The Mid-America Union Conference Executive Committee held its first online meeting on April 23, 2020, with a full team of members focused on conducting the business of the organization and considering how best to move mission forward in the heartland of America.

Healthcare professionals offer hope

Following a devotional thought from MAUC president Gary Thurber that focused on the futility of fear and the power of “knowing the Father,” AdventHealth CEO Terry Shaw presented an overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare providers. Shaw stated that AdventHealth “saw this coming” and borrowed the necessary funds back in January to ensure that their healthcare facilities would be prepared to serve the needs of their communities and also guarantee employment for all their staff until at least June 20. 

“We’re planning to reopen May 1,” Shaw said, adding that every precaution will be taken to ensure a high level of safety, including COVID testing for all staff and patients. 

In-depth reports also came from Sam Huenergardt, CEO of AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Kansas, and Ken Bacon, group president for the Denver metro region of Centura Health. Both leaders expressed deep appreciation for the perseverance and loyalty of their employees, which enable the healthcare facilities to be lights of hope in their communities during this dark time. Both leaders also stated that the number of new COVID cases per day are declining in their facilities.

“It’s inspiring to see what is going on in our hospitals,” said Thurber. “We are extremely grateful for the leadership of Sam and Ken.”

Votes focus on preserving mission

In other business, MAUC secretary Gil Webb reported that church membership in the Mid-America Union increased by 303 during 2019, for a total membership of 65,046. 

The financial report, presented by MAUC treasurer Troy Peoples, showed that MAUC ended 2019 financially on a positive note, partially resulting from a 0.99% tithe gain. “Our reserves are good, which we will be using to help get through the next few months,” Peoples said.

In response to the pandemic, the Executive Committee approved a recommendation from union administrators to pull funds from the union’s reserves to help keep ministry going strong in Mid-America. The union will return 1% of each conference’s gross monthly tithe directly to them beginning with the April tithe remittances and continuing through October’s tithe remittances.

Commenting on this unique process Ed Barnett, president of Rocky Mountain Conference, said that he has seen his share of challenges during his 40 years of ministry in three different unions, but “none of us have been through this COVID-19 crisis before and each day brings new challenges.”  Barnett described the president’s council preceding the MAUC Executive Committee meeting as “a team of professionals, trying to figure out what we could do to help everyone in need. The Mid-American Union right now is the most cohesive and transparent union that I have ever been a part of. I was blessed to see our team again allowing God to lead. It is a privilege to work in the MAUC!”

Roger Bernard, president of Central States Conference, concurred. “The Coronavirus has definitely influenced the way we live,” he said. “Some people have lost their jobs, which means many members in Mid-America are hurting  and have little to no money coming in. That’s why I was particularly pleased when our union officers committed to giving back a percent of the remitted tithe to each conference in Mid-America. While it may not seem like much to some, the care with which our union officers are handling this unexpected crisis is to be commended.”

 The Executive Committee voted a budget for 2020 based on 95% of tithe, and, in light of the economic uncertainty, not giving the previously planned 1.6% pay increase in July for union employees.

In addition, the committee voted to encourage all MAUC church entities to not give the 1.6% pay increase to employees, and to ask the NAD to vote a division-wide recommendation for all church entities not to give the pay increase.

Peace amidst the challenges

During his departmental report, MAUC Church Ministries director Roger Wade said that all six conferences in our union were approved for $25,000 grants from NAD Adventist Community Services Disaster Relief to assist with food distribution in their local communities. Wade also highlighted the union’s social media prayer initiative of praying Psalm 91 for 91 days (March 23-June 23) as we deal with the effects of social isolation, fear of illness, and concern for economic impacts.

The meeting concluded with Vinita Sauder, president of Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska, presenting an update on the impact of the pandemic and the move to online classes. Sauder stated that all summer classes have been moved online, all student missionaries and students studying abroad have returned safely home, and all summer study tours have been cancelled.

“Our students are traumatized,” she said, “especially those who are not suited to an online learning environment.” Sauder concluded her report by saying that in the midst of these difficulties she is “thankful for a fantastic God who gives us peace despite the unknown future.”