BY CARLOS MEDLEY

When more than 100 members of the General Conference Executive Committee gathered at the Adventist World Headquarters for their annual Spring Meeting, April 19-20, the agenda was anything but routine.

At the Spring Meeting the Executive Committee typically receives the church's audited financial statements for the previous calender year. But this year's agenda also included two issues that sparked high interest among church leaders-- ministerial credentials for female pastors and health-care salaries.

North American Division president Alfred C. McClure took the opportunity to assure the Executive Committee -the church's highest governing body between General Conference Sessions--that the division would not break ranks with the world church's decision not to ordain women pastors.

McClure's remarks came in the wake of a March 16 vote by the Southeastern California Conference Executive Committee to issue the same ministerial credentials to both male and female pastors (see the Review's May NAD issue). Some leaders believe the new credential, called an ordained-commissioned ministerial credential, clouded the distinction between commissioned (female) ministers and their ordained (male) colleagues.

McClure acknowledged that he was uncomfortable with SECC's action because it blurred the perceived difference between the process of ordaining and commissioning candidates and thus created confusion.

Pacific Union president Thomas Mostert told church leaders that the SECC actually voted a 27-page document, most of which outlines a process for ordination and commissioning. "Many people in the conference felt that it was time for the conference to do something for commissioned ministers as provided for in policy.

"They did take it one step further, in that, because there is only one functional difference between an ordained and commissioned minister -commissioned ministers can not ordain elders and deacons -that maybe they could have one credential serve both functions," Mostert asserted. "We cautioned them on that point but they chose to go ahead."

 

Chaij: The SECC vote was courageous.
 
He also said that the issue may be confused because some churches in the union have performed so-called "ordination" services for women which are not recognized or supported by the union or conferences.

GC Executive Committee member Selma Chaij, of Takoma Park, Maryland, commended the SECC for affirming the equality of women and men in ministry. "I believe the step they have taken is really courageous," she said.

Jan Paulsen, president of the 11 million member world church expressed his reservations about the SECC action. "A concern of mine is that a General Conference session is coming up soon and I would not want this issue to be slipped in as an active agenda item again. We have addressed it twice. If the spirit so directs the church we may address it again in the future."

McClure reiterated that "the church has not recognized an 'ordained-commissioned' ministerial credential such as that voted in Southeastern California and the NAD officers urge that no attempts be made to blur the line between ordination and commissioning."

 

Paulsen: "The church's position is clear."
 
During the discussions GC president Jan Paulsen made it clear that the GC maintains its commitment to the actions of the 1990 General Conference Session [not to ordain female pastors], and the 1995 General Conference 1995 [not to allow divisions to ordain female pastors for service within their territory].

Health-care Salaries.
In a separate matter, McClure also briefed church leaders on the controversy over high executive salaries in Adventist health-care institutions in North America. A surprising sequence of media revelations and personnel changes last year generated widespread discussion among church members about the pay scales (see the April 13 Adventist Review or the Review website www.adventistreview.org).

McClure gave a brief history of the health-care work and noted that the change of remuneration, from a denominational- to community-based scale, actually began started with nursing salaries. In order to retain qualified nurses the hospitals started paying prevailing community rates.
 

"As you can understand, this led to further complications in that nurses and other personnel were paid at rates that were, in some cases, above their supervisors, who were still on denominational scale, and even the chief administrators." McClure explained. "It was also difficult to employ those people as well."

"In 1989 a request brought to the General Conference Committee, which was in essence the North American Division Committee, to adopt an approach to health-care remuneration that would reflect community rates."

 


Mack Tennyson: Perhaps its my naivete, but I don't understand this.
 
McClure admitted that the 1989 action has led to some pay rates he described as "rather shocking," but maintained that the health systems have, for the most part, abided by the 1989 guidelines. He also maintained that the leadership of the union conferences in North America is actively involved in the administration of the health-care institutions.

Referring to the Washington Post articles about high salaries paid at Maryland-based Adventist Health Care, McClure called the situation "an anomaly." Though he is very uncomfortable with the situation, "steps are being taken to bring that one back into line, " he said. McClure affirmed that Adventist HealthCare is responsible to the church and noted that efforts are being made to keep remuneration within denominational guidelines. Noting that the 1989 action was taken amid concerns about ascending liability for the denomination because of its invovlement in healthcare, he observed that perhaps the pendulum has now swung too far the other way. "There may some instances where church's responsibility [and authority] was lost to far- too-great a degree," he said.

"If an institution is going to be called Adventist the church needs to have some way of determining what happens in that institution," McClure concluded.

After McClure's report the GC Executive Committee voted to refer all health care matters affecting United States-based denominational health care institutions, excluding Loma Linda University Medical Center, to the North American Division. This action was believed necessary because the NAD was not a formal, separate, entity, when the 1989 vote on remuneration was taken. For many years after the termination of Adventist Health Systems/United States, no formal oversight body was designated.

General Conference president Jan Paulsen reported that a committee is studying the church's remuneration rates around the world and will present their findings at the 2000 Annual Council in October. Paulsen underscored his belief that a spirit of sacrifice must be maintained in the church's remuneration philosophy.

 

Robert Rawson: This is a historic action
 
Tithe Sharing Plan.
The committee approved a historic change in the way the church funds itself. Heretofore, the church in North America has provided the bulk of funding for the General Conference budget. However, church leaders have voted a funding formula which recognizes that the Seventh-day Adventist Church is truly a world church and affirms the growth of the church outside North America.

Under the tithe-sharing plan, all the world divisions will contribute two percent of tithe for General Conference operations. The North American Division will contribute an additional six percent of tithe, continuing a long tradition a support of mission outside North America. Developed after two years of dialogue, the plan doubles the contribution of overseas divisions contributions (from one to two percent), and reduces the North American Division contribution from 10.72 to eight percent. The changes will be phased in over five years.

The Adventist Review will carry a major report on the Tithe Sharing plan in two weeks. The report will also be available on the Review website at www.adventistreview.org.

Church Finances.
General Conference undertreasurer Robert Lemon brought good news to church leaders when he reported that the GC had a $9 million, or 5.6 percent, increase in net assets from operations in 1999 (from $160 million to $169 million). Tithe in North America increased approximately 7 percent, or $40.5 million, from $570 million in 1998 to $610 million last year. In the overseas divisions tithe decreased slightly, from $414.5 million in 1998 to $413 million last year. The principle reason for the decrease in overseas tithe was due to fluctuations in the value of the American dollar.

He also reported that GC in-house operations totaled $20,999,68 in 1999, or $5.1 million under the GC's operations expense cap. A major factor contributing to the surplus is that support staff wages have been frozen for the past three years and new employees have been hired at significantly lower wage rates. Another reason the is sharp increase in tithe in 1999.

He reminded the leaders that increased wages this year along with increased financial commitments to the GC's new retirement plan would raise the GC's in-house operating expenses significantly in 2000.

________________________

Carlos Medley is news and online editor for the
Adventist Review.
 
 

 

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