Such a Time: 2016 Pacific Union Conference Constituency Session

The 30th quinquennial constituency session for the Pacific Union Conference (PUC) was held on Sunday evening and Monday morning, August 28-29 2016, in Scottsdale Arizona. The “banner name” selected for the session was (following the Book of Esther)  “For Such a Time As This.” Delegates could register Sunday afternoon and were then invited to three different information meetings1 held before the official session opening. After a 6 p.m. half-hour selection of musical performers, the session was opened at 6:30 by President Ricardo Graham. The meeting was called to order, delegates were “seated,” which meant a count of delegates present (obtained using an electronic ballot system, each delegate having been issued a voting device), and it was determined that a quorum was present. The agenda previously sent to delegates was adopted, and the suggested parliamentarian was voted in to serve for the session. This work took about half an hour, with the rest of the evening meeting (1 ½ hours) devoted to stories and presentations highlighting activity within the PUC over the past five years.

The Monday morning agenda was packed with optimistic time-frames that quickly became unrealistic. But the plan was as follows:

  • 8 am: Worship Service

  • 9 am: Nominating Committee report

  • 9:30 am: Bylaws Committee report

  • 9:45 am: Financial Reports

  • 10:05 am: Education Reports

  • 10:45 am: Adventist Health Report

  • 11 am: Consecration of Elected Team

  • 11:10 am: “The Road Ahead” – Ricardo Graham address

  • 12 noon: Close of Session

  • 12:05 pm: Lunch

Such is the summary of the expected content and flow for the meeting – mostly obtainable by simply looking over the printed program. Now let's rewind, and I will provide both details of what took place (a reporting task) and my reactions and impressions (more of an op-ed activity).

My perspective is inevitably informed by past experience of attending (as delegate and observer) multiple such constituency meetings, at various organizational levels, over 30+ years. The details and participants change, but it seems like the unwritten template of these meetings doesn't.

The first thing I noticed as I looked over the agenda was the minimal length of the time slots and the almost total absence of any allotment for delegate comments and discussion. If the meeting had actually gone as scripted, it would have been completely one-directional – from podium to audience. Now, figuring out in advance how much time that discussion will consume is admittedly problematic. And, at face value, there was no apparent controversy. The Nominating Committee was recommending all officers be retained, and there was no evident undercurrent of discontent with that. When these meetings go off-script, it is often contention over a particular officer's proposed re-election, which generates the debate. Then, with the remaining sections of the meeting, it appeared as if everything was also uncontroversial and would produce no delegate angst. So I can somewhat understand why the organizers thought they would have such a straightforward meeting. But, not only do things rarely play out to some “best-case” scenario, a stronger criticism I would offer is that the organizers did not build in any opportunities for dialog (which would, of course, have to be reflected in the durations). This is disappointing. Such structure can give an unintended message that interaction is undesirable. A common result I've seen before is that delegates can “go off the rails” by spending an inordinate amount of time on minor details or behave erratically when a substantive, difficult, and controversial issue is under consideration. It is an extremely difficult task in a constituency meeting for leadership to guide such an unwieldy group – due to size and wide range of past experiences – through a meaningful, successful discussion process. But it is worse to produce a plan where any such dialog causes a time overrun, and the temptation then is to curb dialog since the meeting is behind schedule.

Time allowed for the opening session – Sunday night – was not an issue, though. No discussion was expected. This was the part of the program where the Union leadership reported on progress and initiatives taken over the past five years . As I sat through the many legitimately inspiring stories (and less-pleasing hyperbole), I could almost close my eyes and move back 30 years while hearing the same essential message of great things happening in our territory. Even the session slogan could have been reused from years ago.

And, if some proverbial Martians had descended, unoriented, into the room Sunday evening, they might have been forgiven for thinking that these people had just won the religious equivalent of the Super Bowl or World Cup. The pervasive message was of winning, excitement, great things happening for God. But delegates are generally chosen because they have significant church experience. They likely understand that reality in the local churches is somewhat more mixed. And the modest tithe and membership increases for the past five years bear this out. But we don't much want to hear that. Negatives, or even a more grounded balance of good/not-so-good – would likely be less well received than what was presented. I don't wish, however, to denigrate in any way the validity and positives of the anecdotal material provided. Good is important to present, and we can praise God for each success. But pervasive selectivity risks devaluing good news as it can easily degrade into spin and hype.

