The Lake Union Executive Committee met on Wednesday, March 9, 2022, for their first hybrid meeting since the pandemic began. Photo credit: Felicia Tonga
While recent times have brought significant challenges across the world, the Lake Union area is reporting financial blessings.
Ron Aguilera, Illinois Conference president, reported that they are “way ahead than any other year in the history of Illinois, 19 percent ahead of previous year’s budget. Which is a tremendous blessing.”
Indiana Conference President Vic Van Schaik also reported that they’ve, “had the best financial year ever in the history of Indiana. We’ve had a 19 percent increase in tithe. So, God has just provided in the time of the pandemic.”
In 2019, Wisconsin Conference was struggling financially. They had a loan to pay payroll during the summertime. Fast forward to 2021 and it’s clear how much the tide has changed. A former Wisconsin Adventist from a small church passed away and left funds for the conference, Camp Wakonda, and Wisconsin Academy totaling $1.5 million.
“I don't know about other conferences, but for us it was a huge, unexpected blessing,” said Wisconsin Conference President Titus Naftanaila. “I believe there was a reason for this blessing; much like in Joseph’s time, God blessed us with His abundance during Covid.”
Since the announcement last fall that AdventHealth and Ascension would unwind AMITA Health, plans have been ongoing to untangle the more than 25,000 employees, 9,000 physicians and 80 clinics.
Thor Thordarson, AMITA Health’s chief operation officer announced that the new name for the Chicagoland hospital system is AdventHealth Great Lakes, in a nod to the geographic region. The new name change is effective March 31, 2022.
“Our new name aligns us better with the Lake Union division of the Seventh-day Adventist Church,” he said. In the late 1970s, a corporation called Great Lakes Adventist Health Services was formed to manage the health care services in the Lake Union area, including Hinsdale Hospital and Battle Creek Sanitarium Hospital in Michigan.
Thodarson also announced that they have been prayerfully putting together their leadership team and have hired Cherise Chery as chief people officer, to oversee their human resources needs. “This is an opportunity to reboot and refocus,” says Thordarson. “A critical area is to focus on people who work for us and who we serve. It’s not about profit, it’s about purpose and mission.”
Fresh off two days of education board meetings, Andrews University President Andrea Luxton said she was excited about the future of the university. Key highlights from her report included:
Luxton concluded by reminding the committee, “If you want to die, stay as you are. Andrews will not stay as it is. There is a lot of planning and thinking for the future of our campus.”
In the Lake Union, Illinois Conference has the only Russian Ukrainian church. As the conflict in Ukraine and Eastern Europe continue, Aguilera says the Hope Russian church, whose membership is about 90% Ukrainian, has many family members in the conflict area.
“The impressive reaction of our members in Ukraine to this crisis and how they are opening their doors to the refugees coming out of Kiev and other major cities being affected is inspiring,” says Aguilera. For more, watch this Lake Union Herald interview
The Indiana Conference is getting ready to celebrate their 150th year as a conference. Indiana Conference was organized on September 20, 1872, with five congregations. By 1900, there were over 80 congregations with more than 1,800 members scattered across the state’s 92 counties.
While it is commonly known that Joseph Bates founded the Adventist church in Michigan, Indiana President Vic Van Schaik noted that it is uncommonly known that Bates originally began his work in Indiana.
“What most don't know is that the reason [Joseph] Bates left Indiana and headed north was because of the resistance that he was experiencing in the South Bend area, [where] a new Catholic seminary was being started by the name of Notre Dame,” says Van Schaik.
At the time, many were not favorable in accepting the Adventist message. So, Bates left South Bend and headed north to Michigan to establish the first church.
Garth Gabriel, Lake Region Conference president, emphasized their push to evangelize cities starting with their upcoming evangelism thrust in Detroit this Sunday.
“We are looking for a bountiful harvest [and praying and fasting before, during and after the meetings] for these new souls that we believe will bless our church,” said Gabriel.
The evangelism push will start in Detroit and travel its way to Chicago, South Bend, Ind., Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and end in December in Indianapolis.
