C.L. Power, IAD President 1962-1970

From Changing Lives in Inter-America, 1922-1997, 75 Years of Miracles (Miami, FL: IAD Publishing Association, 1997).

Powers, Clarence L. (1909–2003)

By Glenn O. Phillips

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Glenn O. Phillips, Ph.D. (Howard University, Washington, D.C.), although retired, is actively writing, researching, lecturing, and publishing. He was a professor at Morgan State University, Howard University, and the University of the Southern Caribbean. He has authored and published numerous articles, book reviews, and books, including “The African Diaspora Experience,” “Singing in a Strange Land: The History of the Hanson Place Church,” “African American Leaders of Maryland,” and “The Caribbean Basin Initiative.”

First Published: September 15, 2021

Clarence L. Powers was the sixth and last American-born president of the Inter-American Division of Seventh-day Adventists and he held that position between 1962 and 1970. Powers was also the religious liberty secretary for the division,1 one of the most challenging positions in the division at the time. His next assignment was as president of the Euro-African Division from 1970 to 1975,2 and he served as a vice-president of the General Conference for 13 years.

However, he spent the most of his years of service in the Inter-American Division, beginning in summer of 1939 with his initial tenure in the Republic of Colombia, South America. During his 35 years of dedicated Adventist leadership, he held numerous administrative positions from business manager of a high school in Colombia, to union secretary-treasurer in Cuba, and union president in Haiti. During his presidential tenure in the Inter-American Division, the region experienced one of its most politically stressful periods that forced him, on behalf of the division, to deal with hostile governments, especially in Cuba. This included the Cuban Missile Crisis that almost brought the world into another World War. He was highly respected for his measured actions and well known for his warm smile and constant positive outlook regarding how church-state tensions would be settled. His wife of 60 years, Sylvia, was an outstanding asset to his long service and leadership as she worked closely with her husband. Among her many duties over the decades was being editor of the Inter-American Division Messenger.

Elder Clarence L. Powers was born on September 27, 1909, in Albion, Michigan, to Clarence G. and Addie Mae Lines Powers. He attended Adventist schools and, after his baptism, planned to work for his Church. He married Sylvia in 1938 and to this union came one son, Bruce. His earliest work for the Church was as a teacher at Union Springs Academy in New York state and later he briefly joined the staff of Atlantic Union College in South Lancaster, Massachusetts.3

In the spring of 1939, the General Conference Committee selected him and his new wife to contribute their youthful energies to the growth of Adventism in the South American country of Colombia. His first church administrative position in the Inter-American Division was as the secretary-treasurer of the Atlantic-Colombia Mission with headquarters in the city of Barranquilla, Colombia.4 Adventism was in its infancy in this large South American Republic and he served in many positions, including as the manager of the Book and Bible House, and later and briefly as mission president and school director.5 Later he served on the executive committee of the Columbia-Venezuela Union Mission as one of the few ordained ministers during the 1940’s. the Powers family contributed significantly to church growth by conducting evangelistic meetings in the city of Medellin and other regions of Colombia.6

In the summer of 1953, he was appointed as the secretary-treasurer of the Antillean Union Mission with headquarters in Havana, Cuba.7 This union had the responsibility of overseeing the church’s work in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Puerto Rico. He worked closely with Elder Clyde O. Franz who was the union president.

Elder Powers’ next challenge was as president of the newly formed Franco-Haitian Union Mission with headquarters in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, which included the eastern French-speaking Caribbean countries of Martinique and Guadeloupe, as well as French Guiana, in the northern tip of the South American continent. He was the second union president of this recently organized region from 1960 to 1962.8 Elder Powers’ brief presidency of this union was appreciated, as he was able to coordinate various successful evangelistic efforts in this short time.

At the 49th General Conference Session held in San Francisco, California, during late July and early August of 1962,9 Elder Powers was elected the sixth president of the Inter-American Division, to succeed Elder Arthur H. Roth who was appointed to serve as executive secretary to General Conference president, Elder R. R. Fighur. While Powers was president of the division, David H. Baasch was division secretary and Clyde O. Franz was treasurer, all having extensive decades of experience in the division.10 These were extraordinary times, especially politically, for a number of countries. The social, cultural, political, and economic uncertainty was not new, but it had intensified since the mid-1950s and was reflected within the church as the number of missionaries serving and leaders leading had declined, and there were calls for more local leadership. The greatest challenge that Elder Powers dealt with were the political tensions that existed between the American government and the communist government led by Fidel Castro in Cuba. During his term all official church ties had to be severed. Nevertheless, Elder Powers kept up communication with the Adventists in Cuba. During the early days of the Cuban Revolution, Mrs. Powers published an article in the Inter-American Division Messenger in January of 1960 on the continued church growth in the island. At the 1966 General Conference meetings, Elder Powers told those assembled that there were 1,101 new converts added to the church in Cuba between 1964 and 1965.11 Nevertheless, in February 1967, the Cuban government closed the Cuban Adventist School in Santa Clara. In January 1968 the Inter-American Division received a request from the Antillean Union that they become a detached field to the division.12

While Elder Powers had extensive experience with some earlier Cuban officials who were in power under the previous government, they were now out of office as the communist Cuban government made it increasingly difficult for organized religions with headquarters in the United States to continue to operate. He remained very positive regarding the role of Adventism during his term. Writing to the Inter-American Division family, in September 1964, in the early months of his leadership, he called for more “aggressive evangelism” in every area of church work. He wrote, “Our church is not just another church. It carries the tremendous responsibility of preaching the gospel so fully that all will be ready for the Lord’s return. It is the great objective of the Adventist church to prepare the world for Christ’s Second Coming.”13

