The fall is one of my favorite seasons of the year. Every year, I take time to go to the mountains of New Hampshire to contemplate the breathtaking and diverse colors of the foliage. I enjoy the spring and summer when every leaf on the trees is green; but the diversity of the fall colors in the mountain forest is amazing. The leaves begin to turn colors in the northern regions of Maine and New Hampshire in mid-to-late September and peak around mid-October.
The rich colors of the fall foliage remind me of the very first sentence of the preamble of the Atlantic Union Conference Constitution and Bylaws that says, “The Atlantic Union Conference of the Seventh-day Adventist Church believes that the biblical statements establishing equality for all races and cultures, for both genders, and for all ages shape the ways in which the union conference operates.” The second paragraph further states, “As a church organization with a multi-cultural heritage, the principle of unity within diversity is one we hold. This entails cherishing the differences among us at the same time that we reach out to enrich the lives of all church members through those differences.”
At the May 15, 2019, executive committee meeting, I reported that the Atlantic Union Conference has 124,847 members in the states of New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, and the islands of Bermuda. Our membership is so diverse, that on any given Sabbath, we worship God in more than 12 different languages, in 601 churches and 79 companies. There are six different conferences, but we are one union. The strengths, privileges, challenges, and responsibilities inherent to such a diverse church can be managed only with the power of the Holy Spirit working in every heart.
In Romans 12:4, 5 Paul wrote, “For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Weakness and sickness in any part of the body very much affects the whole body. Likewise, joy, peace, and happiness in one part benefit the whole. While the full impact may take time for the rest to see and feel, one can be certain that what affects one part of the body, inevitably affects the whole. The good news is that Christ is the head of the church and there is no sickness or infection that Jesus cannot heal. The Savior can heal any ailment in our church family and replace pain with joy.
Christ not only heals, but also gives us victory. This has been demonstrated in the growth of our membership in the Atlantic Union over the past 10 years. We are so excited that the church continues to grow.
When seen as a strength, diversity will foster growth. It is easy to allow the enemy to turn our focus to our differences and weaknesses in order to divide us. This, of course, will result in the undoing of our mission and will hinder our effectiveness in preaching the gospel. The words of Ellen White in Selected Messages remain relevant for us today: “We are coming to a time when, more than ever before, we shall need to press together, to labor unitedly. In union there is strength. In discord and disunion there is only weakness. . . . Oh, how many times, when I have seemed to be in the presence of God and holy angels, I have heard the angel voice saying, ‘Press together, press together, press together. Do not let Satan cast his hellish shadow between brethren. Press together; in unity there is strength’ ” —Selected Messages, vol. 2, pp. 373, 374. Pressing together in unity will facilitate the accomplishment of our mission to preach the gospel and to experience the joy of service.
The colors of the fall are beautiful to behold, but the beauty of God’s diverse and unified children, including those in the Atlantic Union Conference, far surpasses the breathless beauty of colorful autumn leaves.
May God help us to appreciate the beauty, power, and strength of our diversity.
This editorial first appeared in the September 2019 issue of the Atlantic Union Gleaner magazine, page 3.