Gabriel asks for prayers as they work together to “stand together as one,” in keeping with the theme for 2022, and he encouraged everyone to join them as they pray in support of these programs.
During the time of the pandemic, Michigan Conference has felt financially preserved through the challenges of Covid-19. But what they face now is a drop in participation accentuated by those same challenges.
“Attendance and participation are not what they used to be,” says Michigan Conference President Jim Micheff. “It’s almost a rule of thumb that 50 percent of [the attending] membership is probably the active membership.”
Micheff and his ministry team have been actively trying to remedy this challenge with three initiatives to encourage further participation: Biblestudyoffer.com, developing a pilot program for year-round literature evangelists, and partnering with Weimar College to send students into communities where churches could benefit from revitalizing efforts.
While praising God for the financial blessings they’ve received in the last two years, Wisconsin Conference is also praising God for a record number of baptisms.
Youth director Ron Whitehead reported on the great success of the Youth Evangelism Congress. Over 300 youth and supporters converged in Shipshewana, Ind., over the weekend of February 18-22.
Churches were incentivized to send their senior youth and young adults to explore ways to impact their local congregations with a total of $100,000 in funding, the only opportunity in the world where a union partners with churches to allow youth to do evangelism in their local context.
In his report, Lake Union Conference President Ken Denslow said that there are about 34 million people who reside in our union. Almost exactly half, 17 million, live in the metropolitan areas of Detroit, Indianapolis, Chicago, and Milwaukee.
Denslow recalls a visit to Chicago years back where he went up to a high floor of one of the tall buildings to look out over the city and remembers not being able to see the edge of the city.
Reaching the cities is a daunting task, he said. “We’re not just here to join with efforts to grow churches; we’re here to take a message to every man, woman, and child in our territory. It's audacious, the task before us, to reach those cities [and] I invite you to join me in praying about how we're going to reach these massive metropolitan areas.”
Carmelo Mercado, Lake Union Conference General vice president and director for Multicultural Ministries, was excited to share the blessings of growth and financial giving.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the 84 Hispanic churches and 24 Hispanic companies overcame hurdles and have grown 2.11 percent in membership since last year. Continuing that growth, they have had a net growth of 1.85 million (27.66 percent net growth).
In the Lake Union we have 48 multicultural congregations:
These multicultural congregations make up 3,871 members in the Lake Union.
On April 14-21, the Lake Union Conference and Indiana Conference are looking to serve nearly 10 thousand people in the Indianapolis area with Pathway to Health. Pathway to Health currently has 1,600 volunteers committed to the mega health clinic and are aiming for 900 more volunteers to join them.
As Elden Ramirez, Lake Union Conference executive secretary, reflected on the last quarter, he noted the net growth of membership at the end of the 2021 year. In December 2021, the Lake Union had a net growth of 0.19 percent which equates to an adding of 170 members. This membership number is directly influenced by the transfers in and out, those who passed away, and missing members from the Lake Union.
During Ramirez’ report, there was a total of ten ordination recommendations presented to the committee:
To wrap up Executive Committee, Lake Union Conference Treasurer Glynn Scott reported on the financial updates which included the 2021 annual tithe increase 0f 12.19% over 2020 tithe.
“This tithe increase is a record experience for our Union especially given the pandemic conditions in which we are committed to advancing mission and ministry,” said Scott. “This tithe increase is attributable to many factors, two of which include, multiple online giving options by our churches to our members and a higher percentage of our members wanting to be faithful in stewardship as we believe our Lord is soon to return.”
Across the nine Unions of the North American Division (NAD) the annual 2021 tithe increases range from 6.22% to 14% with the NAD aggregate increase in 2021 tithe of 10.36%. With the financial blessing of 2021 the LUC administration requested, and the Executive Committee voted to return to the local conferences a special appropriation for ministry of $425 thousand on a pro-rata basis.
Scott said, “God for His financial blessing upon our members and their faithful stewardship during 2021.”
Katie Fellows is the Lake Union Conference assistant communication specialist.