At 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 8, 2022, the North American Division’s Do It Together Sabbath School Virtual Conference kicked off. Sponsored by the NAD Adult, Children's, and Youth Ministries departments, the three-day conference was committed to exploring ways to make Sabbath School a unified and productive experience, and allowing teachers and active facilitators to brainstorm ways to improve their local church communities.
Though completely virtual, the event was a mixture of livestream, Zoom breakout discussions, and Zoom workshops. A total of 30 workshops were available for Adult Sabbath School, Youth Sabbath School, and Children’s Sabbath School over the 3 days, providing variety for the 2,100 attendees. Each of the Zoom workshops was offered in English and Spanish, as well as the option of French for the Adult and Children’s Sabbath School workshops.
The virtual nature of the conference did nothing to lessen the experience, with the administrators sending swag bags for those who registered early for the event. The bags were chock full of valuable resources, such as a Sabbath School Toolbox catalog, tips on how to foster fellowship, out-of-the-box ways to engage young people, step-by-step ways for facilitators to make Sabbath School as spirit filled as possible and, best of all, a t-shirt commemorating the event. Each day of the conference followed a theme: Thursday was “Journey of Hope”, Friday was “Journey of Grace,” and Saturday was “Journey of Community.”
Each day began with a general session led by NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries director Tracy Wood, NAD Children’s Ministries director Sherri Uhrig, NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries associate director Armando Miranda Jr., NAD Adult Ministries representative Anika Anderson, and Gerry Lopez, NAD Children’s Ministries associate director. These orientations set the intentions of the sessions for the day, providing an overview and prayer for the discussions.
Uhrig and Lopez kicked off Thursday’s general session with author and keynote speaker Frank Warren. Warren has made a name for himself through his Postsecret project. As an advocate for transparency as a form of health, Warren invited individuals to send their secrets on a postcard as a means to relieve the burden of secrecy. He, Uhrig, and Lopez discussed how vulnerability can enrich the Sabbath School experience. Being there to witness and be present for another person is a necessary part of constructing a strong church community. Warren encouraged Sabbath School facilitators to allow themselves to be vulnerable, fostering deeper intimacy. In this way, as Warren stated, we as believers can decide: “Are secrets going to be a wall or a bridge?”
Continuing the conversation of sharing secrets was Vandeon Griffin, NAD Youth and Young Adult Ministries associate director, who led the first Zoom breakout discussion from 9 to 9:30 p.m. More than 200 participants took time to come into the sphere, the chat overflowing with questions, comments, insights, and deeper observations about the nature of Sabbath School and the treasures they wished to mine from the experience. Griffin quipped that Sabbath School should be made up of the four “F’s”: food, fellowship, fun, and faith. Compared to the less interactive structure of traditional church service, Sabbath School is unique due to its atmosphere of person-to-person connection, acknowledging the legacy that a dedicated teacher can have on the spiritual health of individuals no matter their age.
“Tonight's meeting affirms that we are all human beings and our Sabbath School is an avenue to listen to each other's needs, including our leaders who, ‘we think are strong but are struggling too,’” attendant Jocelyn Sonsona shared in the chat.
Friday’s sessions radiated the day's theme of grace with John Nixon I, from the South Central Conference, who fearlessly explored sexuality and the LGBTQ+ discussion and its applications in Sabbath School. This topic is often ostracized within church culture, however, Nixon explains it is within the church we must confront this topic, not with judgment, but with nuance, faith, love, and most of all, grace. He stated, “The church is the divine institution where we are called to live up to the holistic nature of love.” Nixon pointed out that when we ignore or enter the conversation with aggression, we are redirecting many to secular outlets of understanding.
The rest of the day allowed for breakout sessions that discussed the best practices for grace to be extended towards this topic according to Adult, Youth, and Children’s Sabbath School lessons. Friday concluded with a special recorded service by Nina Atcheson from Australia, in which she highlighted the importance of grace and how to extend it to others and ourselves as an example of God and His character.
Sabbath marked the final day of the conference, ending on a high note with four back-to-back workshops. Under the theme of community, presenters such as Costin Jordache, Robin Galgon, Isabelle Meluse Bagassien, Jeremy Wong, and others discussed topics such as “Technology and Sabbath School,” “Children and Mission,” “Stewardship,” and the Youth Sabbath School teams completing their I.G.N.I.T.E series. Each workshop provided the space for feedback to lead and enrich the content of the sessions. Within the workshops, conference goers were given a platform for recognition and guidance, sharing helpful tips that have benefited their teaching, unique means to foster connection, and ways to stay active outside of the Sabbath hours. Moving forward there was a call to action in revising Sabbath School amid the pandemic, allowing the space for response and reflection for questions, and for young people to feel safe enough to participate.
Toussaint Williams, Oakwood Adventist Church associate pastor, and Dr. Sonia Perez, Forest Lake Adventist Church middle-school pastor, concluded the programming with challenges to take from the conference. Williams dove into the scriptures, providing evidence of the importance of being grounded in God’s wisdom and deliverance. Perez reminded attendees that Sabbath School is a vital time of worship that exalts hope, grace, and community. Conferences such as this reconnect teachers to the importance of this time and how best to share the gospel.
All videos will be available for a limited time for viewing by registered attendees on the conference website over the next few weeks.
— Nicole Dominquez writes from Chicago, Illinois.