By Debbonnaire Kovacs, June 22, 2017
As many readers know, we have been featuring profiles of churches here at Adventist Today; churches which we believe to exemplify the loving communities Jesus had in mind when he sent out his followers to change the world. This story, about the Foster Seventh-day Adventist Church in Asheville, NC, is significantly different in scope and style than the other profiles you have read.
Like the other churches we have profiled, Foster, whose mission statement is “Loving God, Loving People, Serving Both,” is an active, community-connected hotbed of love and acceptance. In fact, if you care to read the first page of their website, you’ll smile at requirements such as what to wear—“Clothes. That’s the only thing we ask,” or to “keep your wallet in your pocket” if this is your first time to visit.
If you read to the bottom of this article, you will find an impressive list of some of the many ways the church works with its community. As Pastor Patrick Williams put it in his annual report to Carolina Conference, “The measure of a church is this: would the community miss the church were the church to vanish overnight. Were Foster Church to be removed from Asheville, all of Asheville would realize the loss.”
In other words, Foster Church fosters relationships—vertical ones with God and horizontal ones with each other, both inside and outside the church.
This is not so different from other churches we have profiled. In fact, it’s the biblical definition of church and it’s unfortunate that we now use terms like “innovator” for churches who are doing their best to do what God originally asked us to do. But the fact is, this denomination, like many others, (and like many other types of organization as well) has fallen during the past century into the habit of doing business just to be doing business, and it can not only feel innovative, but sometimes downright dangerous to try to change that status quo. Adventist Today honors individuals and churches who take that risk and believe in loving every single person as a child of God.
Sorry…end of rant! So what’s so different about Foster? The reaction I got when I requested information. It was, to say the least, passionate. The stories I received, two from members and one from the pastor, are so heartwarming that you can learn all you really need to know about the church from reading them. I decided to feature them first, only slightly edited, in the words of the speakers.
If these stories make you want to know more, read on for the church profile, taken largely from the annual report.
First, the pastor. Although only God is the true Head of any church, it is still true, humanly speaking, that much of church culture either depends on or at least is strongly influenced by the leadership, sometimes especially by the pastor(s).
When Patrick Williams, explaining that he had been the pastor at Foster since 2013, added in passing that his previous church, Cornerstone, of Chantilly, VA, “sent me here,” I was intrigued and asked for more. Here is an extract of his response, in his own words.
“Generally speaking, a pastor secretly receives a call from another church (perhaps sharing the call with an elder or two), makes a decision to leave his current church to go to a new assignment, then announces this decision to his congregation—which is often distraught and depressed to be losing someone they love or is sometimes bounding for joy to be getting rid of someone they, well, do not love.
“Maureen and I feel this is in direct contradiction with the New Testament concept of the Body of Christ. In Acts 13:1 the Spirit said to set apart Paul and Barnabas. This movement by the Spirit is nebulously explained, but in the context of the list of names of Christians of significant status there (Barnabas, Simeon, Lucius, Manaen, Paul) I believe that His communication by the Spirit was through the Body of Believers, the Body of Christ.
“Maureen and I have always been very open with our churches on every potential call or opportunity.”
Williams went on to share some instances exemplifying times when his church said no, they were “NOT finished in [their] ministry together,” so he stayed, as well as instances when the church agreed that the call was from God and sent him and his wife on with their blessing. In one case, the same church he once turned down became a church he was sent to some years later.
Williams told me, “Had they said, ‘Don’t go,’ I would have been submissive to their direction. Instead, though some were sad to see me leave, no one said, ‘Please, stay. We’re not finished together.’ In fact, one very spiritual, godly leader said (quoting Ellen White) that ‘we are sending you as “heart missionaries” to North Carolina.’”
Williams’ depth of open and caring spiritual leadership is even more interesting in light of the fact that he originally grew up in what he called “a secular family,” crediting his conversion to God and to the Adventist church to The Great Controversy, by Ellen White.