Election of Officers
Monday morning, however, was the time for business. Following Dan Jackson's devotional, the most significant part of the session followed – election of officers. Usually, if there is any drama/contention at a constituency meeting, it surrounds the elections. But this day there was no substantive debate. Each officer was up for re-election, and there were no previous controversies that might have caused any significant opposition to any candidate. Election was done via electronic vote mechanisms and went smoothly and quickly. The "Yes" vote for the officers2 ranged from 89% to 94%. Following officer election, the members of the next Union Executive Committee were voted in. No controversy appeared so far – and roughly on schedule.

But it would not remain so. The next agenda item was a 15-minute time block to deal with changes to the Constitution and Bylaws (C&B). Nothing proposed looked problematic to me, so I was settling in for a nice semi-snooze when things got interesting and remained so for the next 2+ hours of discussion on bylaws.

So, what was there in that otherwise eye-glazing legalese document that generated such voluminous dialog? There are at least two, opposite, yet potentially accurate, answers. The first way to look at it is this: there was really nothing therein that should have caused concern. The words being debated did not inherently carry any meanings that would have problematic implications. A second, opposite, view could indeed have validity, though. Words do matter, and bylaws provide determining rules for how the organization proceeds. Thus, an adverse interpretation of voted language could result in significant consequences. So, what was the real issue behind this two-hour worry over words? The “elephant in the room,” as one delegate put it, was this: Women's Ordination.

Changes to Bylaws
I will try to lay out the details so the reader may see just what the debate was about. The Constitution and Bylaws Committee proposed (among many other minor changes) some adjustments to Article 14, changes that seemed to them – uncontroversial3. Here is Section 14, with proposed additions in bold and deletions in bold/strike-through:

The Bylaws of this Union, which are essential to the unity of the church worldwide, may be amended, revised, or repealed from time to time in order to comport with the spirit of the Model Union Constitution and Bylaws as voted by the General Conference Executive Committee or to advance the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist church in the Pacific Union. Such amendments or revisions shall be approved by a two-thirds majority vote of the delegates present and voting at any duly called Constituency Sessions of the Union. The Bylaws may be amended, revised, or repealed, provided such changes are in harmony with the spirit of the Model Union Constitution and Bylaws. Notice of any proposed changes to the Bylaws of this Union shall be given specifically in conjunction with the publication of notice for the Constituency Session.

The Constituency Session or the Union Executive Committee may recommend to the General Conference through the North American Division of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists to the Model Union Constitution and Bylaws.”

The controversy focused on the addition, beginning with the word “or.” The historical backdrop centers on the action taken on August 19, 2012 at a special meeting of the Pacific Union constituency4, where the delegates voted 79% to 21% to allow women pastors within the Pacific Union to be ordained. This placed the PUC at variance with the Model Union Constitution – a document crafted by the General Conference and intended as a template, or guide, for Unions in creating their particular constitutions and bylaws. Some delegates read the or clause – “or to advance … the Pacific Union” – as codifying legitimacy to the fact that the PUC has policy at variance with the Model document. For some delegates, this would be a strengthening move in stating PUC's right to differ at times from GC policy. Those opposed to Women's Ordination would, of course, have an opposite view. Brad Newton, who chaired the C&B Committee, which produced the change, and was chairing this part of the meeting, stated that the choice made in 2012 for Woman's Ordination already stood on its own ground as a voted action and wording of the Bylaws – whether the proposed addition remained or not – would not change that. Nonetheless, this issue remains so potentially volatile in the church that it seems to bubble up to the surface in surprising ways.

