Miami, Florida, United States | Libna Stevens/ANN

Thousands of Seventh-day Adventist elders—or lay pastors—across the church’s Inter-America Division were temporarily authorized to baptize new believers this week during the culmination of nine months of lay-led evangelism across the region.

The initiative, called “Year of the Laity,” has empowered lay members and promoted their contributions to church life and growth.

“We rejoice with our laypeople across the Inter-American Division for their committed efforts during this historic event,” said Israel Leito, president for the church in Inter-America. “It just reaffirms the value the church places on our laypeople, especially our church elders who are crucial in assisting pastors every week in thousands of congregations.”

With more than 15,000 Adventist congregations in Inter-America and fewer than 3,200 pastors, an average pastor in the region oversees about five churches. Inter-America’s 50,000 Adventist elders are essential to church life and growth as pastors juggle multiple churches, said Hector Sanchez, ministerial secretary for the church in Inter-America.

“We are thankful for the men and women church elders who faithfully work alongside our pastors every week,” Sanchez said.

Elders invited to baptize new believers on September 28 were required to meet four conditions, Sanchez said. Each elder was first appointed by the church, ordained, authorized to baptize, and have a baptismal candidate or candidates that he or she introduced to the Adventist Church through Bible studies.

Clara Davidson, 62, of central Jamaica moments before she baptized one of several new members at Camp Verley, in Manchester, Jamaica. [photo: Nigel Coke]

Clara Davidson, 62, of central Jamaica moments before she baptized one of several new members at Camp Verley, in Manchester, Jamaica. [photo: Nigel Coke]

Clara Davidson, 62, an ordained elder from Harry Watch Seventh-day Adventist Church in central Jamaica, grew excited as she waited her turn to baptize at Camp Verley, where over 4,000 people gathered to witness dozens of baptisms.

“It is a joy of a different kind to be in the place of a pastor baptizing someone,” Davidson said.

Dany Santos, head elder of the 15 Avenida Adventist Church in Guatemala City, was among the 248 church elders in Guatemala who baptized 1,662 new members on Saturday. Santos leads the Orion Rehabilitation Home operated by the church to help people with drug and alcohol addictions. The opportunity to baptize 31 people from the home was moving, he said.

“To be able to baptize those brothers and sisters who have struggled with addictions brings great joy in my heart today,” Santos said.

“This experience is something that motivates us as elders and drives us to continue investing time and resources in the work of the Lord and continue joint efforts with pastors preparing a people for the soon coming of the Lord," he added.

For decades, church leaders in Inter-America have encouraged close partnership between laypeople and pastors to better nurture churches and conduct outreach. The thousands of baptisms conducted by elders this week—while for now a one-time event—came as no surprise, they said. 

According to reports from church administrators in Inter-America, nearly 2,000 people were baptized by church elders in Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and El Salvador. Another 600 were baptized in Cuba and hundreds joined the church in the Dominican Republic and Haiti. Elders baptized new members in the Bahamas, St. Vincent, West Venezuela and Jamaica, among other countries.

The Inter-American Division reports a membership of more than 3.6 million. The region includes the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and the five northernmost countries of South America.

additional reporting by Nigel Coke, Gustavo Menendez and Shirley Rueda