I moved to Asheville, North Carolina in 2015 after living in New York City for 45 years. While in New York I had been a member of the Metro New York Adventist Forum the whole time, and had been the chapter president for 41 years. That chapter had been my congregation, for we had met every Sabbath morning and once per month also in the afternoon. On the week each month when we met “all day” we had brought in speakers and explored our faith in-depth. It had been for me a deeply satisfying church experience. It was inevitable that I would miss that congregation considerably once I moved away.
Asheville has a considerable Adventist presence: 16 churches in the general area, a hospital, and two academies (one self-supporting). I found the churches welcoming, and settled on one (Asheville North) that valued the music that is important to me: their organist twice per month retired from the downtown Southern Baptist church. I could rely on his playing to bless my soul. The potlucks were also memorable: indeed, the women responsible for the food made sure that I, a celiac, always had food that was safe for me to eat.
However, it was inevitable that I would miss the stimulating information and discussions that had fed me spiritually in New York. Surely there were other Adventists in the area that felt the same need?
Given my long experience with Forum chapters, and that I had also tried to “share the good news” by initiating several new chapters over the years, I looked for an opportunity to form a new chapter in Asheville. A visit by filmmakers Daneen Akers and Steve Eyer to the area of Southern Adventist University in 2016, and their offer to show one of their films in Asheville if I could find a location and an audience, provided an opportunity.
Some of those who attended the film became the founding members of the new chapter. We wanted to meet monthly, but wondered how to find suitable speakers. Initially, we used some from Southern (about a four-hour drive away) and also several local non-Adventists concerning social issues. One of the most memorable meetings was led by an immigration activist who was working to establish “sanctuaries” in local churches for undocumented immigrants. We discovered that there were eight Spanish-speaking Adventist congregations in the general area, invited them, and provided a translator. We discovered that almost all were undocumented, that they lived in danger of being arrested and deported, and that this had already happened to some of their members.
At the end of 2018 for several reasons I made a sudden decision to move to Loma Linda. My greatest concern in doing this was how to continue to foster the Forum chapter, for there seemed to be no one among the members who had the contacts with potential speakers that I have. We came up with a solution: the core members of the chapter would strengthen its organization, and I would try to find speakers in and around Loma Linda. Since the chapter’s bank account would have been exhausted rapidly if we had tried to fly speakers in, I would find speakers willing to make their presentations using the internet and a program like Skype.
We have been following this plan for the past several months, and it has worked well. I arrange the meetings several months in advance. The speaker and I meet on the day of the meeting in a place where we can both use a computer, and I do the introduction and the speaker then makes the planned presentation for about an hour, which is followed by a discussion for about another hour. We have mostly been using the platform Zoom, since that is the one used by Loma Linda University for such purposes. We have learned what is needed technically, so that we have overcome some hitches that caused problems in the early such meetings.
Our speakers on October 26 were Drs. Brian Bull and Bernard Taylor, a medical scientist and a biblical scholar. Their topic was “Harmonizing Genesis and Science,” an area that had not really been addressed in the local Asheville churches. Dr. Bull sent a handout to Asheville in advance that was distributed at the meeting; the presentation was made with considerable interaction between the two speakers, and there were many questions asked and discussed in the second portion of the meeting. Here is what Connie Haywood, the chapter leader, wrote me about the occasion:
“…we had a great meeting [with] 20 people in attendance… The best part of all was that after closing prayer a number of people stood around and discussed what we had just heard during the presentation. It seemed as if everyone found the presented material thought provoking. I especially enjoyed hearing the comments of Brian Bull, the scientist, as compared with Bernard Taylor, the theologian. It was most interesting how they responded to a direct question from Asheville as to how they each personally dealt with the increasing amount of research findings that seems to be in conflict with the teaching of the church on creation and time dating. It was 6:00 when the last persons left our meeting place. Oh, a thought on our end… One of the last things Jesus said to his disciples was that He had so much more he wanted to tell them, but they were not prepared to hear it...maybe some of that is some of this?”
Randy Neall wrote me: “…the technology really worked well. I was delighted about that. As a result we were able to hear from the foremost Adventist progressive expert on the topic.”
Gerald New wrote: “We had a good turnout for the meeting and there seemed to be a lot of interest in the subject that Dr. Bull and Dr. Taylor presented. Their presentation was impressive with the way they presented the incredible information as a team using each other’s strengths… The handout was especially good. The part that was close to the best was the great discussion that happened after we turned off the TV. Most of the group got in a circle and talked about the subject for some time and shared our thoughts on the talk. This [was] one of the best group interactions that I have seen at Forum and I treasured it.”
Maybe other chapters that are far from pools of good speakers or which would like to hear a particular speaker but cannot afford the air fares could benefit from using our approach.
Interested in connecting with a local forum chapter in your area? Check out our Forum Chapters page here to see a list of our forums around the world.
Don’t see one in your area, but interested in getting one started? Email us at [email protected] for more information.
Ronald Lawson’s PhD from the University of Queensland, Australia, is in both sociology and history. He taught at the City University of New York for 38 years. He now lives in Loma Linda, CA. He initiated the formation of the Asheville Adventist Forum in North Carolina in 2016. He is making his many published articles on Adventism available on his website, www.RonaldLawson.net.
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