On Wed., Nov. 10, Lake Union president, Ken Denslow (left), chaired the 38-member executive committee meeting, Elden Ramirez, the union's executive secretary was introduced to the group.

November 18, 2021

Together in Mission

Lake Union discusses hospital system changes, nurturing church growth, record tithe gains

Even with countless pages published about ordination, the focus of ordination to the gospel ministry distills to one factor: It is a calling. It is more than a choice for a career; because, if the Lord calls someone a numinous disease beckons one until that calling is followed.
H.M.S. Richards, Sr. would emphatically state, “If you can do anything else, do it!” Of course, the intent of his comment was “Have you been called?” It is not pleasant to disregard the Lord’s calling.

Take David, Moses, Samuel, or Paul as examples. Any reluctance by them when called into ministry eventually led to obeying the Master’s bidding. Thus, when one receives a divine tap on the shoulder and the mantle descends (i.e., Elisha), that supersedes all other attractive or disconcerting factors whether a financially enriching career (Abraham & Nicodemus) or affliction (i.e., Jeremiah & Ellen White).

And by the way, there are multiple joys in the gospel ministry. The pinnacle of joy is confirmed even in Heaven as angels rejoice over one soul saved for eternity (Luke 15:7, 10, 24).

There have been moments when younger folks have wondered, “How can I know the gospel ministry is my mission in life?” A helpful reply is “Have you sensed a call by God for gospel ministry?” If so, do not pursue any other career, but follow God’s call upon your life.

The foregoing message is not to say that God and I are the only deciding participants. Scripture reveals that the church body confirms the calling (i.e., Paul & Barnabas, Acts 13:1-4). That call may be confirmed in various ways such as support from a local congregation, teachers, pastors, peers, parents, and the fruits of soul-winning in ministry.

After extensive examination by church leadership, the pastors and their congregations below have celebrated God’s calling in their lives. Maybe God is tapping you on the shoulder for the gospel ministry? If so, He will facilitate and confirm your call to His service. Remember, “All His biddings are enablings”(Christ Object Lessons, p. 333).

- Steven Poenitz, former Lake Union Executive Secretary


On Nov. 8-10, the Lake Union met for its annual year-end meeting, themed “Together in Mission: I Will Go,” in sync with the strategic focus of the North American Division. This was the second year the meetings were held virtually because of the pandemic.


On Wed., Nov. 10, Lake Union president, Ken Denslow, chaired the 38-member executive committee meeting. After welcoming new and returning members, he introduced Lake Union vice president Carmelo Mercado who presented the devotional, on the theme, “That We May Be One.”


Mercado, in his message, stated, “God calls us to be one with him, to have a spirit Christ in our lives, a love that’s compassionate, a love that’s reaching out to people, not condemning people, but loving them into the kingdom.”







During the Presidents’ reports, Thor Thodardson, chief operating officer of AMITA Health provided updates on major changes coming to the health system. An amicable decision was made last month to dissolve the interfaith health network between Alexian Brothers Health System, Presence Health and Adventist Midwest Health.


Thodarson explained that the Adventist hospitals, Adventist Medical Center Hinsdale, Adventist Medical Center Bolingbrook, Adventist Medical Center La Grange and Adventist Medical Center GlenOaks weren’t doing as well six years ago when the partnership was entered into but are “now doing much better” and they are “carrying the larger financial burden of the other systems.”

This change means control of the Adventist hospitals revert to the parent company, AdventHealth. “We’re coming home, so to speak,” he said.

Thodarson accepted an invitation to serve as CEO of the Chicagoland hospitals and said the reverse merger playbook is now underway. It is expected that as of March 31, 2022 the transfer of all employees to AdventHealth will be complete. By April 1, the AdventHealth branding will go live.


“The feedback we are receiving from medical staff and the community has been very positive. It’s tremendous and we’re excited for what it means.”





Andrew University President Andrea Luxton reported that after a tough year, they are doing better.


“This year, you can sense the energy,” she said. “You should listen to the stories from departments and how they’re continuing to connect with students and how they’re doing service in the community.”


Luxton said their vaccination rates are helping to mitigate campus disruptions, as they report a 75-78% vaccination rate on campus, and close to 90% among faculty.


She cautioned about continued pressures on higher education. “We see reports coming out of Adventist colleges: the impact of enrollment because of Covid; the question of whether higher education is important. “We still have two to three challenging years ahead of us as we slowly move out of this environment.”


Despite the head winds, she is hopeful. “We still see so many parents who still value Adventist higher education.”


 She reminded the committee Andrews is a Lake Union school and that “the church is stronger and better when our education system is strong.”