In spite of the many escalating challenges around the region, Elder Powers and the Inter-American Division leadership made significant strides by June 1970. During the four-year period there were 93,712 newly baptized members, resulting in a total of 261,615 members worshipping in 1,761 churches. There were 92 ministers in the division who had each baptized more than 100 people in a given year. There were 493 full-time colporteurs; eight colleges; 53 secondary schools; and 354 elementary schools operating and taught by 1,332 teachers. Additionally, there were 253 radio stations broadcasting Adventist programs and 31 radio Bible schools across the division.14

At the 50th General Conference Session in the summer of 1970, Elder Powers was invited to take his leadership experience to another very different but equally challenging Euro-African Division, with headquarters in Berne, Switzerland. While this division had been organized in 1928, it was renamed in 1971 and brought under its management a very widely scattered population from the North West German Union in the north to the Equatorial African Union in southern Africa that included Angola in southwestern Africa to Mozambique in southeastern Africa. The majority of the population in most of these countries spoke French, Portuguese, or German, but dozens of other languages were also spoken. The 1973/1974 SDA Yearbook showed that there were 2,614 churches and 191,371 baptized Adventists in this division.15

After his five-year presidency of the Euro-African Division Powers retired, having served for more than 35 years as a church administrator in three different world divisions. He and his wife lived in an Adventist retirement community in Henderson, North Carolina, remaining active in church work for many years, preaching and assisting in church growth. One newspaper declared at his passing that he was a prime mover in the planning and construction of Park Ridge Hospital’s walking trail and tennis courts.16

Elder Powers passed after some illness during his 93rd year on February 23, 2003, at the Park Ridge Living Center near Hendersonville, North Carolina. He was survived by his wife, Sylvia, and son, Bruce, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. His funeral was conducted days later at the Fletcher SDA Church, in Henderson, North Carolina.17

Sources

Benoit, Emmanuel Clement. L’Egliste Adventiste d’Haiti a la Croise des Chemins 100 ans d’Histoire 1905-2005. Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Media-Texte, 2005.

“Clarence L. Powers.” Hendersonville Times-News, online posted March 6, 2003.

Greenleaf, Floyd. The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, vol. 2. Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1992.

“Inter-American Division of SDA Correspondence.” Box 605B-6128, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, MD.

Powers, C. L. “Franco-Haitian Union,” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 39, no. 1, 1962.

“Powers, C. L.” ARH, January 13, 2005.

Powers, C. L. “Speeding the Message.” West Indies Union Visitor, vol. 22, no. 5, September-October 1964.

Powers, C. L. “Your President Writes.” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 48, no. 6, June 1970.

Powers, C. L. Mrs. “Evangelism in Havana.” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 37, no. 1. January 1960.

Reile, L. L. “New Secretary-Treasurer in Antillean Union.” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 30, no. 8, August 1953.

Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia. Second revised edition. Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996.

Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook. Various years. https://www.adventistyearbook.org/.

“The 49th General Conference Session.” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 39. no. 9, September 1962.

Notes

  1. “Clarence L. Powers,” ARH, January 13, 2005; Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1970), 159.

  2. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1975), 127.

  3. Ibid., “Clarence L. Powers,” Hendersonville Times-News, online posted March 6, 2003.

  4. “Clarence L. Powers, Atlantic Union Conference-Colombia Mission,” in Minutes of Spring GC Committee Meeting, March 8, 1939, GCC1939-03, sm.pdf Adventist Archives, Retrieved: October 22, 2019.

  5. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1941), 153.

  6. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1947), 127.

  7. L. L. Reile, “New Secretary-Treasurer in Antillean Union,” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 30, no. 8, August 1953, 4; Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1954), 126.

  8. C. L. Powers, “Franco-Haitian Union,” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 39, no. 1, 1962, 3; Emmanuel Clement Benoit, L’Egliste Adventiste d’Haiti a la Croise des Chemins 100 ans d’Histoire 1905-2005 (Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Media-Texte, 2005), 116.

  9. “The 49th General Conference Session,” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 39, no. 9, September 1962, 3.

  10. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1964), 141-147.

  11. Mrs. C. L. Powers, “Evangelism in Havana,” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 37, no. 1. January 1960, 2; Floyd Greenleaf, The Seventh-day Adventist Church in Latin America and the Caribbean, vol. 2, (Berrien Springs, MI: Andrews University Press, 1992), 506; “Cuban Adventist Seminary,” Seventh-day Adventist Encyclopedia, second revised edition (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1996), 422.

  12. C. L. Powers, “Speeding the Message,” West Indies Union Visitor, vol. 22, no. 5, September-October 1964, 1; “Inter-American Division of SDA Correspondence” Box 605B-6128, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists Archives, Silver Spring, MD.

  13. Ibid.

  14. C. L. Powers, “Your President Writes,” Inter-American Division Messenger, vol. 48, no. 6, June 1970, 2.

  15. Seventh-day Adventist Yearbook (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1974), 124-125.

  16. “Powers, C. L.,” ARH, January 13, 2005; “Clarence L. Powers,” Hendersonville Times-News.

  17. Ibid.

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Phillips, Glenn O. "Powers, Clarence L. (1909–2003)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. September 15, 2021. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9I0H.

Phillips, Glenn O. "Powers, Clarence L. (1909–2003)." Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. September 15, 2021. Date of access April 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9I0H.

Phillips, Glenn O. (2021, September 15). Powers, Clarence L. (1909–2003). Encyclopedia of Seventh-day Adventists. Retrieved April 18, 2024, https://encyclopedia.adventist.org/article?id=9I0H.