Lake Region Conference celebrates 70 years, Lake Union Conference congratulates and offers apology for Church's failures in regard to race
During the past year, the Lake Region Conference, under the leadership of its officers and a special committee chaired by Helen G. Bryant, has commemorated its history at selected regional gatherings, noting God’s leading in its organization and 70-year journey, and “celebrating our story of challenges and triumph,” said R. Clifford Jones, president of Lake Region Conference.
On Sabbath, June 20, Lake Union and Lake Region conference officers, invited guests and congregants from throughout the Lake Region Conference, which includes churches in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, assembled at Camp Wagner in Cassopolis, Mich., for the 70th Anniversary capstone worship service.
Lake Union Conference offers apology for Church's failure in regard to race (view video) (read transcript)
Don Livesay, president of the Lake Union Conference, flanked by his officer team that includes Gary Thurber, executive secretary; Glynn Scott, treasurer; and Carmelo Mercado, general vice president, welcomed attendees to the historical convocation and acknowledged the milestone of the establishment of the Lake Region Conference 70 years ago.
Livesay also recounted three reasons the Seventh-day Adventist Church saw a major change in its approach to ministry for the Black community in the mid-1940s, which ultimately resulted in the formation of the Lake Region Conference. First, he said, was mission, with a belief, by some, that Blacks could work more effectively for the Black community. Second, Livesay shared that it was believed that to form the Lake Region Conference would advance leadership opportunities for Blacks within the Church organization. Livesay, however, also acknowledged that there was another factor that led to the formation of the Lake Region Conference.
He said, “A simple, honest look at the segregated Church of the past, the segregated General Conference cafeteria, the Negro Department of the General Conference that was first directed by White men, the segregated hospitals that we know led to the death of Lucy Byard, the dismissive attitudes and actions… These and more issues were also major contributors to the establishment of the Regional work. That look, that review and recalling of history, takes a simple heartbeat in time for us to recognize the Church failed the Black community, specifically the many loyal pastors, teachers and members who stayed true to the message and mission of this Church in spite of its deep and many failures.
“Some might attempt to excuse the behavior of the Church through the years because of the culture of society of that specific time. One could say that the White Church — the White members and leadership — merely reflected what was going on all around us. But God has not called His Church to reflect the evil of the world; God has called the Church to reflect His character, to treat each other in love — with the Golden Rule, in respectful ways, and to honor each other and all of God’s children.
“But if only, if only our failures were just in the past! The election of President Barack Obama was seen, by many, as monumental in the progress of crossing a barrier in race relations. It was a point in history that many, both Black and White, thought would never happen.
“But it is clear: Even that significant event did not mean we had arrived. Awareness of our lack of racial equality and social justice has been heightened as Black lives have been needlessly and carelessly taken in Ferguson, New York, Baltimore, and other locations, both recently and through the years. And now, Charleston…
“We have been stunned as Clementa Pinckney, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Cynthia Hurd, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Tywanza Sanders, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lee Lance, Daniel L. Simmons and Susie Jackson were gunned down, in the sanctuary of their historical church as they simply sought to be God’s children in Bible study and prayer, because they were Black.
“Through this enormous tragedy, the world also has seen the godly and heroic grace expressed by several family members of those victims who through their pain, tears, anger and loss have reached beyond humanity to the very courts of Heaven and expressed to that hate-filled murderer their forgiving grace. How could it be?
“And so as we celebrate 70 years of the Lake Region Conference — the progress, the mission, the tens of thousands of people brought to the Lord, children educated, and expansion of the message and mission of God’s Remnant people, I come to you, along with my fellow officers of the Lake Union, with a heart that compels us not only to bring our joy in the successes of Lake Region but, also, to bring a personal and official apology to our brothers and sisters of the Lake Region Conference on behalf of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Lake Union.
