Boulder Adventist Church in Boulder, Colorado, occupies space in one of the most coveted communities in the city—the historic Mapleton Hill neighborhood. Leafy trees and grand Victorian houses line the streets leading up to the church. Mount Sanitas looms in the background—and received its name from the Seventh-day Adventist Boulder-Colorado Sanitarium and Hospital which was originally located at the base of the mountain. The summit, a popular destination for locals and tourists, provides a view of the entire city and beyond, and a plaque along the trail offers information about the sanitarium and its connection to Adventism.

But while the Seventh-day Adventist church has left an imprint on the city of Boulder historically, much of its influence has died out slowly over time as its institutions (hospital, junior academy) have relocated outside the city. When Pastor Japhet De Oliveira arrived in Boulder in early 2014 and began working to connect with people in the Mapelton Hill neighborhood, most were surprised to learn that the large building on the corner was even occupied or currently functioning. In fact, the church has a thriving membership, yet like many commuter churches, it focuses most of its efforts on Sabbath morning worship services and has done little to connect with the local community of which it is a part. Pastor De Oliveira and the members of Boulder Church’s vision board are determined to change that.

Sharing the best of Adventism

Among the outreach initiatives the church has started is the Sanitas Lectureship Series. Dr. Gordy Gates, a longtime church elder and well-known dentist in Boulder, had attended a lecture series in Denver, presented by the first testament scholar Walter Brueggemann. Gates left that lecture inspired by the idea that Boulder Church could create something similar. He wanted to bring great scholars, theologians and practitioners of our faith to show our own members as well as friends in the community the best of what Adventism can be. Church leaders describe the series as offering “a safe space for people to connect with God as presented through the lens of the Bible” and hope that it will “demonstrate how the God of the Bible continues to work on the shared story of humanity.”

The lecture series has lived up to its promise. The first lectureship took place in May 2016 and featured Dr. Laurence Turner, a noted Old Testament scholar, author and international speaker. The always-popular Dr. Karl Haffner, pastor of the Kettering Seventh-day Adventist Church in Kettering, Ohio, and award-winning author of many books including The Cure for Soul Fatigue and No Greater Love, presented “Jesus Encounters: Life-changing Conversations with Christ” to a packed church in May 2017. While the lectureship is only intended to take place once per year, the vision board decided to invite Dr. William Johnsson in September 2017 for a special session following the publication of his most recent book, Where Are We Headed? Adventism After San Antonio, an examination of the bitter conflicts that have arisen in the church in the wake of the vote against women’s ordination. Dr. Randy Roberts, senior pastor of the Loma Linda University Church, in Loma Linda, California, will present the lectureship in May 2019.

Pastor De Oliveira notes that “The Sanitas Lectureship is part of a much larger strategic plan of faith engagement for Boulder Church. If it was the only thing we were doing, it would have failed miserably, but as part of a complex matrix of inter-related spiritual disciplines, this particular piece serves well.” Pastor De Oliveira sees the lectureship as vital to developing a healthier community. “The open reception to a faith that shows the character of God in all things and includes an appreciation for the tensions in life are both signs of health. People like to belong to churches that are healthy. People want to grow when they are healthy. Being healthy inspires you to want to become even healthier.”

What do we have to offer?

In one of Johnsson’s lectures, “The Promise of Adventism,” he asked rhetorically, “What do we have to offer?” noting that by several measures our church is not doing particularly well. Big campaigns are no longer effective; young people are leaving. He also argued that in spite of this rather grim outlook, many good things are happening and there is reason for hope. Our message produces wonderful people with a “specialness” that gives them great power to do good in the world. Our medical institutions, world class efforts toward disaster relief, grace-oriented theology, and focus on the beauty of the Sabbath are all things of which to be proud. We have something to offer to the world so long as we remain open to the leading of Jesus. Johnsson revealed that he would like his next book to be about authentic Adventism and solicited ideas of what that might entail from the audience. All kinds of suggestions came in, including “Authentic Adventism is ethical, showing congruency between behavior and beliefs” and “Authentic Adventism is characterized by unconditional love for God, one another, and the lost,” and “Authentic Adventism is a spirit of humility and willingness to learn from others.”

The ability to change and adapt is critical to faith engagement. Pastor De Oliveira says, “There is joy in creating. There is joy in engaging fully in life. The Sanitas Lectureship challenges our members and partners to see God in a new way. As they become healthier, they become the disciples Jesus called them to be and they move the gospel mission and the kingdom of God forward.”

Dr. Gates has been pleased to see his longtime dream of creating a challenging and mission-driven environment for the church community become a reality and looks forward to seeing how the Sanitas Lectureship develops in the future. He applauds the “fresh insight, perspective, and a redemptive spirit” of the lectureship, which “encourages members to stay with the church rather than lose hope and abandon this community.”

Becky De Oliveira is communication director for the Boulder Church in Colorado and teaches writing classes at Andrews University and Front Range Community College.