So, what did the delegates finally decide to do? The C&B Committee had initially proposed to the delegates that the Article 14 addition phraseology be referred back to their committee because conversation the previous evening in the informational meeting left them believing they needed to better wordsmith the language since people were reading it in inconsistent ways. But the delegates voted down this C&B Committee request for further review and voted to go ahead and include the addition as stated above. Further, they voted to retain the sentence that the C&B committee proposed be stricken5. Then, because it was clear that Article 14 was where the controversy centered, the delegates decided to vote on 14 separately from the rest of the document. Note also, that changes to Bylaws require a 2/3 majority. The vote for the rest of the document (minus Article 14) was 97% in favor. The vote on14 was 68% in favor – just barely over the 2/3 majority needed. One might infer that the much lower passing percentage for Article 14 reflected differing delegate opinion on Women's Ordination.

At long last C&B discussion concluded, and it appeared the remainder of the meeting would be non-controversial. But no. One more surprise occurred, which perhaps was the most interesting part of the entire meeting. And it was totally unscripted.

Motion to Amend Agenda
On Sunday night, Chris Buttery, a delegate from the Sacramento Central Church in the Northern California Conference, stepped up to the mic and moved that there be an additional item placed on the agenda. It turned out that the way he made the request was procedurally out-of-order, and he meekly retreated. To the credit of the PUC administration, someone approached the person later and helped him find the appropriate way to make the request. And at this point in the meeting, the chairman called upon this delegate to bring the request for an agenda addition to the floor. What was this delegate's proposed agenda addition? He wanted the body to vote to rescind the action taken August 19, 2012 – allowing Women's Ordination. The reason he gave: rescinding the action would be appropriate because of the voted action at CG 2015 in San Antonio.

So here was the “elephant” moved squarely to the center of the room--not wrangling about the potential that language might have to affect policy on the issue but asking the delegates to roll back the 2012 action. And the request, of course, was not part of the meeting plan. Because the request for this agenda addition was seconded, a vote by the delegates became necessary. The resultant vote was 76% opposed to adding the item to the agenda. Note, of course, that had the delegates approved this agenda addition, it would not have automatically caused the 2012 action to be rescinded – merely that that a motion to rescind would then be made and thus debated directly. But the denial of this agenda addition – with the delegates knowing what the proposed addition was going to be about – meant that the vote taken amounted to a straw poll by a representative group of the PUC constituency regarding their sentiment on the issue of Women's Ordination. Thus, one could infer that the delegates re-affirmed the 2012 action, by a similar majority.

Following this unscripted delegate request, the meeting proceeded with the Financial Report – now about 2 ½ hours behind schedule. From this point through most of the Education Report, everything proceeded apace, as scripted, with no delegate interaction. In fact, the room was emptying fast. I'm guessing this was because people needed to catch their planes. And, a bit after 1 p.m., I too needed to leave even though the meeting had not yet finished. Maybe things got even wilder after that :-) - but probably not.

I realize that some of my observations and reactions to this session have been negative. My intent, however, is constructive. And any negatives should not diminish the value and encouragement one should derive from the positive news and stories featured during the meeting. Also, the session ran smoothly; the technology functioned well. Especially commendable was the continual attention – by every person who chaired a portion of the meeting – to insure that any delegate who wanted to speak would be given a full and respectful hearing.


1The three separate meetings covered: Bylaws, Finances, and Education. Delegates sat at tables and engaged in Q&A with Union personnel or, in the case of Bylaws, also with additional Bylaws Committee leadership.

2Ricardo Graham – President, Bradford Newton – Executive Secretary / Ministerial Director, Theodore Benson – Treasurer, Antonio Anobile – Vice President, Virgil Childs – Director of Regional Affairs, VicLouis Arreola III – Asian/Pacific Coordinator, Jorge Soria – Hispanic Coordinator

3I later had a hallway conversation with a friend who was on the committee, and he indicated surprise over the amount of debate, saying that the committee members had no specific intentions relating to Woman's Ordination during their deliberations that produced the changes proposed to the delegates.

5The C&B Committee rationale for proposing it be deleted was simply that it was redundant, having been stated almost identically earlier in the paragraph. The delegates, by their vote, disagreed.


Rich Hannon is Columns Editor for

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This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at
1 Like

Thanks for this well-balanced article. The failure of the constituency to vote to strike a portion of Article XIV presents an interesting quandary. On one hand the constituency has reaffirmed ordination without regard to gender but on the other has failed to give themselves the legal authority to do so. This incongruity is apparently recognized (as evidenced by the fact that changes were proposed) but remains unresolved in terms of whether or not the 2012 action is valid under the current bylaws.

