situations they are going through (2 Kings 4:1-7; John 4:1-32; Acts 17:16-33).
Pastor Wayne Erasmus, Church Growth and Adventist Mission Coordinator of the South England Conference, explored the parable of the growing seed (Mark 4:26-29). He said that, while we scatter seeds of God’s word, we cannot make them germinate or control everything, but we must leave the aspects that are God’s to Him. Pastor Erasmus encouraged a heart for the diverse peoples that make up the United Kingdom and Ireland, saying, ‘There is every chance that God is busy in your community but you have not quite noticed it yet.’ He shared his experience of joining an allotment community where he has become an unofficial elder. ‘May we be as faithful in the scattering as He is in the growing.’
In Sunday’s devotion, Dr Gina Miller testified of discovering currency in her travel bag when she was broke, comparing this to the most important treasure we have ‘in earthen vessels’ which we often overlook. Referring to Luke 9:1, 2, she identified this treasure within us as the supernatural empowerment Jesus gives His disciples to proclaim the Kingdom of God. She pointed out that effective ministry begins with a call from God, and we are called for this time: ‘How am I managing my God-given mission?’ ‘My Bible tells me that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.’ ‘Use the sword of the Spirit’; ‘go and be powerful, and let the Lord use you.’ ‘Ready or not, here you come.’
Joshua and Caleb, two spies sent to the Promised Land (Numbers 13) were the subject of Dr Ryan’s next plenary session. They focused on crops and vineyards of huge grapes they found in a land ‘flowing with milk and honey’ rather than being discouraged by the largeness of cities whose inhabitants included giants. ‘God has asked us to provide hope in the UK. . . . As you go, never forget the word “we”, as success depends on placing our hand in God’s hand,’ so, like Joshua and Caleb, we can ‘look at our location and say, “We are well able to conquer” ’ the land.
Afterwards, Dr Jeffrey Brown (Associate Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference) spoke on the capture of Lot and his family (Genesis 14), who were pursued by his uncle Abraham: ‘This was reclamation.’ Yet reclamation needn’t be dramatic, but simply ‘a supply of groceries to refugees or homeless people, or sitting down with someone for a simple meal’. ‘Fight for your family,’ he continued. ‘Sometimes children are lost in our own homes. . . . Search and chase after your child.’ Don’t be afraid, and remember that the Lord is great and awesome.
Fascinating breakout sessions began on Sabbath afternoon. They discussed praying for the peace of your city (Jeremiah 29), love and mingling, looking for the spaces where God is working so we can participate as representatives of Jesus Christ – and we must be aware of what our presence says about who He is. Dr Jeffrey Brown pointed out that we are in a new phase of ministry, and it would be dangerous to miss the moment. Drawing from literature on ‘the post-quarantine church’, he outlined a number of shifts: for example, from analogue to digital, from teaching to equipping, from gathering to connecting. Dr Ryan’s seminar featured astounding vignettes about missionaries who, despite the odds, were able to reach people in the toughest locations, while Kathy Hernandez encouraged creating good impressions and positive experiences for visitors in all aspects of church life.
Ashriah Akakpo, Tavian Jean-Pierre and Fonah Thomas led the youth in dynamic sessions based on specially developed materials, tackling themes such as God’s purpose in our identity, how individuality can bring God glory, and the effects of social media on identity.
Pastor Jeremy Johnson (Youth Sponsor for the Welsh Mission), Pastor Adriana Fodor and Pastor David Rancic (Welsh Mission Pathfinders Sponsor) held a prayer retreat called ‘Have You Heard?’ Young people expressed how ‘uplifted’ they felt, and that ‘there is real power in prayer’.
The Wow Club for children followed the overall theme of the conference, led by Yvonne Cummins and Earl and Maria Samuel, who especially penned the song, ‘Go, Go, I Will Go, Go’, which brought the ‘wow’ factor.
A new resource developed by Pastor Dan Serb, President of the Irish Mission, was presented to attendees by Dr Thomas, an editor on the project. The website www.believabletalks.com features special content addressing pertinent themes of spirituality, religion and science, inviting the public to connect via dialogue and ask questions as they explore the concept of objective truth. In their complimentary packs, each attendee received cards with QR codes so that they could share it with their friends.
