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A Place Of Connection: Visiting WholeLife Church

In recent years, loneliness has become a widespread concern, despite our increasingly interconnected world. Many believers hope that church will provide a space for genuine connection. However, my experiences attending various church congregations across different states in the past year have revealed that this hope is not always realized.

For my visit to Orlando, I took a different approach. Instead of attending the church my friends go to, I opted for a blind search of churches in the area, aiming to find one that truly fostered a sense of belonging. During my online exploration, I came across WholeLife Seventh-day Adventist Church. Their mission statement immediately caught my attention:

“Our mission is loving people into a lifelong friendship with God. We are all genders: single, married, divorced, straight, LGBTQ, poor, rich, dis/abled, old, and young. At WholeLife Church, we welcome every member of the community to join us in worship. We don’t care if you’re a lifelong Christian or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We want to offer you grace and peace as you begin or continue your faith journey.”

Notably, their inclusion of LGBTQ is a departure from the norm in many churches. As I delved further into their website, I discovered they emphasized their commitment to “bringing justice to the marginalized through volunteering, awareness, prayer, and local partnerships.” I later witnessed the efforts of this ministry firsthand when they announced a Black History Month concert during the first week of February. This concert will be the first in their “Downtown Community Concerts Series,” which aims to foster connection with the community around them.

From the website alone, I was convinced that WholeLife would be the kind of church I would like to attend if I lived in the area. This was further corroborated the moment I entered the church. I was instantly struck by the diversity of the congregation. Many churches claim to be multicultural, but WholeLife truly embodies inclusion. The foyer was filled with people of various ethnicities, including Black, White, Asian, and Hispanic individuals. There were youth, young adults, children, families, young couples, and singles—all contributing to a vibrant and inclusive atmosphere.

As I entered the sanctuary, I was immediately greeted by someone I later found out was on the pastoral team. She initiated our conversation by saying, “I’ve never seen you before; are you new here?” I was moved by her welcome. This is a church that averages over 600 in-person attendees and over 500 virtual attendees. To be recognized and welcomed as a visitor implies that the pastoral team takes note of their members. Such intentionality is remarkable. This welcoming nature was not limited to the pastoral team. The church members went beyond basic pleasantries and invited me to lunch, not once but twice—an unprecedented gesture in my church-visiting experiences.

After the contemporary worship service, led by a diverse group of praise team leaders, it was revealed that the theme of the service was connection. In fact, connection is the theme for the entirety of 2024 at WholeLife Church, and is part of a five-year plan implemented by Pastor Ken Wetmore and his team. During the sermon, the pastor creatively engaged the congregation by allowing them to scan a QR code and share their feelings of loneliness in real time. He spoke to the children’s understanding, using Lego building as a metaphor to illustrate the unity of the congregation. This dynamic and interactive approach showcased a pastor who values the voices of his community. “Like many churches, COVID heavily impacted our church. In addition, in early 2021 WholeLife’s lead pastor, Andy McDonald retired after being at WholeLife for 37 years. I arrived in June, so there was a lot of change happening at WholeLife,” Wetmore explained. “We developed a five-year plan to lean into those changes in a positive way. In 2022, our theme was Arise. It was a call to hear Jesus saying, ‘It’s time to Arise to the new reality.’ In 2023 our theme was Follow Me, which is the recognition that Jesus calls us to Arise and then follow Him. We believe that when we follow Jesus, He leads us to connection with God and others, thus the theme for 2024 became: Connect. This year we are focusing on what it means to connect with God and the people God has placed within this world. 2025 will have the theme of Overflow, and 2026, which will mark the 100-year anniversary of WholeLife’s founding, will be Greater Things. The idea being that as we finish this 5-year cycle and celebrate 100 years, God has even greater things in store for the future.”

With a well-thought-out plan for the engagement and advancement of the attendees, a warm and welcoming leadership team, and a dedicated emphasis on inclusion, it’s no wonder WholeLife is a thriving congregation. For those unable to attend in person, the church ensures an interactive online experience, with live engagement and real-time feedback. After the sermon, Pastor Wetmore, along with another church leader, even took the time to answer questions from online viewers, once again emphasizing the importance of every voice.

Loneliness is an epidemic many are scrambling to understand and resolve. With the atmosphere and community that WholeLife presents, I suspect they will be effective in reversing this in many lives.

Images from church livestream

About the author

Ezrica Bennett graduated with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Oakwood University. She has worked as a book editor for the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and has written for the Adventist Review and the Southeastern California Conference. She is a writer, public speaker, and coach, passionate about working with young adults to help them navigate life and faith, and a youth elder at the Loma Linda University Church. More from Ezrica Bennett.
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