Wilson hosts presidential open house

News September 28, 2010

Ted N.C. Wilson wants employees at Seventh-day Adventist world church headquarters to feel at home in his office.

The world church president entertained more than 300 of the building’s roughly 800 employees yesterday during an open house, the first such event hosted by the presidential department. “This is your office as well as mine,” he told them.

The department, which recently saw an influx of new employees elected at GC Session this summer, now hopes to reinvent itself. Deserved or not, the department has a “hallowed ground” reputation, some taking the tour said. One employee joked that he was prepared to take off his shoes before entering.

While respect for the office and responsibility of world church president is a good thing, staff who work there said employees should feel welcome to sit down and share their ideas and concerns with top church leadership.

Pardon Mwansa, a general vice president for the world church since 2005, said he can understand why some building employees might get the impression that the department is distant or preoccupied. Often, vice presidents travel for weeks. When they’re in the building, they’re often in all-day committee meetings.

When asked whether some employees might feel intimidated by the department, Mwansa laughs, incredulous over the prospect. “Well, if you’re invited to the president’s office and you haven’t been told why, then I guess you might be,” he said, “but we hope this open house is the toning down of presidential.”

Many of the nine vice presidents welcomed the opportunity to visit with employees without an agenda. Vice President Ella Simmons said the open house was a refreshing change. “It’s nice to have people stop by just to say ‘hello,'” she said. “Usually it’s just for a meeting, or if someone has a problem for me to solve, or they need an answer to a question.”

Joy Alexander, who works in retirement for the church in North America, was excited to finally meet Simmons. The church’s only woman vice president delivered the commencement address at Alexander’s recent graduation from Washington Adventist University. “I’ve seen her in the café, but never got to officially meet her,” Alexander said.

Giving employees a chance to sit down with leadership is exactly what presidential staff hoped the open house would accomplish. When the idea came from an employee of the Ministerial Association at world church headquarters, the department immediately embraced it, said Orville Parchment, assistant to the president.

“Earlier this year, [Wilson] sent out a request asking people for ideas and suggestions, and this open house was one of them. We’re listening to what people are requesting,” Parchment said. “We want everyone to know that if they want to meet with the president, they can.”

The open house began as each employee received a “passport” — filled with a short profile of each presidential staff member — to guide the departmental tour. Many employees were eager to fill their booklets with autographs.

“I got all the signatures,” said Carol Barron, who beamed as she flipped through the booklet with friends before returning to her office in Adult Ministries for North America.

Several employees admitted they stopped by for the refreshments, but ended up staying to chat. “I just came to get something to drink, really, but everyone keeps talking to me,” said Kyle Baker, a security officer at world church headquarters. Turning serious, he said the open house gave employees a chance to get more than a passing “good morning” or “have a good weekend” from their president. “After this, you realize he’s actually down to earth and personable,” Baker said.

For many employees, the open house marked the first time they’d visited the department. “I hope we do this again,” said Ellen Missah, administrative assistant to vice presidents Lowell Cooper and Mwansa. “One employee told me he’d worked [at world church headquarters] for 50 years, but never got to see inside the president’s office. He was excited.”

That an employee could work for decades at church headquarters without visiting the department isn’t surprising, Wilson said. “We work in a huge building with hundreds of employees and everybody’s got their own beaten path,” he said.

“I think we’ll do more events like this,” said Wilson, who during a lull in the three-hour event briefly left his office to survey refreshments in the executive boardroom and test his knowledge with a quiz about the vice presidents. Thinking aloud, Wilson toyed with the idea of hosting a department employee swap during the upcoming Week of Prayer at headquarters.

“We’re all here that week; maybe we can use the opportunity get to know each other better,” he said.