“We apologize with sorrow for the failures of the Church in regard to race, for individuals disrespected, for the lack of time taken to understand, for those mistreated, the leadership marginalized, for students in our college only able to sit with fellow Black students in the cafeteria, for Lucy Byard, for the slowness, reluctance and stubbornness to do the right thing. We are sorry that we as a Church did not rise up above the sins of the society that day. And we are sorry for the lack of progress our Church has made in the 70 years since the establishment of the Regional work.
“Our apology is from our hearts, but we recognize it is not enough. We also are committed to seek a deeper, more meaningful understanding of each other, more sensitive approaches, more inclusiveness and stronger partnerships that will make us more united as God’s people and for His cause that we may come closer together, march together arm and arm now, and then into the Holy City, to spend eternity with our God and each other.
“May God bless the Lake Region and all our Lake Union conferences on our quest to serve Him.”
Many listening to Livesay’s remarks responded by standing, vocalizing appreciation, or clapping their hands. Tears escaped some eyes.
Lake Region Conference responds to Lake Union Conference apology
Jones responded by saying, “On this historic occasion — in the wake of what took place this week in South Carolina, the fact that we were all shocked, shaken and shattered by the senseless killings of innocent brothers and sisters who were simply aspiring to dig deeper into the Word of God only to have their lives snuffed out, we want to thank our Union president for his courage, for looking at the history of our people in this Church, God’s Remnant Church, and for offering this heartfelt and meaningful apology. Mr. President, on behalf of the officers, the departmental directors, pastors, Bible instructors, principals, teachers, all of our committee members from the Executive Committee on down, and on behalf of the constituency of the Lake Region Conference, I’d like to say, 'We accept your apology.' And as you’ve stated, an apology is good, but let’s work aggressively and vigorously and intentionally now to eliminate this scourge of racism that is so prevalent and pervasive in our land, yea, even in our Church. Let’s work together!”
Present for this historic occasion was Charles E. Bradford, now retired, who previously served as the first African American president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in North America and was fourth president of the Lake Region Conference. Jones invited Bradford to the platform to offer a prayer, along with Livesay.
The worship service continued as scheduled with meditational music and a challenging message delivered by Carlton P. Byrd, speaker/director of Breath of Life Ministries, and senior pastor of Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Ala.
At 4:00 p.m., a musical concert featured selections by various musical groups, including the Lake Region Conference Male Chorus and Mass Choir. Interspersed were historical memories and moments of special recognition for those who helped found and lead the Lake Region Conference during the past 70 years. Bradford delivered “The Charge,” and Byrd led a prayer of praise, thanksgiving and consecration.
Jones closed the meeting with additional remarks, and then the Lake Region Conference Mass Choir and congregation concluded the service singing, “Total Praise.”
In the past 70 years, the Lake Region Conference has grown to include more than 109 congregations, with worship services for a variety of language groups, including French, Ghanaian, Hispanic, Korean and Nigerian. The Conference operates elementary and high schools, and a campground/retreat facility in Cassopolis, Mich., for year-round adult and youth activities and meetings. There are now more than 31,000 Adventists in the Lake Region Conference, and it employs nearly 200 pastors, teachers and staff.
Lake Region Conference president casts vision for next 70 years
In his written remarks to attendees, in the commemorative program for the special 70th Anniversary service, Jones said, “May God continue to richly bless the Lake Region Conference as, together, we continue to pave the way to the kingdom of God through lives that are Spirit-filled and Christ-centered. Let us pave the way with hope and an abundance mentality that is grounded in the promises and power of God, and let us resolve that, should the Lord delay His coming, our next 70 years will be as purposeful as the first 70.”
The Lake Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists is headquartered at 8450 M 139 in Berrien Springs, Mich. It serves more than 86,000 constituents of the Illinois, Indiana, Lake Region, Michigan and Wisconsin conferences.
For additional information and photos, email Gary Burns, director of communication, Lake Union Conference, or call 269-473-8246.