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In Takoma Park, Adventists Make Friends Over Breakfast
Story and Photos by Celeste Ryan Blyden
Fred Shultz was one of four members of the Takoma Park City Council to meet with Adventist leaders last Friday.
“I am a conduit from residents to the city, and I’d like to be able to tell them about the services of your church that can help them,” said Fred Schultz, Ward 6 councilman for Takoma Park, Md. “This meeting opened up the channels of communication.”
It was more like the floodgates: “We offer a number of free health screenings to the community and you’d have to go online to our website to see a list of the many health-related classes we offer,” said Judy Lichty, director of Health and Wellness for Adventist HealthCare, parent company of Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park, Md.
“We are praying for local schools,” said Chris Daley, a member of the city’s Sligo church, who is helping coordinate their new prayer initiative for safety and security at local schools. He and another member then read a prayer they’ve written for schools, which ends with, “May the securing presence of Your guardian angels be residents at each school and with each student.”
Jeff Taylor, associate pastor at Takoma Park (Md.) church, followed the prayer with a list of the activities his church offers the community: “At Takoma Park church, we offer health screenings, organize street fairs and host a concert series,” he shared, adding that they had a classical concert last weekend and, this fall, will host a gospel choir from Howard University in Washington, D.C., all open to the community.
“At the Metropolitan church right down the street in Hyattsville, Md., our 1,100 members offer job fairs, clothing drives, mentoring programs, hot lunches for homeless persons, blanket drives, an ESL [English as a Second Language] class to help the growing number of immigrants in the community, financial services, exercise classes, baby blessings for community families and a program for autistic children,” announced Brenda Billingy, senior pastor.
“On May 5 we are hosting a Mother’s Day brunch for single mothers,” said Vee Akehurst, executive assistant, representing Adventist Community Services of Greater Washington.
This community staple, which also houses a food pantry and clothing distribution center and offers job training and computer classes, is located about a mile from the campus Washington Adventist University (WAU) shares with Washington Adventist Hospital (WAH) in Takoma Park, Md.
It’s also where, on the second Friday of each month, a group of Seventh-day Adventist pastors, principals, presidents and other leaders meet to fellowship over breakfast, share ideas, address mutual concerns and host community leaders.
They call themselves, Adventist Community Action Council (ACAC) and their purpose, printed in bold lettering atop each month’s agenda, reads: “To coordinate the resources of the Adventist organizations in the Takoma Park area and to address key community issues.”
Last Friday, the group, chaired by Erwin Mack, head elder at Sligo church and a longtime educator and business owner, who signs some of his emails, “Retired, but not disinterested,” hosted Shultz and three other members of the Takoma Park City Council. The acting city administrator and two representatives of the city’s police department also joined them.
After breakfast in WAU’s Wilkinson Hall, they assembled around a large table with about 30 leaders from 15 local Adventist organizations. From Joyce Newmyer, president of WAH and her vice president, Geoff Morgan, to Doug Morgan (no relation), interim general manager at WGTS, and its parent, WAU, whose president Weymouth Spence, started the meeting off with a presentation by some of his award-winning business students about their work in the community and the trademark, “This is Washington Adventist University.” Around the table they went, each one introducing themselves, sharing their role in the church and how they serve the community.
Councilman Schultz, and the others in attendance, who listened intently for nearly two hours, shook his head in disbelief. “Very impressive,” he said after the meeting. “It provided an opportunity for those of us on the city council to understand that there are a lot of services offered by the Seventh-day Adventist Church that we and the community don’t know about.”
Erwin Mack couldn’t agree more. That’s why he started the group 10 years ago with Monte Sahlin, then vice president for Ministries Development at the Columbia Union Conference. Though Sahlin now works for the Ohio Conference, Mack continues to keep the group moving and growing to help raise public awareness of his church in the community. “We cannot hide our lights under the proverbial ‘bushel baskets’ and then wonder why our secular friends don't know more about us,” he wrote in the email invitation to the Adventist leaders.
His continuing efforts to convene the group each month; longtime connections with community, county and state officials; and “gentle reminders” are appreciated, valued, and having impact.
“Thank you for having the vision and execution of the ACAC program,” wrote Chris Daley via email after the meeting. “You saw the value and sharing the value with the Takoma Park city leadership, which was most appreciated.”
Washington Adventist University business students share how they are helping community members.
Doug Morgan, acting general manager for WGTS 91.9 FM, and Weymouth Spence, president of Washington Adventist University, share a laugh.
Erwin Mack, head elder at Sligo church, helped start the Adventist Community Action Council (ACAC) some 10 years ago.
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