On Tuesday, April 13, 2021, members of the General Conference Executive Committee (GC EXCOM) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church voted to hold a Special General Conference (GC) Session on January 18, 2022.
The vote took place on the opening day of the 2021 Spring Meetings, one of the two annual business meetings of the denomination’s top governing body between world session. This year’s meeting took place virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The special one-day, one-item GC Session at the world church headquarters in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States is being called for the sole purpose of amending the GC Constitution to allow delegates to participate by digital means in a future GC Session in the event that unforeseen and unavoidable circumstances arise.
Before the vote, Adventist Church undersecretary Hensley Moorooven detailed some of the factors considered in presenting this proposal to the GC EXCOM members. He reminded his listeners that the Church’s constitution stipulates that GC Sessions and all voting must take place in-person and onsite. Additionally, article V, section 1 of the constitution states that postponing a GC Session should not “exceed two years” beyond a regularly scheduled date. Moorooven then explained that amendments to the GC Constitution and Bylaws can only be done by the delegates at a regular or special GC Session. All in all, Moorooven said, the church leaders’ proposal stays within the appropriate provision of the GC Constitution and Bylaws.
Among other elements taken into account, Moorooven said, leaders tried to make a decision that would be beneficial to delegates and avoid frustrations, while also following a clearly predetermined path. “Our goal was to be transparent at each step of the process,” he said. “The proposal we bring today is the more plausible solution.” This solution would allow delegates to participate in the upcoming GC Session even if they could not physically travel to St. Louis because of the impact of the pandemic.
General Conference president Ted N. C. Wilson also confirmed that the special GC Session would meet for one agenda item only. He assured members that the special Session would not add any agenda items.
As the global COVID-19 pandemic continues to challenge large gatherings and travel, GC administrators, though planning for an in-person GC Session June 6-11, 2022 in St. Louis, Missouri, felt it prudent to work on an alternate solution. After the initial Session postponement, the Constitution and Bylaws Committee met and recommended an amendment to the GC Constitution which would allow for the possibility of virtual attendance in the future. However, the possibility of another delay because of the ongoing worldwide impact of the pandemic would put the General Conference out of compliance with its governing document. Church leadership recommended that it would be advantageous if a Special GC Session was called for the sole purpose of amending the Constitution which would provide for a virtual or hybrid GC Session.
In 2020, a meeting of the GC EXCOM already voted to propose an amendment to the GC constitution that would allow for virtual participation when specifically requested by the Executive Committee. The recommended amendment, to be voted by the GC Session delegates, reads as follows:
Article V. Sec. 4. Generally, regular or specially called General Conference Sessions are to be held in person and onsite. However, delegates when requested by the General Conference Executive Committee may participate by means of an electronic conference or similar communications by which all persons participating can hear each other at the same time, and participation by such means shall constitute presence in person and attendance at such a meeting. Votes cast remotely shall have the same validity as if the delegates met and voted onsite.
The GC EXCOM would still have to make a decision at the appropriate time based on the then circumstances whether the GC Session would be held virtually, in person, or a hybrid of the two.
Based on the authority granted to it in Article V of the Constitution to reduce the total number of delegates to a GC Session for reasons of a “major crisis within the Church or international arena” GC EXCOM on Tuesday also voted to reduce the total number of regular and at-large delegates to the January Special GC Session to 400 people for this specific meeting. The allocated quota of delegates for the GC, 13 divisions, and two attached unions was approved as well. The motion included a request that divisions unable to send their allotted quota of delegates due to travel restrictions or other reasons be allowed to reallocate their unused quota back to the GC. The GC Administrative Committee would then designate these positions to individuals currently working at the GC headquarters, primarily from the divisions which shared their quota.
A final element in the voted motion was to request all 13 world divisions and 137 union executive committees to discuss and vote on the proposed constitutional amendment and to report back to the GC Secretariat by August 31, 2021.
During discussion, several GC EXCOM members expressed support for the motion, noting how the pandemic has shifted operations within and outside of the church. Hope Channel president Derek Morris spoke in favor of the motion and said, “This is an excellent proposal, and actually what we are wanting to do is to include more people rather than exclude people. In the environment that we find ourselves, I stand in full support of this proposal.”
Other committee members posed both questions and suggestions. Barna Magyarosi, executive secretary of the Inter-European Division (EUD) observed: “First of all I think this is a logical step in order to solve a technical conundrum, and I think we need to go in this direction.… I would also suggest that probably somewhere in the minutes or the wording of this vote we could include something to the extent of not making it a precedent … For posterity’s sake this cannot be considered a precedent for other agenda items that might be convenient to be sorted out in this way.”
After discussion, three motions passed with overwhelming majority support.
The first motion, to approve the Special General Conference Session proposal, was approved by a vote of 169 to 3.
The second motion, to convene a Special General Conference Session on January 18, 2022, in Silver Spring, Maryland, United States, for the purpose of amending the General Conference Constitution to allow for electronic participation at General Conference Sessions, was approved 168 to 3.
The final motion, to reduce the total number of regular and at-large delegates to the January 18, 2022, Special General Conference Session to 400 was also approved by a margin of 170 to 1.