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03 September 2018 | Belgrade, Serbia [John Surridge]

What made the 2018 European Pastors' Council in Belgrade, Serbia, such a special event?  John Surridge, British Union Conference Executive Secretary, took to the corridors of the Sava Centar to find out.

"This is the fourth EPC that I've been to, and it has definitely been the best," said Rosemary Lethbridge, a pastor from England. A random selection of vox pops, compiled before the closing ceremony, confirmed that this particular EPC has made an extraordinary impression on the ministers and their families who attended, as well as on the other workers, volunteers and guests.

EPC18 Raafat changeRaafat Kamal, TED President [photo credit: Tor Tjeransen/ADAMS]"I've loved the talks and seminars," said Alexandru Gutu. "Many times I've had tears in my eyes from the beautiful things that have been said."

"I've loved meeting fellow workers from different parts of the division," said Jeremy Johnson. "We're all in this together and we have so much in common."

The young volunteers seem to have enjoyed playing their part in a much wider programme. Aleksandra Bozhinova, a volunteer from Macedonia, said, "I've been working on the health expos, and it's great to see people being helped, and being part of a team." Marko Markovic, a volunteer from Serbia said, "I've really enjoyed just helping people find their way around."

For some of the older ministers, fellowship was key. "I've enjoyed reconnecting with old friends and colleagues," said Henrick Jorgensen from the Danish Union. Geza Hegyes-Horvath from Hungary spoke warmly of the joy he had in meeting people after not seeing them for 20 years, "hugging them and renewing friendships." Geza also mentioned "the very high spiritual atmosphere," which was a recurring theme.

Given the high standards that had been set during the week, and the top-quality Sabbath programme that had been enjoyed by over 3,000 people, it was hard to imagine how the closing ceremony could be any better. Could the songs be any more upbeat? The speaker any more charismatic? The prayers any more fervent? The video clips any more entertaining?

In the event the music was good, and the Serbian youth choir's version of "O Slavi Boga" was really upbeat, but the most impressive aspect of the closing ceremony was the way that things just "came together".

In his closing devotional, TED President Pastor Raafat Kamal talked about the planning process he and his team had been through for the EPC. "We thought about the themes: Connect, Inspire and Change, but it is the centrality of the cross that ties them together. There is no question that the cross has to be central. Without the cross there can be no connection, inspiration or change."

Regarding connections, Pastor Kamal spoke of the connections which had been made during the EPC, but also of the connections that exists among the 87,000 Seventh-day Adventist members in the 22 countries that make up the Trans-European Division. More of a challenge is making connections with the 206 million neighbours we have in our communities.

Regarding inspiration, Pastor Kamal described how he had visited the women pastors' meeting, intending to give them his encouragement and support. To his surprise, he was the one who came away inspired and humbled, marvelling at their humility in the face of adversity, and their Christlike qualities.

Regarding change, Pastor Kamal noted how one of the polystyrene letters making up the word "change" in the artistic platform backdrop, had kept dropping off. Maybe it was the glue, but it was certainly a good illustration: change happens, and sometimes it happens in unexpected ways.

EPC18 Raafat and BakerPastors Kamal and Baker [photo credit: Tor Tjeransen/ADAMS]Mike Baker is a case in point. In an interview with Pastor Kamal, who had been at Newbold with him many years before, he told his story. Mike left ministry 23 years ago to adopt a lower profile in God's work. He had done this through teaching at an Adventist school and serving in various capacities in his local church. At the back of his mind he had kept open the possibility of returning to ministerial service, just waiting for a positive call, but as time went on he didn't really expect a major change. However, a call had come very recently, and his life had changed dramatically. To a round of applause Mike confessed that this day, 1 September 2018, was his first official day of employment in the ministry after a gap of over two decades.

Speaking with TED Ministerial Association director, Pastor Patrick Johnson, who had been heavily involved in the organisation of the EPC, Pastor Kamal gave thanks to an extensive list of people and groups: the leadership and volunteers of the South-East European Union for hosting the event and making everyone feel welcome; the plenary speakers who were such a blessing; the workshop presenters; the music and worship teams; the production, technical and media teams; the promotional team; the exhibitors and sponsors; the logistics team; and the TED administrative team. But his main thanks was to the pastors, the "frontline strikers" as he called them. Without their dedication, commitment and personal sacrifice, nothing would be achieved.

Such men and women help to make up God's "special people, zealous for good works," as it says in Titus 2:14, the key text for the evening. The motivation for this, though, should not be a "culture of more". As a denomination we can be tempted to focus on numbers and statistics, where bigger is better, but our incentive should be what Paul refers to in the previous verses, the "grace of God that brings salvation," and the "blessed hope" of Christ's return.

"We are at a critical moment of our history," said Pastor Kamal. "Local Adventist communities are in danger of becoming irrelevant. How can a Christ-like discipleship become active witness? How can we respond to the millennial generation? Should our local Adventist communities continue in their present mode – audience centred, and programme driven?"

These challenging questions will not be answered by human movers and shakers, with better organisation and higher performance. Solutions will only be found by heeding Christ's words in the Great Commission: "I will be with you."

EPC18 Mass choirEPC mass choir [photo credit: Tor Tjeransen/ADAMS]And it's here that it all came together. A massed choir of some 100 people, a full orchestra, and a chorale group took to the stage and sang the message: "Holy, Holy, Holy", "In Christ Alone", "Holy Spirit Living Breath of God", "Holy Spirit Rain Down", and in conclusion, "It is well with my Soul".

It was good. Very good. And with some 2,000 people singing together with the choir it was impossible not to be moved.

But it wasn't really about the performance, it was moving worship.

It was fascinating to watch husband and wife team Tihomir and Kart Lazic leading that worship. Tihomir had his back to the congregation and was leading the choir and orchestra. Kart was on the stage about six metres from Tihomir, facing him and leading the congregation. The connection between them was unmistakable. It was inspiring. And it changed the whole atmosphere in the auditorium.

As Joann Kristensen wrote on returning home to Denmark, "I just want to say a 1,000 times thank you for an amazing time at EPC! I was so blessed by the whole programme, so well put together, with timely messages that anchored my heart in the love of Jesus, that lifted my spirit via the music and singing and gave me hope to continue on the road forward!"

Her words fully represent the pastors, spouses, other workers and volunteers, who have now left EPC to travel home, armed with new connections and renewed inspiration. With Christ confirmed at the centre, and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, change is inevitable. [tedNEWS]


tedNEWS Staff: Victor Hulbert, editor; Sajitha Forde-Ralph, associate editor
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tedNEWS is an information bulletin issued by the communication department of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the Trans-European Division. Readers are free to republish or share this article with appropriate credit including an active hyperlink to the original article.




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