About 130 new Adventists attended this year’s Welcome to the Family Retreat, a weekend designed specifically for those who have joined the church during the previous year. The event was held at Cohutta Springs Conference Center on Jan. 17-19.
Presenters throughout the retreat included Gordon Bietz, president of Southern Adventist University, who led the Sabbath School lesson study, and Greg Harper, conference ministerial director for the southern region, who spoke for the worship service Sabbath morning. The retreat also featured a ministry expo where conference directors met with new members to share ways for them to get involved in their local churches.
While most attendees were new to the Adventist faith, some were returning members, having previously left the church. Newlyweds Kenneth and Sharon Buckingham from Calhoun, Ga., are an example. Sharon is new to Adventism while Kenneth grew up in the Adventist faith.
“We met on the internet and started dating,” Sharon said. “I was in the Baptist church at the time. When we first got married we were going to church both Saturday and Sunday.”
While praying about it, Sharon started searching online and felt convicted that to grow their ministry as a couple and to continue to grow as a Christian, she needed to join the Adventist church. Kenneth was raised an Adventist but had gone through difficult times, including a divorce. He believes God led him to Sharon.
Another attendee was Charlotte Wilson-Thompson from the Conyers (Ga.) Church. Her journey started when she married an Adventist. But things did not work out, and the couple divorced. Still, her ex-husband would take their four-year-old twins to Sabbath School on his weekends with them.
“I just felt like I was missing out,” she said. “I wanted to make sure the children were getting the same teachings at my home as they were getting at his. I didn’t want to confuse them.”
A fellow member from the Conyers Church, Rickie Holmes grew up with an Adventist grandmother. As an adult, he joined the military and attended the Baptist church. The Baptists sent him to seminary, and he became an army chaplain. He also spent time serving as a pastor for the United Methodist Church and as a bishop for a nondenominational church.
“All the time, I was trying to observe the Adventist church rules and laws. Finally, my brother and sister stayed on me, and I came under conviction. I decided I would go back to the Seventh-day Adventist church to punch that ticket and thought, Now that I have done that, maybe the conviction will leave.”
But the conviction only grew, and Holmes said he felt like he had finally come home sitting in the pew of his Adventist church. He is now taking courses at Southern Adventist University with the intention of becoming an Adventist pastor.
by Tamara Wolcott Fisher, communication director
photos by Tamara Wolcott Fisher