Also, I would be interested to know more about the discussion on proposed changes to Article XVI which, in the event of dissolution of the Union, would have given the Union’s assets to the local conferences rather than to the GC. What was the states rationale behind it? I understand that Article XVI has been sent back to the bylaw committee.

[ response by Rich: the C&B committee’s rationale was that funds held by the Union had originated from the local conferences. So, if dissolution occurred it made better sense to return the money to where it originally came from. That was it. It does have the interesting additional aspect of affirming that we have a bottom-up structure rather than a top-down one. But this was not mentioned by anyone on the committee as to why they though they should amend the Article. ]


It seems to me that the change to Article XIV introduces one more reason that the Bylaws may be altered (amended, revised or repealed), but a restriction remains in place to prevent the Bylaws being altered in a way that is out of harmony with the model Bylaws and Constitution.

Of particular note, the word “or” suggests the Bylaws may be altered for either reason. That is, to align them with the model Bylaws, or to advance the mission of the church. And the word “may” (as opposed to “must”), means that the Bylaws will not necessarily be altered to align them with the model Bylaws.

Thus when the model Bylaws are changed, PUC may choose whether or not to alter their own Bylaws to comply. And PUC may alter their Bylaws to advance the mission of the church, provided such changes are not in conflict with the model Bylaws. Essentially, PUC is not obliged to accept changes proposed by the GC, but cannot introduce changes themselves that are out of step with the GC. The only real change as I see it, is that now the Bylaws might be altered for reasons other than simply to comply with the model Bylaws.

And none of this impacts in any way on the the ability of PUC to determine who is ordained within their Union.


par for the course. Great venue, Great time to meet old friends. Roberts Rules of Order, The First Commandment in session. Not a word about the opening and closing sermons. Probably make more bricks.TZ


Rich, could you elaborate on this? Do you recall what it was about the initial presentation of the motion that was procedurally out-of-order? This information might be useful to all of us who must deal with similar rules-of-order in the future.

Thanks for your response!

[ response by Rich: my recollection (not 100% sure I have this right) is that the Sunday night request for amending the agenda was made in the midst of the motion to adopt the agenda. So technically there was no agenda yet to amend at that point. It’s probably true then (if I have the reason right) that shortly thereafter, when the vote to adopt the printed agenda finished, he could have stood up and attempted again. It may be that he was a bit intimidated by the original rebuff, I don’t know. But obviously someone from administration talked with him after the Sunday night meeting had finished to help him achieve his intent. ]

I wonder if there was any discussion to reduce upper administration thus allowing additional funds to be returned to the local church.

[ response by Rich: there was no discussion like that. ]

I wish our governing system would allow for other individuals to stand for office. Not through campaigning but in a public brief as to the direction and objectives they hope to accomplish during their one term. Our current system re-elects officers if they have created no controversy, obeyed the directives of their leaders and supported church creeds without question. Then the chances are they will remain in office until they retire or die, all along reaping a higher salary then a district pastor.


One of my FACEBOOK friends who lives in that Union, stated
One of the persons desiring for the Women Pastors to lose their jobs
was from Sacramento Church of Doug Batchelor.
And had made a motion to recind their hiring policy.

Article amended to show that the delegate was identified as Chris Buttery of the Sacramento Central Church in the Northern California Conference. -WebEd

Chris Buttery WAS the person that was mentioned on Facebook reporting. Thanks for clearing that up.


I attended this meeting and your recounting of the day matched what I experienced. I was in line to board my plane that afternoon and suddenly in the noisy boarding area I heard one word that caused me to immediately turn around…‘bylaws’! It was someone from the conference. I spoke to him and we had a chuckle as we didn’t know each other but could share a comedic moment.

