The first Versacare Pastor Community Engagement Conference, hosted by AdventSource, was held August 9-10, 2021, in Lincoln, Nebraska, United States. Fifteen Adventist pastors from across the United States were invited to participate with Versacare Foundation board members during this in-person event, serving as a follow-up to the virtual sessions they have been engaging in 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,” Charles Sandefur, chair of the Versacare board and board member for the past 39 years, said. “Our goal is to grow a movement of marketplace ministries doing kingdom business every day. Not just on Sabbath.”
What Is Versacare?
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 US$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 God’s kingdom and restore God’s image 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.
Focus on Community Engagement
Sandefur shared that there are more than 6,000 congregations in North America, and most are rural. 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 the denomination emphasizes the “telling” more than the “doing” of Matthew 25. Isolationism and attitudes of protectionism have tended to disconnect congregations from the community. Yet all around them, the practical needs are significant.
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.
Novella Smith, who is a pastor 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 to prevent violence and build inner-city communities.
David Jamieson, who is pastor of a large church in British Columbia, Canada, joined the conference virtually due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. 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,” Jamieson said.
Paulo Macena, a pastor 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 Seventh-day Adventist 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.
A pastor in the South Atlantic Conference, John Pooler, noted, “This cohort has allowed me to be with great thinkers and innovators and to be sharpened.”
“One of the geniuses of this first year is building into the cohort the coaching and preparation elements,” Frederick Russell, the principal of True North Leadership Group, said. Russell was a partner in the vision of the process and facilitator of the cohort during the past year’s six Zoom video-conference sessions. He also facilitated the in-person conference.
Type of Grants Awarded
Recent grants from the Versacare Foundation include funds for education, humanitarian initiatives, projects by local churches, local conferences, summer camps, and Adventist-laymen’s Services and Industries, to name a few.Brad Forbes, Versacare board member and event coordinator, said that this cohort of pastors will potentially revamp how the foundation approves 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 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!”