He added, “Here at Foster Church we are attempting to build the same intimacy of relationship that we had at our two previous churches. Needless to say, the people at Silver Spring and Cornerstone are still our very close, dear friends. We sense that we are developing that here at Foster, too!”
His parishioners would agree, as you can see by the two stories below. The first is from David Brown, who gave me explicit permission to share this story in its entirety, saying that God gave him his story, so he’s comfortable sharing it. I have slightly edited for clarity.
“I was born in Asheville, NC, and for most of my childhood moved often; not having roots for any length of time. Both of my parents dealt with addiction and mental health issues so the home environment at times was chaotic, disruptive, and wanting in basic necessities.
“I did not grow up in the SDA church but my first experience was in the early 1960’s in Sunnyvale, CA, where two ladies came into our home with a Revelation Bible study on a film strip projector which held my attention even though I was a teenager. This planted a seed of interest in the Adventist church.
“My parents divorced and my mother, sister, and I moved back to North Carolina. I always struggled with meeting new friends and changing schools. I was taken to church from an early age, and was drawn back to that when again coping with a new environment. I was baptized into the Baptist church but during my time in the military turned away from the church.
“During my teenage years and early adulthood I struggled with alcohol and drugs, and realized that I was an alcoholic, as were my parents.
“In my late twenties my wife and I joined the SDA church after being invited by a coworker and taking Bible studies. I remained in the church for over twenty years but during a period of depression started drinking again. I then took my name off the church rolls. Suddenly my life spiraled out of control. After six to seven years of drinking and facing divorce and loss of employment, I was at a crossroads.
The one thing I would like to stress is even after I left the church, my church family at Foster SDA church kept in contact with me. They never gave up on me and they gently pursued me. I rejoined the Foster church in 2006 where I am today. I owe all this to Jesus Christ, Linda my wife, and my church. Through the Holy Spirit I have recognized my character defect of self-hatred and have embraced God’s love for me.
“I am involved in prayer ministry because I am a living testimony that prayer works.”
The second story comes from an unnamed church member. Again I have edited slightly for clarity. Take particular note to what this child of God says in her last few paragraphs about why she kept coming back once she found Foster.
“I was born in Asheville, NC, into an extremely poor family that neither wanted nor liked children. I was the third of four and the only girl. Girls were especially unwanted and considered worthless. We had no reliable heat, no hot water, and sometimes no electricity. My grandfather was a warlock. My parents did not attend church but a friend of the family took me to the local church most Sundays. She was also a “white witch” but the other church members did not know that or her husband would not have been a deacon. The church people were nice and I was able get away from home for a few hours. Sometimes at church there was food which was nice because most of the time we did not have enough to eat at home.
“At church I learned how to pray and ask for forgiveness for all my sins. Also to fear God, because only good children would go to heaven; the rest of us would be tortured day and night forever. This church reinforced what I learned at home: that women are inferior and only suitable to please and serve men. Women were only allowed to do certain church things like cleaning and cooking. I often had nightmares from the stories I heard about Earth’s last days.
“My best friend’s father was a deacon and known for his affairs, which eventually broke up his marriage and my friend’s home. By the time I was 16 I wanted nothing to do with God or religion. I saw nothing positive about attending church and I thought all church people were liars and frauds.
“I attended public school which I hated and dropped out at 17. At 21 I married a man who, like me, was looking for stability, so we attended various churches looking for an answer to our pain and emptiness. Someone at another church warned us about the SDA church and the heresy and error in SDA doctrines. The warning just made us more interested so we started attending Foster church to find out for ourselves.
“I joined the church because I thought it would be good for my son to learn about God and have a moral foundation. At Foster I was offered friendship and acceptance but because of my painful and unstable background, years passed before I could believe and trust what was offered.
“Foster is special because:
“Women are just as valuable as men here. Forty years ago I saw men and women working in the kitchen. That was one reason I came back after the first visit.
“I can invite any of my friends to Foster. Nothing will be said to hurt, embarrass or demean them. We are a diverse group with the common bond of loving God and others. We know we are all a mess.
“Foster has many opportunities to grow closer to God and other people. I am encouraged to use my spiritual gifts.