One thing that impressed me about the meeting was how calm and respectful it remained. My thoughts were not calm and I had to leave the room after the bylaws and rescind portion. I didn’t have a plane to catch but I needed to take a break.


to me, the addition allowing changes to the bylaws for the sake of PUC’s “mission”, as long as these changes “are in harmony with the spirit of the model union constitution and bylaws”, is a carte blanche…clearly, something that is in fact out of harmony with the general conference, but deemed to be in the interests of PUC, will be interpreted to be in harmony with the “spirit” of the general conference…

i think this response to san antonio, if it is a response to san antonio, goes much further than actions taken by other unions and conferences…in addition to allowing a policy of women’s ordination that conflicts with the general conference, virtually every other policy at odds with the world church, such as normalized homosexuality, theistic evolution and a denial of our sanctuary doctrine, would pass muster with this newly amended bylaw…voting down the deletion of the provision to be in harmony with the spirit of the model union constitution and bylaws seems little more than a clumsy smokescreen when we consider the startling fact that article XVI, outlining the division of assets upon dissolution, was also considered, although recalled, at this constituency session…

It’s either now or later. Postponing the inevitable does not work. See how fast the U.S. government changed on LBGT, same-sex marriage, women’s equality and more. The church in the NAD will get smaller and only the old folks will care about such issues. This is shown on the slow growth and attrition in the union. Westerners aren’t easily dictated to by the Eastern HQ.


Pacific Union Conference began the year 2015 with 225,129 members and ended the year with 226,207 members. That calculates to a net rate of membership growth of approximately .48 percent. What the conference presidents together with Elder Ricardo Graham should do is announce a new employment policy for pastors:

If during calendar year 2017 you have not brought anyone to Jesus and baptized that person, then you will be fired. We will examine the list and every pastor with a zero next to his or her name will be fired. It should not be hard to achieve a 100 percent improvement on the negligible accomplishments of 2015. If you have a church of 100 members at the beginning of 2017 and you goof off for most of the year but are still able to baptize one or more individuals so that your church ends the year with 101 members, then you will have at least made a small effort toward establishing that your call to the ministry is not a sick joke.

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Your suggestion WILL promote the baptizing of 8 year olds and not waiting till they are 9 or 10. LOL!!!


Not sure that “goofing” off is the reason why more people are not being baptized…I would like to think that it has more to do with the call of the Holy Spirit and acceptance of the Adventist doctrines. The 28 FB’s are a harder and harder sell in a Post Modern World and perhaps the HS is directing elsewhere.

Nonetheless, are you allowing the counting of member’s children? That might boost the membership count up a tad in some areas.


The Union added 1,078 new members. How many pastors and administrative officers in the conference, plus how many pastors? That would show how many paid employees in both pastors and administrators were paid to produce each new convert.

Do you have those figures? Should be an interesting comparison to all the hoopla of good news at the session.

Kim, these numbers were baptisms and I’m sure they counted each and every one, including children of members.


Is the membership growth minus those who left? I think when membership growth numbers are presented we should know how many left. That way the total would be more accurate IMHO.


I would wager that if every church member in the PUC was asked to fill in a survey, checking off how many of the 28FB they believed in, or complied with, there would be a woeful absence of one hundred per cent affirmation of all twenty eight.

Of course our esteemed east coast leaders would wish to evict any of those who did not show total compliance – they would call it “separating the wheat from the chaff”.

Should automatic disfellowship be required of those who neglected to check every box, we would have a vastly depleted denomination.

I agree that each conference should supply the number of those who apostasized, and more importantly, those who DIED, since the prior constituency meeting.

Our membership gets more and more GERIATRIC. Some congregations I visit, are so filled with white haired parishioners, that their large sanctuaries will be up for auction to other denmonations in the next fifteen years if current demographics persist.

ELAINE: Surveys show that in conservative Republican households, LGBT issues, same sex marriage, and women’s equality are all chasms which separate millenials from their right wing parents. Similar differences separate the generations in Adventism, and may be responsible for the departure of our offspring from the church. Ultimately these issues will have to be “softened” to use a current political phrase, otherwise we will have a mass EXODUS of younger members who find discrimination in any form an outrage.


If I understood well, nothing changed in the policy at PUC regarding ordination of women. WO remains supported in our Union, as it always was. And as it should be in every Union.

I hope the anti-discrimination-of-women movement will keep growing. The Unions are the only ones able to make it happen, since they are the ones (and only ones) that have the power to make decisions on ordination of ministers.