Lake Union President Ken Denslow said we should renew our mission to the cities. Citing statistics of the 35 million people in the Lake Union, he noted 17 million are concentrated in our metro cities--Chicago, Detroit, Indianapolis and Milwaukee. “It’s an amazing fact, in my mind, that we have so much people concentrated in a small number of locations.”


He continued, “Our job is not to just help fill in the gaps in churches, but until the message is sent to every man, woman, child in our area, our job is not complete. Our job is to cover the territory.”


He asked the question: How do we go about it? And quickly provided some thoughts. “I don’t have all the answers but we need to talk about it. It may take us joining forces with conferences and reaching these cities. Indianapolis is a good example where the GC, NAD, Union and Indiana and Lake Region conferences are working together. We should make it clear the specific plans belong to people on the ground in those areas.”


Denslow also pointed out that we have one remaining ABC left in our territory. “We want to join hands with Indiana and support what they’re doing. They’re resourcing camp meetings around the union. We encourage you to buy books so we can physically have ABC in our field for as long as possible.”




In his first Lake Union executive committee meeting, Elden Ramirez outlined church growth figures which he hopes spurs on further discussions. He emphasized that his report was based on information churches plugged into the e-Adventist platform.


The figures, he cautioned, are “conversation starters” and are “not accurate since there isn’t 100 percent representation.” For example, in 2020 only 7.5 of churches reported figures.


In North America, Ramirez explained, they have categorized churches into four groups: multiplying, growing, plateauing, declining.


were described as having 7% baptism, 7% increase over attendance and planted one church in seven years. Growing churches had a 2% baptism rate and 2% increase in attendance. A church which plateaued may have baptisms but after transfers and deaths, the number is still the same. Meanwhile, a declining church had no baptisms and attendance dropped by at least two percent.


“As a union, it was only in 2019 we saw 1% of churches are multiplying.”





Also, presented was a list of delegates to General Conference Session in St. Louis next summer. [Denslow explained a recent discovery was made that a name was miscategorized and as such another name will be added at a later time.]




Elizabeth Beltre, lay leader

Vic Van Shaik, conference president



Jonathan Burnett, pastor

 Ron Aguilera, conference president


Lake Region

Doris Gothard, lay leader

Garth Gabriel, conference president



Cody Francis, pastor

Jim Micheff, conference president



Jonathan Fetrick, pastor

Titus Naftanaila, conference president


Lake Union

Elden Ramirez, executive secretary

Ken Denslow, union president

Glynn Scott, treasurer





Lake Union Treasurer Glynn Scott provided financial updates which included the September year-to-date tithe performance of 11.38% increase over 2020 tithe. 


“This tithe increase truly highlights God’s blessing upon His church and the faithful stewardship of our members,” he said.


Across the nine Unions of the North American Division (NAD) year-to-date September 2021 tithe increases range from 9.83% t0 13.47% with the NAD aggregate increase in 2021 tithe of 12.06%. The LUC tithe increases during 2021 have been the largest increase in the history of our union.


Scott said, “For this financial blessing and all other blessing we give praise to our God.”







Multicultural Ministries Director Carmelo Mercado shared a report on charging through the challenges of 2021 to bring members together virtually through Conectatate, Our United Prayer, and the Hispanic Women’s Congress.


Conectatate had over 215 registrants attend virtually. Four $1,000 scholarships for Adventist Education, two tickets to the upcoming Gillette, Wyoming, International Camporee and more were given away as prizes.


Our United Cry Prayer Conference had 158 registered attendees and reached over 170 people through social media. One participant praised the prayer conference, saying, “I was truly blessed by this session. We need more united prayer sessions and services together.”


Another Our United Cry attendee added, “I greatly enjoyed the speakers, music and commentary during the service. It was an excellent experience in spiritual awareness. Praise God! Let’s do more of these.”


Hispanic Women’s Congress featured more than 12 live virtual programs with over 320 participants from 17 churches and groups.


“It was a blessing to see. The women were very enthused, very thankful and I just praise God for that event and so appreciate our ladies who are ministering in that area,” says Mercado.


In 2022, the Lake Union Multicultural Ministries is preparing for their next Our United Cry on March 11-12, evangelistic meetings on May 21-28, and gearing up for Pathway to Health on April 17-21 in Indianapolis, Ind.


Mercado praises God that Hispanic tithe is up this year for at least four out of five conferences in the Lake Union area. With the exception of Lake Region, due to not having the numbers yet. The 2021 September report shows a gain of $118,000, compared to 2019 and 2020.


“I’m so thankful for the pastors who strongly encourage fidelity in their stewardship,” says Mercado. “We’re very thankful that our Hispanic members and churches are faithful in their giving, because we want to advance mission. That’s really what it’s all about, advancing mission.”