“I am glad to be part of a church where its members serve each other and the community out of love for God, not to boast, or earn God’s favor. They really do accept and love hurting, struggling people.
“I get a blessing anytime I spend at Foster, not just on Sabbath.
“Dreams for the future:
I would like to see more people find Foster and more people get involved in their passion for service. Someday I would like to see one church family, not separate churches divided by race or language.”
You can see why I felt these stories would tell you all you really need to know about Foster Seventh-day Adventist church. They show the depth. If you’d like to also learn about the breadth of their connection and service, here is a list of some of their ministries. It has two sections: community connections, and training for outreach.
This is a brain injury organization with a church member on its board, which uses the church Multipurpose Room on a daily basis to serve ten to twenty individuals with severe brain injuries.
This is an organization serving women and families surviving cancer, founded by one of the physicians of the church with several members serving on the executive board. The Hope Chest has office space in the facility and maintains a daily presence on site.
Various Community Groups
Foster Church currently has at least two community groups that utilize our facilities for their community meetings, meeting weekly.
Foster Church has a gym that has become a community facility. Every weekday evening and on Sunday afternoons the gymnasium is used by either a volleyball or basketball league. The basketball leagues include a community, city-wide league and also the police department league. The Foster gym is used at least four nights a week by these organization seasonally throughout the year.
Open Door Cathedral
Foster Church currently allows the Open Door Cathedral, a Bible-believing Christian Church community, to use its sanctuary on Sunday mornings for worship. This relationship has extended for over fifteen years and currently maintains a healthy working relationship between the two organizations.
Foster Church currently allows the Asheville Church, a Bible-believing Christian Church community, to use its Multipurpose Room on Sunday mornings for worship.This relationship has just begun in the last year and currently maintains a healthy working relationship between the two organizations.
Each week, with the exception of major holiday weekends, Foster Church provides a community fellowship dinner on Sabbath, hosting approximately 75 to 100 individuals.
Training & Equipping for Outreach:
Alex Bryan Training and Equipping
In January of 2017, at the beginning of the New Year, Foster Church provided a weekend Sabbath training session for reaching Asheville with Alex Bryan from the Walla Walla Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University
In fall of 2016 Foster Church, under member leadership, provided Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University, attended by several members and also by Asheville community members not affiliated with the church.
Neil Nedley’s Depression Recovery Seminar
In March of 2017 Foster Church, under member leadership, provided Neil Nedley’s Depression Recovery Seminar, attended by several members and also by Asheville community members not affiliated with the church.
The Foster church also reaches out with “the most active and dynamic Community Services program in Asheville. This program, not funded from the Foster Church budget but by other member donations, is multifaceted and includes the following:”
- Weekly breakfasts for between 50 and 100 community members
- Crisis ministry of food, clothing, and other basic needs
- “Thrive Ministry” in which individuals seeking to move from poverty to the middle class are paired with a group of dedicated church members who seek to help in the journey from poverty to self-sustaining, economic stability. [Ed. Note: This program alone is worth another article. Watch for it!]
- Partnering with high school students to help them get to college
- Partnering with Head Start and local social workers to help families during holiday seasons
- Partnering with Room in the Inn to provide shelter to homeless women
- A group of church and community members helping each other live more healthfully and lose weight
- Twice annual mission trips with Hope Chest for Women
- Supporting a Ukrainian group that meets in their multipurpose room on Sabbath afternoons and is seeking to become a church congregation in Carolina Conference
- New Model—beginning fall of 2017, after worship the pastoral staff will begin offering Seven Minutes on Sabbath, a group evangelistic Bible study designed to teach the doctrines of the church and to promote membership at Foster in the most intimate, enjoyable way.
- Individual Bible studies which seek to build relationship while teaching the Bible.
- Partnership with the Asheville-Pisgah Christian School
Pastor Patrick Williams opened his first email to me with the words, “We are on the move at Foster! It is the most active, community-oriented, serving church I know!”
I can well believe it. God bless you and all your loving work, Foster Church!