Yes, the GC wants to increase its power to interfere in the process, aiming to hijack the power that belongs only to the Unions. But now we can see, still better, the wisdom of those who created the Unions; it seems that they knew that the GC would one day adopt a dictatorial style of governance. So far the GC has been pretty much defeated in its endeavor.

Thank God for the Unions!!!

@webEd I HOPE this article will soon be posted in the LounGate. Why are we always the last ones to have access to it for real discussion?



What amazes me is that there are still some people fighting in favor of bringing back the (now old in our Union) discrimination of women in our Church. This was, indeed, one of the big elephants in the room.

But it is obvious that the Constituents’ message was clear, that there is no longer room for such shameful practice in our Union.

I know that some defenders of a continued practice of discrimination of women in our Church may even become extremely angry and mad when things don’t go their way, when their retrograde ideas are rejected. But, if one’s dog is no longer hunting, well,… please, get another dog!

One example of an angry person is the case of Ted Wilson becoming extremely mad when months ago in one meeting at the GC they considered the issue regarding the European Unions that had decided to stop all ordinations in general. It is said that when TW left the room, with both arms up, he angrily said, “I will close them all!” Only to be reminded by one of his VPs that he doesn’t have the power to do so.

Now, this info was a first-hand info told by a witness to the fact, who told it to a close friend of mine. Both are highly respectable people who served the Church for all their lives. So, if someone wants to dispute the credibility of this info, please contact TW directly and ask him to deny it if it is not true. Then we can go from there…

I don’t know what he could possibly have said or thought when the PUC stood up again for what is right.


In the 1990’s, major revisions of the GC/NAD model constitution policy were proposed (imposed) on unions and conferences with spotty and slow compliance. Many conferences and unions have not included in their documents all the mandated language required by NAD policy, nor they have removed from their documents statements that weaken the intent of the mandated language. Several Pacific Union insertions do weaken or create wiggle room in what is otherwise a straightforward policy. To be in full compliance, they would have to (1) eliminated the phrases, “with the spirit of,” and (2) withdraw the new language that was proposed at the session.

Since we are stating opinions, it is my understanding of Adventist church governance that the individual constitutions and bylaws of the conferences and unions are actually shadow documents. According to NAD policy the Constitutions themselves cannot be amended by the local body unless authorized to do so by a higher body, and the only area (Article) where there is intentional wiggle room for creative processes is the management of the constituency meeting and the election of officers. As far a legal standing is concerned, the words of the model constitution will always trump any locally inserted language that does not comply.

It would seem to me that the first task of the constitution and bylaws committee would be to prepare a compliance report for the delegates and reveal where in the governance documents there is or is not compliance with NAD working policy. This presentation would (1) create a lot of discussion, and (2) help people understand how the church operates.


According to one of the parliamentarians, my motion was out of order because when I moved to amend the agenda to include another item, I asked that we “reconsider” the vote taken in 2012 as opposed to “rescinding” the vote taken in 2012. Apparently, a new assembly of delegates cannot reconsider what a previous assembly of delegates voted on because they weren’t there. As far as when that motion was made; that was perfectly in order according to RRO and one of the parliamentarians serving at the meeting. Just an FYI; I reluctantly sat down when I was told my motion was out of order due to confusion. I had talked with one of the parliamentarians earlier that day and thought I had the right wording, so when he stood to defend the motion being out of order I was surprised. When I talked with said parliamentarian the next morning after the worship thought about trying again he apologized for not fully understanding our previous conversation. He was very willing to talk to Elder Graham on my behalf to see if I could make the motion to add an agenda item to which Elder Graham agreed. Hope this is helpful.


I disagree. I dislike the “scorekeeping” of basing a pastor’s worth on how many baptisms he has.

Don’t we realize, a pastor’s duty is to SHEPHERD THE FLOCK – including maintaining the spiritual health of the existing members – not just to go out searching for new members. I am so upset by scorekeeping. It seems so fake, to me.
Some of my best pastors have been at their best in comforting the members, inspiring more Bible study among the members, etc.

If we descend to a “numbers” game in judging our pastors, I’m out of here.