8th December 2016

In a Europe that has increasingly become a global village the South England Conference (SEC) organised its first Diversity Conference at Oxford Seventh-day Adventist church, Friday and Sabbath, 25-26 November 2016.

In preparing for the event, Sophia Nicholls, SEC Diversity and Disability Ministries director, noted that a church should be a place where everyone feels a sense of purpose, belonging and ministry. This, she said, “must include open and frank discussions around diversity.” That is exactly what happened in a series of meetings that covered the issues of diversity in biblical and Adventist history, how the Church relates to equality issues in current legislation, how theological diversity works in practice, and a somewhat controversial discussion around issues of diversity, the Church and sexuality.

Even the worship periods demonstrated diversity – both in the mix of singers and the varied choice of music. At one point a contemporary version of ‘What a friend we have in Jesus’ even included a cleverly constructed piano duet. Prayer time encouraged the church to write their prayers on their hands, and the whole day was ‘signed’ for the hearing impaired, recognising that diversity also includes those who often find themselves excluded from full participation in worship.

Friday night focused on history as retired pastor and Church administrator, Pastor Reinder Bruinsma, led his attentive audience on a rapid journey through Church history from the diversity of the New Testament era, early Church history and the Protestant Reformation. He explained how this then grew into the myriad modern forms of Christianity, and even the diversity, theological, social and cultural, that is currently found within the Adventist Church.

A strong emphasis of his presentation was the way that early Adventists grew out of a variety of backgrounds into what, by 1863, became the Seventh-day Adventist Church. DSC00139While there was a common emphasis on core beliefs it was 1872 before there were  ‘25 articles’ that shared the basics of the Adventist faith. By 1931 this reduced to 22, then in 1980 this was formulated into our 27 Fundamental beliefs. A 28th was added in 2005 with some revisions for clarification in 2015.

Some areas of Adventist belief came together quite quickly. Others, such as an emphasis on health and the vegetarian diet took much longer and, in effect, even today, the principle of a holistic health message is only practised by a percentage of church members.

“Above all,” Bruinsma argued, “we must learn from history.” He stated that “diversity is not only inevitable but necessary and positive in any living organism, and, therefore, also in the body of Christ. As we learn to live together and exchange points of views, we grow in our understanding of each other.”

That thought then continued on Sabbath morning as worshipers reconvened at the Oxford Seventh-day Adventist Church for a further study on various aspects of the topic. Trans-European Division Field Secretary, Dr Daniel Duda, described diversity as part of the restoration process which God initiated after the Fall, throughout the Old Testament and through the ministry of Jesus. He then continued to describe Jesus as a Bridge Builder, clarifying that by empowering others to reach their full potential, God’s job is being completed.

By only concentrating on the dogmatic aspects of Christianity, an important part of what God is doing in our times, in us, through us and around us is being ignored. “When we see the world as us versus them, in and out we are on the side of the devil regardless of theology”, explained Duda.

With the Interactive Workshop held on Sabbath afternoon, conducted by solicitor Chucks Golding and Valerie Brown, everyday issues that could arise at a workplace or school on diversity, the law and the Church were brought up. The speakers assessed how the law influences the Church and how the Church acts towards the legal aspects of society.

Leading then to the topic of sexuality within the church with Bruinsma, he explained the importance of thinking about the concept of homosexuality, which churches and members are struggling with. The speaker stressed that it is crucial for us to look at this issue from a pastoral care perspective. “we have all kinds of people who have issues and we must be understanding,” said Bruinsma. “We must make the church a safe church.”

This then led to a Q&A Panel Discussion, chaired by Pastor Jacques Venter. Attendees had the opportunity to ask questions from all seminars addressed and discussed that weekend. Racial treatment at the workplace, issues with school and the Sabbath, and how society influences children on topics such as homosexuality, were among questions asked and debated. 

DSC00074The diversity weekend finished on a tasteful note. Dr Leonard and Monica Bowora, the Health Ministries team in Oxford, provided a short informal presentation on ‘Culture and Health’. There was an opportunity for some wholesome food sampling, while learning cultural differences when it comes to what is on the plate.

As a celebration of the conference, Tihomir and Kart Lazic, from Newbold College, prepared a concert with their team, with a diverse range in music styles and engagement for the audience. Again, reminding attendees that, according to Sophia Nicholls, “diversity is about enrichment, about building the body of Christ and accepting that we are all different.”


[Victor Hulbert / Natasha Mirilov]

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