Atlantic Union Conference Commemorates 120 Years of Service and Community Engagement
April 16 is a significant day in the history of the Atlantic Union. On that day in 1901, the Eastern Union Conference, the forerunner to the Atlantic Union Conference, was organized. At that time, the territory was called the General Conference District No. 1, or the Atlantic District, and was comprised of 10 conferences and two missions—Atlantic, Chesapeake, Maine, New England, New York, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and two mission fields: the Maritime Provinces, and Newfoundland. The territory covered Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Maine, Massachusetts, New Brunswick, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia. The membership stood at 8,510, with 276 churches, and 39 companies.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church added Union Conferences to the church’s landscape in 1901 as a result of a recommendation made at the thirty-second session of the General Conference. The addition of union conferences would “distribute the responsibilities of the General Conference, placing them more fully and definitely upon those who are on the ground where the work is to be done and the issues to be met”—The General Conference Bulletin, vol. IV, no. 3, p. 514.
With the reorganization to include Union Conferences, “more men and more talent will-be brought into the management of the work. A thousand details will be transferred from the General Conference Committee to those whom the Lord has called to his work, and whom he has placed in the field where the details are to be worked out. If this plan is managed wisely by those first placed in charge of the different conferences, a large number of men and women will be brought to the front, with the experiences necessary to make them safe and valuable burden-bearers in the various departments of the cause”—Ibid.
The Eastern Union Conference existed for only a short time. At the first biennial session of the union conference, held at the church in South Lancaster, Massachusetts, from November 27 to December 5, 1901, the Canadian territories—Quebec, the Maritime Provinces, and Newfoundland—separated to form, along with the province of Ontario, the first Canadian Union Conference. The remainder of the territory was renamed the Atlantic Union Conference.
The territory continued to experience growth and, in 1907, delegates voted to divide the Atlantic Union Conference even further. By combining conferences in the former southern area of the Atlantic Union Conference—Chesapeake, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia—with the Ohio Conference that was formerly in the Lake Union Conference, the Columbia Union Conference was formed.
In 1915, the islands of Bermuda were assigned to the Atlantic Union Conference. Previously, the General Conference directed the work in Bermuda as one of the “miscellaneous missions.” In 1959, the Bermuda Mission was organized.
During the growth of the work in the Atlantic Union territory, the New York, Northern New England, and Southern New England conferences went through reorganization. In 1944, the Northeastern Conference was organized and added to the field. Then in 1986 Bermuda Mission became Bermuda Conference, bringing the total number of conferences in the Atlantic Union territory to six, and that is where it remains today.
For 120 years, the Atlantic Union Conference and its six conferences have served and continue to serve as beacons of hope to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ, lighting the way for others to prepare for His soon return for His people on planet Earth.
Today the Atlantic Union Conference territory covers the islands of Bermuda and the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Its membership stands at 127,771, with 603 churches, and 93 companies (Atlantic Union Conference Statistical Report, Fourth Quarter 2020).
The mission of the Atlantic Union Conference is “to support our six conferences in reaching all people with the Christ-centered Seventh-day Adventist message of hope and wholeness.” The vision “is to collaborate with the six conferences and assist them in reaching their full potential in the development of their ministries.”
In March 2020, the Atlantic Union Conference administrators entered uncharted waters as they began to navigate through the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of necessity, they identified new pathways for conducting business while completing the mission of the organization.
The administrators turned their attention to planning how they would move forward during this unpredictable time. Considering guidelines established by various states and governments in the territory, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), the Seventh-day Adventist Church at its General Conference and North American Division levels, as well as the Atlantic Union Conference and the local conferences, they developed a strategic plan. Each department will continue to monitor the situation and assess any further steps needed while collaborating with local conference leaders and departmental directors (Atlantic Union Conference Strategic Plan: 2020 and Beyond).
As the Atlantic Union commemorates 120 years of ministry, in addition to its focus on evangelism, the administrators are placing major emphasis on three strategic imperatives: Leadership Development; Youth and Young Adults, and Education. These are not the only areas on which the administrators will place emphasis, but they will receive greater attention at this time. The Atlantic Union Conference theme for 2021 is “I Will Go to Multiply.”
The words of Ellen White remind us, “Now is the time for the friends of Jesus to be decided, faithful, and valiant for the Captain of their salvation. Now is the time to show who are the true Calebs, who will not deny that the walls are high, the giants mighty, but who believe that this very fact will make the victory more glorious. There are great difficulties and trials before us. It will require strong courage and persevering effort to go forward. But all now depends on our faith in the Captain who has led us safely thus far”—The Review and Herald, November 29, 1881.
The work in the Atlantic Union Conference continues to move forward 120 years later. The timeline for when the COVID-19 crisis will be over is uncertain, but with God at the helm, we must stay the course and move forward in faith, believing that He will guide us safely through these uncharted waters.