Hawthorne Seventh-day Adventist Church, a congregation in Hawthorne, California, United States, had a major growth spurt last April when Carson International Group joined them in membership, adding 46 people, 40 of them by profession of faith. An additional dozen people plan to prepare for baptism or join the church by profession of faith later.
Usually, becoming a member of the Adventist Church by profession of faith is reserved for people who have been already practicing Adventist beliefs, but that for some reason are not yet on the official members’ roll. Carson International Group was not part of the Seventh-day Adventist Church organization, even though they had been following Adventist beliefs and had even hired an Adventist pastor to minister to them, according to John Cress, Southern California Conference region executive secretary and ministerial director.
Months before, Los Angeles Metro Region Director Gerard Kiemeney had prayed with John Jenson, from the South Bay church, and a member of the Region staffing committee. “What if God impresses two churches to get together?” he asked. Pursuing that possibility, Kiemeney met with the Hawthorne church board and found them receptive. Then he interviewed the pastor, knowing they needed the right pastor for the delicate task of bringing two congregations together. When the board asked, “Why not just invite them to come here?” the idea of the Carson International group joining with a mother church was born.
“My conviction,” said Kiemeney, “is that the idea is God-birthed. In Him, it’s going to work.”
Later, commenting on the joining of the two culturally diverse congregations, Kiemeney added, “When the Holy Spirit moves among us, it’s no longer about differences; it’s about what they hold in common. Everyone here is that soldier willing to accept that mission to go out. You will meet, mingle. You will call them to follow Christ, going to seek and to save the lost. In Your hands, there is no failure, only success.”
“‘Together Is Better’ is the message today,” said Cress during the official merger ceremony. “It is rare for churches to join. It is a unique, rare moment. Jesus has brought this about.”
“In nature, the redwood tree illustrates what happens when we come together with a shared mission,” Cress continued. “The tree’s roots intertwine and strengthen each other. All of you together are Christ’s body, with one thing in common: all are God’s church. We are one body, one Lord, one baptism. Together is better.”
Cress concluded with a blessing on the church: “May the door of the church be wide enough to welcome all who hunger for love and fellowship, and narrow enough to shut out pettiness and pride.”
Filemu T. Filemu (Mu) had shepherded the Carson International Group before the merger and is serving as the pastor of the Hawthorne church. “The church and the community represent so many cultures,” Mu said. “We have Filipino, African-American, Caucasian, Hawaiian, Indonesian, Fijians, Hispanic, Tongan—and I am Samoan!”
Among other activities, more than 40 members of the church come together at 6 a.m. on Sundays in a “Stop and Pray” area in the front of the church, which faces busy Marine Avenue. The group is intergenerational and cross-cultural; children come, too.
“After our prayer and study time together on Sundays,” Mu continued, “we have exercised in the church gym. It’s been a bonding time for the generations and members of both groups that have come together. When we walk as part of our time together, I encourage members to pray for our church; that someone will come here and meet Christ.”
“We want to be open to the neighborhood,” Mu added. “Recently, I was changing the information on the sign in front of the church and some people walking by asked, ‘What is this?’ pointing to the church. ‘It’s a church,’ I told them. ‘Come visit us, or come for lunch!’”