General Conference Session will return to the U.S. city of St. Louis in 2025 after city leaders offered the Seventh-day Adventist Church free use of a convention center and heralded a multibillion-dollar upgrade of its downtown district and airport.
World church leaders voted for St. Louis, Missouri, over Indianapolis, Indiana, after hearing presentations from representatives of both cities and a General Conference selection committee during Annual Council.
General Conference Session, which gathers tens of thousands of church leaders and regular members from around the world every five years, is a 10-day business meeting that serves as the highest governing authority of the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
“We will go to St. Louis,” Tom Lemon, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, who chaired the Annual Council discussion, said to applause after the near-unanimous voice vote on Oct. 11.
Annual Council delegates chose St. Louis, where General Conference Session last met in 2005, after the selection committee recommended returning to the city on July 3-12, 2025.
“We saw a big change in St. Louis that really attracted us,” Geoffrey Mbwana, a general vice president of the Adventist world church, said shortly before the vote.
Earlier several church leaders expressed concerns about St. Louis during a 1 hour, 10-minute discussion. One delegate described its downtown area as “dead” in 2005 because of a lack of shopping and eating establishments. Others expressed dismay about difficulties with local labor unions and lengthy delays at the St. Louis airport.
Two St. Louis representatives offered assurances that a recent $5 billion renovation had revived the downtown area. They also said that labor unions were no longer an issue and a new airport terminal had been built to eliminate congestion.
The General Conference selection committee confirmed the improvements.
The Annual Council vote came after the selection committee invited six cities to submit bids in late 2015: Atlanta, Georgia; Indianapolis, Indiana; Minneapolis, Minnesota; San Antonio, Texas; St. Louis, Missouri; and Toronto, Canada. Atlanta was later removed from the list after the selection committee determined that it would not be available. San Antonio was deemed too expensive, and Toronto didn’t respond to the request for a bid.
The six committee members visited the three remaining cities to determine whether the locations met the Session needs. The committee then narrowed down the options to Indianapolis and St. Louis.
The 2020 Session will be held in Indianapolis, and the last Session, in 2015, was held in San Antonio, Texas.
An Indianapolis city representative made a strong appeal to Annual Council attendees. He identified himself as a Presbyterian but said his grandmother was a Seventh-day Adventist. He also spoke of the broad vegetarian options that would be available in Indianapolis restaurants.
“You can be sure our restaurants will stock up on vegetables for your visit,” he said.
Indianapolis offered use of its convention center at no cost — a $1.18 million value — if Session attendees picked up 80 percent of contracted hotel rooms, or the equivalent of 46,358 room nights.
If Indianapolis had been chosen, it would have been the first time that the Adventist Church met in the same city for two consecutive Sessions since San Francisco in 1950 and 1954, according to the church’s Office of Archives, Statistics, and Research.
St. Louis, meanwhile, unveiled a benefits package that included the rent-free use of its convention complex, America’s Center and the 67,000-seat Dome, with no conditions attached. No dollar value was disclosed for the deal.
“The America Center is all under one roof, which makes it very easy to move between the business meetings, the food service, and the exhibits,” said Sheri Clemmer, the Session’s associate manger and a member of the selection committee.
“The layout of the building works very well for our event,” she said. “The city itself the downtown area has really been made more vibrant — a lot more shopping, lots of restaurants, and even a grocery store within the venue.”
Clemmer also emphasized fun activities that St. Louis offers families free of charge, including a zoo, a botanical garden, and a science center.
— ANN staff contributed to this report