A Seventh-day Adventist church that evangelist Mark Finley and his wife, Teenie, sought to establish as a center of godly influence in their U.S. hometown was touching hearts already at its grand opening last weekend.
Tony Smith, who oversaw construction of the Living Hope Seventh-day Adventist Community Church as vice president of Smith family-owned Conewago Enterprises, spoke warmly of the Finleys as he recalled the year that they had worked together to construct the $4.5 million church and school of evangelism in Haymarket, Virginia.
“Mark and Teenie were very good to work with — very, very good,” Smith said in the lobby of the church after Finley had preached a third sermon to accommodate the hundreds of people at opening day Sabbath, April 9.
In fact, Smith said, Conewago was so impressed that it decided to return $20,000 as a gift to the church — a nearly unheard-of occurrence in the construction industry.
“I can honestly say this is the best owner that I have ever worked with in 34 years,” said Smith, who has participated in hundreds of projects in Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland and beyond.
“We really hit it off between each other,” he said of Mark Finley. “He was completely up front with us the whole way through the project and very sincere. Teenie and Mark both are very sincere in what they do. It was very good.”
The Finleys initiated plans to construct the two-story church — located near a fashionable shopping plaza in the heart of an affluent community near Washington — with no money but a strong desire to open a community center that would be open to share Jesus’ love seven days a week.
With prayer and donations of all sizes, the church gradually took shape at the site with a gated community on one side and a country club with a rolling green golf course on the other.
The church opened with only $80,000 in debt, a rare feat for a newly built Adventist church in the United States.
On Sabbath, some 350 people packed the church’s second-floor, 250-seat sanctuary for two morning sermons followed by a vegetarian potluck in the first-floor community center. The center also will be used for healthy cooking classes, stress management courses, and Bible and archeology seminars.
The church also has classrooms for a school of evangelism where Finley and his wife will share insights gleaned from 49 years of ministry. The first round of classes starts on April 18.
Finley pledged in his afternoon sermon that the church would be unashamedly Seventh-day Adventist in its message and wholeheartedly Christ-like in its love for the local community.
“We commit that as a Seventh-day Adventist community church we are going to reach out to people,” Finley said. “We are not going to entertain ourselves. We are not here to please ourselves. … We are here to reach out to this community just like Jesus Christ did. Jesus ministered to people physically, mentally, and spiritually.”
The church, he said, aims to act as a center of influence, a beacon of light.
Ted N.C. Wilson, president of the Adventist world church, who visited the Living Hope church on Sabbath with his wife, Nancy, underscored the importance of using centers of influence to connect with the local community. The centers, a key initiative of the Adventist Church, can feature a variety of activities, including lifestyle education, bookstores, reading rooms, and restaurants, depending on a local community’s needs.
“A center of influence can be anywhere where people are dynamically sharing the word or God and praying is taking place,” Wilson told the congregation after Finley’s afternoon sermon.
Referring to Living Hope, Wilson said, “This particular place will be a tremendous center of influence — not only to build people's personal spiritual understanding but also to encourage them to tell others about Jesus.”
Many of the worshippers last Sabbath were Adventist believers, and the church plans to hold an open house for the local community in the near future, Finley said. The church only received official permission to open three days in advance after a broken lamppost threatened to delay the approval of its occupancy permit.
A minor incident brought two fire trucks to the church on Sabbath afternoon. The church’s elevator got stuck with two people inside, and the firefighters had to pry open the doors.
Before Finley began his afternoon sermon, he asked one of the trapped women to stand in her pew and describe what had happened. She said she and her friend had not been frightened and had instead spent the time sharing Bible verses.
“That is the spirit of Living Hope,” Finley declared.
Standing beside Finley, the church’s pastor, Robert Banks, quickly quipped, “Here at Living Hope, we are all about member retention.” The congregation laughed.
Banks, previously the pastor of the nearby Warrenton Adventist Church, whose 90 members form the core of the new church, kept the zingers coming in an interview later in the church’s spacious state-of-the-art kitchen.
“Our goal is to let the captives go free at Living Hope,” he said with a smile.
Back in the sanctuary, Finley invited Smith and Eric Spoonseller, general manager of the project, onto the platform to thank them for their work in constructing the church. He presented each with copies of a book of Bible promises that he authored.
Acclaimed Adventist artist Nathan Greene, whose paintings hang in nearly every room of the church, also gave Smith and Spoonseller framed paintings with Civil War themes.
“It’s just gorgeous,” Smith told the Adventist Review about his painting. “I’m pretty excited about that.”
Finley said in an interview that he had never considered Smith or any of the other construction team members as contract employees. He said he and Smith had prayed together many times. At Christmas, he presented Smith and his wife with a gift. Finley said Smith had responded in surprise, saying, “No one has ever done that for us before.”
“You build relationships. They become your friends, and you have lasting relationships that count,” Finley said. “That makes all a difference.”