Before newly elected General Conference President Ted N. C. Wilson stepped onto the stage to be introduced Friday at the 59th World Session of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, an entourage of sorts awaited him in the Georgia Dome's service corridor, ready to brief him on his next steps.
They were the members of the executive security team, a band of men and women specifically assigned to protect the former and newly elected presidents -- and their wives -- at Session.
"We're all over the place," said Karen Banner, the team's security supervisor, who is working her third Session.
The team is part of a larger group -- consisting of some 450 private security guards, as well as Atlanta police officers -- tasked with ensuring the global Protestant denomination's 10-day event moves forward without incident.
"We've got Plan A, Plan B, Plan C in place," said Jim Vines, security director for the General Conference, who coordinated all Session security. "You cannot see me sweat."
That may be because most of the sweat came years before, with planning that began almost as soon as the last Session ended five years ago, Vines said. The executive detail scoped out the Georgia Dome and Georgia World Congress Center about a year ago to get the lay of the land, he said, making sure they knew the ins and outs of the venues and surrounding areas well before Session started.
During this year's event, hundreds of watchful eyes are constantly on the lookout for signs of trouble, Vines said. Guards have already escorted people from "groups who oppose the Seventh-day Adventist theology" off the campus, he added, preventing them from causing potential trouble.
For the executive security detail, the job is a continuous exercise in staying alert, scanning the Dome floor and every room and passageway to make sure all runs smoothly, while staying patched in to messages over their see-through earpieces. They grow a bit wary when people walk up to the stage where church leaders sit or stand. And they take specially developed routes, some underground, that the city has opened so they can move executives without dealing with the crowds.
"It's a major task because you're guarding the life of the president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church," said Davion Percy, one of the security team members assigned to former President Jan Paulsen. "It's an honor."
But their duties can extend beyond the typical watchman, Vines said.
"Because the president is so popular, people like to stop him for their own little photo ops," Vines said, smiling. "He really likes to do that, but he really doesn't have the time. ...It's crucial that we get him through the crowd."
Preventing spontaneous photo ops also can include encouraging people not to snap pictures of the president when, say, he's got a fork in his mouth, Vines said. "It's all good-natured, and he tries to take it in stride, but I wish people wouldn't do that."
The job is no 9-to-5. The detail regularly faces 18-hour days, depending on the president's usually hectic schedule.
Even as he attends to Atlanta's activities, Vines already has plans to meet with representatives from San Antonio, Texas, which will host the next Session, to start talking about the transition.
"We work in a world church, and the objective is to get the spiritual word out to the masses. We want to make sure that that happens in a nice, orderly, safe way," he said. "I enjoy it. I feel like I'm making my small contribution to the cause."