As they moved on to new roles, Pastors Rory and Ivana Mendez, Pastor Michael Simpson and Earl Ramharacksingh were presented with awards for their work in the community by the President of the British Union Conference, Pastor Ian Sweeney, as were the One Vision Project founded by Enoch Kanagaraj, Pastor Otis Lewis of Peckham Church, and Dr Mario Philip of Willesden Church, who so far in the pandemic period have baptised close to 30 and 50 people respectively.
Led by Christina Quionquion, the praise team skilfully guided attendees in response to the messages, especially with the theme song composed by Tina Brooks, which left the message: ‘I Will Go as I Grow’, reverberating in many hearts. The rich music ministry was further enhanced with special items by Aliah Prince and Marie Roswell.
The place was infused with prayers, with a dedicated team praying for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as the Gospel goes out to the world, and for the Kingdom to come.
Adding to Dr Telemaque’s presentation in a digital format, the summit was streamed live on SEC and BUC YouTube channels with more than 5,000 views from individuals who were able to interact and forward prayer requests, making it a true hybrid experience.
There was an atmosphere of joy as attendees reunited with the wider church following twenty months of lockdowns and social restrictions. The aim of enthusing and equipping members was met. Sheffield David of Hope Community in High Wycombe was ‘inspired’, and his wife Yvonne especially appreciated meeting up with members in person after so long.
‘Presentations were . . . very informative, practical, an eye-opener,’ said Claudius from Milton Keynes Central Church.
‘Excellent summit: thank God for what He has done. The messages are relevant for the time we are in, and God has given enthusiasm and conviction’ so that ‘His people and leaders [can] go forth and do the work that He has called us to do in unity – leadership and laity working side by side,’ remarked Hyacinth Gayle, Carter Knowle Church.
In the words on the banner:
‘Who will go?
I will go!
Where will we go?
To every family, neighbour, community and culture!
Sharing Jesus and His Love.
Now GOOO BUC!’
For further information on the ‘I Will Go’ initiative, resources or related questions, visit https://iwillgo2020.org or contact the Personal Ministries team at the BUC.
Friday 10 September
Dr Beatrice Kastrati and Grace Walsh present the Possibility Ministries report
‘I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut.
And I know that you have little strength.’ (Rev. 3:8)
Dr Daniel Duda began the day with a devotional theme, ‘God’s Vision for Your Life and for Your Church’, by explaining the words of Revelation 3.
‘The door John describes was deliberately opened by God, and it still stands here today – open! As we begin this last day of the session,’ continued Pastor Duda, ‘we don’t need to keep rehearsing the last six years, but are invited to look forward.
‘What will be the future of the North England Conference?’ asked Dr Duda. ‘What will be the future of your local church? What do you think God wants for us together as community of believers in the NEC?’
Dr Duda went on to explain how the language and context of Revelation 3:8 indicates the door to be ‘a divinely opened door . . . a door intentionally, thoughtfully, purposefully, and deliberately opened by God himself in front of us’. It is a ‘symbolic’ door, ‘of boundless opportunities, of unlimited chances to do something worthwhile, of grand openings into new and unknown adventures of significant living.’
Leaving delegates with a challenge, not just for the day, but for the next quinquennium, Dr Duda concluded, ‘What are we going to do with the opportunities Jesus continues to give us? Imagine if 11,000 members of the North England Conference go through an open door; the world can be a different place.’
Church Planting & Church Growth report
Pastor Mike Simpson presented a valedictory report, recognising that he had served in this department since 2008. Highlighting 29 new church plants, he praised God for His leading. During Covid-19, while church planting was placed on the back burner, the NEC continued to organise churches, move Bible studies online, and adapt how the Gospel is shared in the context of the pandemic. He admitted that it has been challenging to provide the pastoral care and direction required to ensure the stability of the church plants.
Questioned by Richard Gray about the challenge of establishing sustainable church plants, including the need to establish a stable group in the town in the first place, Pastor Simpson responded reassuringly that ‘the vast majority of our church plants are surviving, but some need greater care than others, of which the plant in Southport is an example. It is our strategy,’ continued Pastor Simpson, ‘for a core team to be trained before we set up the plant.’
