As an elder in the Los Angeles, California, congregation, I have been given the opportunity to share my reasons and motivation for attending the GCE meetings each year. The conference represents a number of priorities to me personally and to the members I represent. Here are some of the reasons I attend.
An International Perspective
Because we are engaged in a worldwide effort of promoting the gospel, the priority to connect with others from around the world is critical. In Los Angeles, we worship together with brethren from Ghana, England, Mexico, Canada and (by my last count) 12 other countries. And, while we enjoy all the benefits of that blending of cultures (we have amazing potlucks!), I still feel the great need to hear from elders who actually live and serve in those areas, day by day. They bring a perspective and urgency that fascinates and inspires me. I am reminded for whom to pray and about what.
England, the Philippines, Mexico, Ghana and Germany are not places; they are the homes of brethren. As the elders speak of their areas, they are filled with the passion of the Church's efforts in their area. It becomes dramatically obvious that they love what they are doing and the people they serve. Hearing from the international areas is a prime objective and one of the highlights of the conference, and as I listen, I wish it could go on forever.
Many of us have served in many areas and now have our "home" congregation, yet we long to hear about the places, remember the brethren and become reacquainted with other elders with whom we have served. They are more than old coworkers or even friends—they are family. E-mail and even letters are a poor second to a hug, a chat and a cup of coffee together. It's great to see 300 men (and spouses) hug and cry. If we weren't called to order, we would continue fellowshipping for three days.
I attend because it gives me a larger picture. I want to hear from, be motivated by and speak to Roy Holladay and Clyde Kilough. I want to hear Peter Eddington speak about his programs, John LaBissoniere about the Good News distribution, Tom Kirkpatrick about the finances...
These men see the landscape and I see only my backyard. And as much as I love my area, I want to join with David Register, our pastor, and the other elders in communicating a common message back to the brethren. We very much sense our responsibilities as representatives, on behalf of our constituency, being sent and returning to inform and encourage. It reminds me that we are not individual churches; we are one Church with one goal.
The annual GCE meetings center around a mandated business meeting for the elders. And, yes, this entails paperwork. I must be honest that although this is my least favorite aspect, it is a necessity. We must insure that the beliefs, the operations and the day-to-day functions of the Church are maintained and given proper collective oversight as is our constitutional responsibility.
Representing the Congregation
I am pleased that I have the privilege of representing, along with our pastor and other elders, the Los Angeles congregation. As an elder and as a team, we are there to serve and represent our brethren as all the elders do for their particular congregations. We are one of many, yet my name tag says Los Angeles, so I wear it knowing that with the wearing comes a responsibility and accountability to those back home.
Another aspect of the conference is brainstorming and attendance at the various workshops. Youth programs, assistance for elderly brethren, a meeting on theological issues... The workshops can be a frustrating time in that there are always two or three superb sessions being conducted, simultaneously. Our planners do a remarkable job in scheduling, but there is just too much good information. I want to hear it all.
For an elder who works another job, attending is very special. We must plan our finances carefully. There is a substantial amount of preparation even before we go to the conference as we review amendments, operational budgets (many nonsalaried elders have financial backgrounds and/or have managed corporations out in the business world). Our individual and collective expertise is expected, welcomed and vital to the well-being of our Church.
What do I come away with? A sense of belonging, camaraderie and accomplishment. Because God has seen fit to bless us in terms of our brethren, the peace we currently enjoy, wonderful publications and positive finances, I am grateful.
I hope to come away with the same experience as in past years. I pray I come away with sincere gratefulness that we are doing the right things, for the right reason. It is an honor to attend the conference. UN