By Katie Morrison

As a lifelong introvert, the thought of joining sixty thousand Adventists in an unknown city for ten days was daunting. Add the fact that I would be working with seasoned media professionals from all over the country, potentially the world, and my head was spinning.

I was thrilled at the opportunities I had been promised. You’ll get a press pass! You’ll make so many connections! You’ll see our church leadership in action and get an inside view of our processes! How cool for me to be able to tell future employers that at the age of 21 as a summer intern, I had been privy to daily General Conference press briefings for the North American Division and had churned out as many as three news stories in a day.

Those first few hours in the Alamodome, I focused on the surrealism of my situation. I’m in a press box! I’m meeting the NAD president! There is someone in a blue blazer pushing buttons in the elevator for me! The actual working and writing came later.

And the work was intense. Press briefings gave us assignments for the day and allowed me to connect with international communication professionals. I was given story after story, interviewed 5K participants and Bible character re-enactors, and snuck in time to buy new shoes. No one warned me about all the walking!

Sitting in the press box during the business sessions was frustrating in a few ways. I didn’t realize it would be so noisy and chaotic. People were constantly chatting, asking for spelling on a delegate’s name or for a photo. The sound system came through jumbled in the press box and with all the other voices, you really needed laser focus to hear the session—at least I did. Apparently those talking were also in- credible multi-taskers because they heard every single word.

Maybe I had trouble hearing because I didn’t under- stand. I didn’t know I was from “NAD” until I got my name tag (“Katie Morrison, NAD”). There was a man sitting across from me in the press box with the label “EUD.” I figured out the three letter codes were divisions, but what’s included within those divisions? It’s so confusing! Is there a code cheat sheet someone could print for me?

The conversation on the floor itself was a whole new beast. I had never been to a church board meeting or a school board meeting or anything close. I wasn’t aware of the constant backtracking and the amount of time it can take for a simple agenda motion. I was aware of the difficulty inherent in attempting to have multiple people agree. I do have siblings after all. The delegates were like a 2,500 sibling family.

As I watched dozens of delegates line up, I thought of my own family. When we’re all gathered together, we constantly fight for attention and the chance to speak. I saw that happening on the floor. There were people that just wanted to say their piece, whether it actually helped or not.

To me, General Conference just seemed like a big camp meeting on steroids except with more decisions being made. Instead of just speakers and messages, it’s a board meeting on steroids mixed with a camp meeting on steroids.

It almost felt like there was a distinction between times about worship and times about the people, a mental switch between God and decision making. Obviously God was there in everything but the atmosphere changed and seemed very clinical and mechanical. During one meeting, a dele- gate made a comment and the chairwoman said, “Let’s let the Holy Spirit take care of that matter.” I was caught off guard, thinking, “Oh right! I forgot about the Holy Spirit!” People who work in the church and on school boards might be used to that language. But to me, it felt very robotic.

Even though it was “against the rules,” I loved the moments when the delegates applauded a powerful point. In my mind, it helped heal some of the division created by the comments and debates. We don’t always disagree, the applause told me. We are one church and we will work it out.

I believed being as a media representative would be the most important aspect of my week in San Antonio. I thought the work I did and the pieces I wrote would make the trip memorable. I realized instead that it was the people I encountered who made the week amazingly special.

I had the opportunity to interview Hau Yajie, the ordained female pastor of the largest Adventist church in the world. Through a translator, I glimpsed a fraction of her enthusiasm and passion. She had the most incredible story, having started a church in China by initially gathering fewer than 10 people in her living room. Her faith and confidence in God’s calling was inspiring, and I still remember her saying, “No matter what position I have, ordained or not, I just want to do the ministry.”

On my walk to the dome one day, a man noticed my badge. “Are you a delegate?” he asked. I was asked this more frequently than you’d think, despite my face resembling that of an eighth grader.

“No, I’m with the media from the NAD,” I replied.

He, along with his wife and son, asked me questions about my home and my job with an accent I couldn’t place. I told them about my recent relocation to Colorado and my internship before turning the question around to them. “Where are you from?”

“Canada,” he answered, “but I’m originally a Frenchman from Belgium.” Instantly I was captivated at this physical embodiment of culture before me. I listened as he described his journey from Europe, his impending 50-year wedding anniversary, and his apology after briefly speaking to his wife in French. “We made it a point to speak French in the home,” he explained in his charming accent. “We wanted our son to be bilingual.”

We parted ways and I kicked myself as I lost the three figures in the crowd. I hadn’t gotten their names; and that was only the first in a string of mysterious encounters with strangers I would never forget.

Katie Morrison was RMC summer communication intern.