The first Versacare Pastor Community Engagement Conference, hosted by AdventSource, was held Aug. 9-10, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Fifteen Adventist pastors from across the United States were invited to participate with Versacare board members during this in-person event serving as a follow-up to the virtual sessions in which they have been engaging since October 2020.

The focus of this two-day event was to inspire and support a movement of greater member involvement in local communities and grow the network of pastors who are focused and passionate about community ministries. Specific topics included an exploration of the mission of the Seventh-day Adventist Church based on Matthew 25, identifying barriers to community engagement, finding means of removing those barriers, and identifying and accessing resources.

“This cohort of pastors is the tip of the sword,” said Charles Sandefur, chair of the Versacare board and board member for the past 39 years. “Our goal is to grow a movement of marketplace ministries doing kingdom business every day. Not just on Sabbath.”

Who is Versacare Foundation?

Versacare, Inc. is a private foundation based in Riverside, California, and managed by a Board of Trustees composed of individuals with expertise in education, accounting, law, administration, international aid, medicine, cultural affairs and ministry. Its mission is to support Seventh-day Adventist ministry efforts with grant funding. Through the Versafund, this non-profit foundation has awarded $28 million in grants to ministries around the globe.

The stated purpose of Versacare is to serve humanity by engaging in activities that will further the kingdom of God and restore the image of God in man. The foundation was created in 1986 and awarded its first grants in 1990. It is made up of a group of men and women who have dedicated much of their lives to the mission of sharing the love of Jesus Christ. They believe that this fidelity to the gospel of Jesus urges them to emphasize human health and dignity and the search for knowledge.

Why focus on community engagement?

Sandefur shared that there are over 6,000 congregations in North America. Most are rural. And many, if not most, are not actively engaged in their communities.

Tom Macomber, president/secretary of Versacare, pointed out how Adventism struggles with “doing” the gospel. He added that we emphasize the “telling” more than the “doing” of Matthew 25. Isolationism and attitudes of protectionism have tended to disconnect us from the community. Yet all around us the practical needs are great.

Why this group of pastors?

The pastors selected to participate in this cohort are already leading active ministries in their communities. They are passionate, energetic and committed to living out the gospel of Jesus Christ in practical ways every day in their locales with the members of their congregations.

Pastors who were are able to participate in this event included: Novella Smith, Taurus Montgomery, John Pooler, Jaime Kowlessar, Paulo Macena, Ronald Williams, Daniel Park, Rochelle Webster, Doug Hardt, Garrison Chaffee and David Jamieson (virtually).

Novella Smith, who pastors at Metropolitan Church in the Allegheny East Conference, leads a cosmetology school for inner city girls. Taurus Montgomery, a pastor in Benton Harbor, Michigan, manages Harbor of Hope ministries that work to prevent violence and engage in building inner city communities.

David Jamieson, who pastors a large church in  British Columbia, Canada,  joined the conference virtually, due to travel restrictions from COVID-19. As many as 80 percent of his church members are currently engaged in some type of service, many through their charitable organization Acts of Kindness. “We need to align our Adventist church mission, resources and volunteers with a wholistic spiritual theology of Christ’s method alone, not the narrow focus of holding a series of public meetings. When we step out in faith unbelievable things happen,” stated Jamieson.

Paulo Macena, who pastors in the Chesapeake Conference, recently celebrated the grand opening of the Ellicot City, Maryland, Adventist church’s Urban Life Center.

Rochelle Webster, a pastor at the Paradise Valley Church in California, works with immigrant assimilation ministries. Webster said that she is very excited to be part of a group that not only anticipates the coming of Jesus Christ but also allows that to permeate all their actions in their communities.

“This cohort has allowed me to be with great thinkers and innovators and to be sharpened,” observed John Pooler, who pastors in the South Atlantic Conference.

“One of the geniuses of this first year is building into the cohort the coaching and preparation elements,” said Pastor Frederick Russell, the principal of True North Leadership Group. Russell was a partner in the vision of the process and facilitator of the cohort during the past year’s six Zoom sessions. He also facilitated the in-person conference.

What kind of grants are being awarded? 

Recent grants from Versacare include funds for education, humanitarian initiatives, projects by local churches, local conferences, summer camps, and Adventist-laymen’s Services & Industries, to name a few. Brad Forbes, Versacare board member and event coordinator, said that this cohort of pastors will potentially revamp the way the foundation is approving grant proposals.

Sandefur added that “there will be rigorous accountability for grants that are awarded, but Versacare wants to fund creative, innovative community engagement.”

Darriel Hoy, a board member since March 2020 who currently serves as communication director for the Office of Regional Ministries, said she was so happy she cried when she was asked  to serve on the Versacare board. “I’m so thankful that I can help other pastors have the resources they need that I did not have when I pastored,” she said. “I’m so passionate about the mission of spreading the gospel through people who have a heart for community ministry and I want them to know that the funds are available in the form of grants. Just apply!”

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Photos: Darriel Hoy