Fueled by the organizational mission “to transform communities surrounding local churches by ensuring freedom of justice and conscience,” the Conscience and Justice Council hosted their 8th annual convention September 28 to October 1, 2023. “When the Church Comes to Town: Promoting Liberty, Pursuing Justice” marked the theme.
Held on the campus of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists, the conference was a gathering of social justice visionaries and thought leaders. The weekend included a synergy of activities for whom Pastor Gary Wimbish, Vice President of Administration for the Allegheny East Conference, called “disciples of democracy.”
Encouraging the work of the “disciples” was a soul stirring sermon on Friday evening by Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie, President and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches. Bishop McKenzie called the attendees into her message with a thoughtful question: “Do You Understand Your Assignment?” Anchored in Luke 11, verses 9 and 10, Bishop McKenzie called on the audience to do as the Lord requires to “seek justice and defend the oppressed.” “God’s Word is your assignment,” said McKenzie. You must “knock on the lock doors” of those who have the “means and resources.” Helping those in need is an “opportunity.” McKenzie admonished the audience to persist. “The door of denial” can become a “door of breakthrough.”
Sponsored by the Office for Regional Conference Ministry, the speaker for the Sabbath service was Dr. Paula Olivier, Youth and Young Adult Ministries for the Northeastern Conference. Encouraging the audience to testify of the “awesomeness of God,” Pastor Olivier encouraged an active Christian life. “Your authentic worship . . . is measured by what happens when you leave worship.” “Are you self-centered or Christ-centered?” she asked. “There is no such thing as a Jesus without Justice.” It is important for church folk to be Christ-centered activist.
One of the highlights of this powerful weekend was the “Best Practices Tour”, where attendees were able to visit Safe Streets Sandtown. This is one of Baltimore’s flagship gun violence reduction programs. We were able to hear the testimonies of the staff of literally preventing violent crimes from taking place. Our church communities would do well to partner and support ministries like this that are always needed in our urban communities.
Attended by a diversity of people, organizations, and institutions committed to serving as “disciples of democracy,” the conference attendees explored conscience and justice issues in theory and practice through a broad selection of plenary sessions, presentations, and panels, including “Where Does the Church Stand on Systemic Racism and Application of The Three Angels Message?” presented by Pastor Alex Bryant, president of the North American Division and Carolyn Forrest, Human Resources director of the North American Divsion. An highly engaging symposium was sponsored by Adventist Healthcare. Name in honor of Lucille Byard, the session was entitled “Living Out Our Mission: Whole- person Care and Partnership with The Community.”
In addition to the thoughtful discussions, the attendees were ministered to in song by groups and vocalists.
Attendees were blessed to leave the annual conference with ideas and information ready to be used in their local communities. Edward Woods III, CJC chairperson, said, “We praise God for the talented speakers and presenters for providing the tools, resources, and best practices for attendees to implement in their local community surrounding their church.”