Bernadette Aldridge, longstanding member of over 30 years in the Leicester Central church, is confident that ‘God has put me in this church for a reason, and I wonder what more I can do to reach my white friends.’ It is a concern Pastor Simpson and many members share, but believes that ‘since God has blessed us with black members – God has placed within the church members with the necessary spiritual gifts to reach white folks, Indian folks and other cultures.’ His appeal was, ‘We need to make greater use of those members who are gifted in crossing cultures.’
Grace Walsh (Community Services Director) thanked the churches for running community kitchens and food banks. Leicester Central members, for example, started their work with the community by conducting a visual assessment of their local area. They asked the question: ‘Who do we see who is in need?’ They did see people in need, but as a church were not ready to commit to that. However, they did organise a ‘tea, toast and chat’ session on a Thursday afternoon for a couple of hours – a way of introducing the community into our church, to get to know who we are and what we stand for. From this Leicester Central members felt confident in organising a food bank and other outreach activities.
During the past Quinquennium 23 wills were written for church members. Over the same period, bequests to the sum of £39,395 were paid to the benefit of the church from members who have gone to their rest. Pastor Jeff Nicholson expressed thanks to God ‘for the commitment and faithfulness of our members to the continuing mission and purpose of the Church through their bequests’.
Under the new direction of Dr Beatrice Kastrati, the intent of Possibility Ministries is to develop and enhance from an ‘inclusive ministry’ into a ‘leadership ministry’ and create church plants, for example, to minister specifically to the deaf.
Roy Zembe from Loughborough was concerned that in addition to supporting those disabilities we can see, what moves are there to help support those disabilities ‘we cannot see’? It is a need Dr Kastrati recognised and affirmed, commenting: ‘We intentionally need to seek out those who struggle with folk who have needs we cannot see.’
In the absence of the Education sponsor Emily Tebbs-Ogutu, Danny Reid presented the report. An enthusiast for Adventist Education, Danny shared with conviction and passion how significant are Harper Bell School (Birmingham) and Dudley House School (Grantham). Through a question from the floor, there was a plea to the new administration to consider again the strategic value of the schools to the work of the church in the North England Conference, and as appropriate provide the necessary funding.
The above is a summary of the reports that were presented during the Friday morning business session.
To discover more about the work of the North England Conference over the last quinquennium, click on the following link to read or download the 161-page session report.
Friday’s business continued in the afternoon after lunch, but was too late for the publication of this report.
Thursday at Session
by Richard Daly
Delegates ready for the business of the day
The second day of the North England Conference (NEC) Session brought much activity.
Starting with devotion, once again led by Trans-European Division Director Dr Daniel Duda, delegates were reminded of God’s call to each one of us to be followers of Christ. Highlighting the importance of the mission of the Church, using the example of Peter’s conversion and the commission given to him by Christ to feed His sheep, Dr Duda laid the foundations of where the Church ought to be focusing. ‘The best days of the NEC are still to come, as long as we do not neglect the mission of the Church,’ said Duda to the 350 delegates in attendance.
Following a time of ‘breakout’ prayer by the delegates, the business session commenced with departmental reports:
Ministerial Association – Pastor George Kumi
Pastor Kumi highlighted the role his department played especially during the pandemic in support for the many pastors who were furloughed. Several ministers expressed their appreciation of the regular Zoom prayer and online contact meetings.
Youth – Pastor Adam Ramdin
Pastor Ramdin briefly highlighted the many activities that took place within his department over the past four years. The engagement with youth was paramount to fostering growth and spiritual development. Questions from delegates revolved around the engagement of youth during lockdown, youth leaving university and looking for work, to how the department can also play a role in supporting the youth in local communities.
Pastor Ramdin and his team of volunteers were commended for the development of the Aberdaron campsite and the prospects that now lie in the future, especially with the vast amount of land associated with it.
Draft Constitution proposal
British Union Conference (BUC) Executive Secretary Pastor John Surridge led out in this area of discussion. Pastor Surridge highlighted that the Constitution Committee’s job is to maintain the constitution and keep it up to date and specifically with the model constitution coming from the General Conference.
- To set the upper limit for the total number of delegates at a Session to 350. VOTED
- To include all three BUC Executive officers as full members of the NEC Executive Committee.
