Behind the Curtain
Optimizing platform participants is more challenging than some might think.

BY SANDRA BLACKMER, Adventist Review features editor

nless something goes terribly wrong, most delegates and other session attendees give little thought to the smooth entrance and exit of platform participants on stage. But this orderliness doesn’t happen by accident.

Platform planning for the quinquennial event actually begins soon after one GC session ends, picking up pace about two and a half years before the next one begins, says Halvard B. Thomsen, assistant to the North American Division president and coordinator of platform management for this session. “I had no idea how many details are involved when I was just sitting out in the audience,” he says.

PLATFORM MANAGEMENT COORDINATOR: Halvard B. Thomsen, assistant to the NAD president, says he didn't realize how many details are involved in platform planning before he was asked to head this task. PHOTO: Alden J. Ho/AR
Session organizers asked Thomsen to take on this task last January after the coordinator for the previous three international events, James A. Cress, died on November 26, 2009, following complications from a rare pathogen he contracted while traveling. Cress, 60, had served as ministerial secretary for the General Conference since 1992.

When Thomsen took over, he found that Cress had already taken care of much of the planning. “The meetings had all been lined up to the minute,” Thomsen says. “I added elements here and there, but most of it had already been done for all 49 meetings of the session.”

During the session itself, Thomsen—together with four platform managers, four secretarial assistants, two security officers, and three pages (messengers)—focuses on details that some may describe as mundane: “We make sure the platform is set up properly, that everything runs smoothly, that anybody who is to play any part in the program is there when expected, and that every meeting starts and stops on time,” Thomsen explains. “If a scheduled participant 
doesn’t show up when they should, we go out on the delegate floor and draft someone to replace them.”

“Most people are really good, though,” adds Ministerial Association administrative secretary Gloria Massenburg. “They’re excited; they want to be a part of it. About 90 percent of them show up on time.” 

What does Thomsen say is his biggest challenge? “Pulling together all the last-minute details,” he notes, “like finding out just a short time before a musical program was to begin that we needed 80 chairs on stage for an orchestra. So finding the furniture needed, knowing who’s responsible to get them to the platform—that type of thing.”

Ministerial associate Sharon Cress formerly assisted her husband, James, with planning previous sessions. Today, she continues to help make sure things run smoothly.

“It’s the ‘talkers’ we have to worry about,” she says with a smile. “If one person goes overtime, it affects the whole program. There’s no risk with the music; it’s planned and approved in advance. But it’s really stressful when someone starts rambling. If they go on too long, we have a person out front signaling them to quit.”

Ready for Anything
Being prepared for every eventuality is the group’s mantra. Along with juice and snacks for participants who might be feeling hungry or lightheaded, they also 
boast toothbrushes, spot removers, and sewing kits.

“When someone is filmed on the platform, that image is forever. The last thing they want is to have their slip showing or a crooked tie,” Sharon says. “We don’t want this moment of remembrance spoiled because they spilled water on their shirt or have a piece of food stuck in their teeth. We just try to take care of all those details that many people don’t think of.”

She then adds, “God has been very good to us. When you think of the things that could happen—that we’re all scared will happen—I really believe the Lord sends a few extra angels to guard us.”

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