At present all three officers sit on the NEC Executive Committee with no voting rights. Questions of autonomy of the NEC governing its own policies, concerns of conflict on voting and conflict of interest were expressed by several delegates who took to the floor with questions. After a long period of discussion and debate the proposal was VOTED DOWN.
The third area for discussion was to record that a vote to approve the new NEC constitution will be subject to:
- Approval by the Charity Commission of the changes to the clauses relating to the charitable objects, benefits to charity trustees (NEC Executive Committee) and what happens on the dissolution of the NEC and/or
- A ruling by the Charity Commission that their approval is not required for any of those changed listed above.
Several concerns were raised around the wording, statements and phrases which clarification was called for. Some delegates felt there was a significant change of the language between the current and new constitution. Others felt there was not afforded sufficient time to go through all the ramifications of the new constitution.
For these reasons there was a call for a subsidiary motion to postpone discussion for further deliberation and presentation at a special sessional meeting for final decision in the future. This was seconded and voted in favour by the delegates.
Subsequent to the lengthy discussion on constitutional reform, the following departmental reports continued.
Family Ministries and Stewardship – Pastor Paul Liburd
Pastor Liburd summarised the main areas of focus for the Family Ministries department. Questions were asked on the importance of safeguarding, with a call for greater emphasis in the local churches. Liburd highlighted the various resources for training and plans for better collaboration so safeguarding can be dealt with more effectively in the local church.
Report from the Nominating Committee
With the Nominating Committee working in the background, their first report was presented to the main delegation. It was for the role of President, and the name put forward was Pastor George Kumi, NEC Ministerial Director. After a secret ballot, the name of Pastor Kumi was declared as the new President of the NEC.
After being introduced by BUC President Pastor Ian Sweeney, Pastor Kumi responded by thanking his friend and colleague Pastor Richard Jackson and his wife Angela for their faithful and dedicated service to the Church as President during the past four years. Pastor Kumi went on to say, ‘I’m not a politician, I’m a pastor; I call for a contrite spirit to help bring healing. Let’s not forget who we are, we are Adventists . . . looking forward to the Master’s return.’
Expression of thanks for the work carried forth in both departments was expressed by the delegates. The need for prayer as a Conference that had become the mainstay factor over the past 18 months was one comment.
Children’s Ministries – Pastor Patricia Douglas
Pastor Douglas highlighted the mission of the Children’s Ministries department which is to nurture children (0-14) into a loving, serving relationship with Jesus. Creating an environment where they may experience joy and discover God’s love and grace through the spiritual leadership of parents, leaders and teachers, equipped to serve. Gratitude for the passion towards the work was expressed by the delegates.
Questions were raised by the delegates surrounding the areas of support for grandparents looking after their grandchildren in taking them to church, and children whose parents are not Adventists. There’s a lot happening in our homes that’s affecting the needs of our children, and that needs to be addressed.
Pathfinders – Pastor Ikwisa Mwasumbi
Pastor Mwasumbi, in highlighting the activities of the Pathfinder department, focused on the tremendous impact the Pathfinder Bible Experience (PBE) has had on the young people in bringing them into a deeper study of the Word of God. Questions by delegates included whether Pathfindering can be part of the extra curriculum activity of our SDA schools and the many commendations of the need to keep young people engaged in Pathfindering due to the high correlation of those who remain in church as a result of being involved in Pathfinders.
Health Ministries – Grace Walsh and Dr Beatrice Kastrati
Retired former director Grace Walsh reminded the delegates that the number one tool for outreach and evangelism was the health message. She outlined the various activities that took place prior to lockdown and expressed appreciation to all those in the health profession and frontline workers during the pandemic. The delegates all applauded in appreciation for all frontline workers.
Dr Kastrati, current Health Ministries Director, ably answered questions surrounding mental health awareness, questions on the vaccine and healthy lifestyle living, and the training of medical missionaries. The delegation showed appreciation for the collective work of both directors during the past four years.
Nominating Committee report
The Nominating Committee then returned to the main delegation for another partial report. It was for the role of Executive Secretary. The name presented, voted and accepted was Pastor Emanuel Bran (Welsh Mission President and former minister within the NEC). He was welcomed and introduced by Pastor Sweeney, who also gave a vote of thanks for outgoing Executive Secretary, Pastor Alan Hush.
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?’