Every church is made by the people within its walls, which is what makes each one so special. The District Community Campus of the Beltsville Adventist Church is no different. The Washington, DC, campus is a church plant created by the Beltsville Church family that launched in the spring of 2022 in order to connect with the surrounding community. They are a part of the Potomac Conference of Seventh-day Adventists and based out of the Capital Memorial Adventist Church building, where they meet in the afternoons after the members of Capital Memorial have their service.
Pastor Joanne Cortes was part of the District Community church plant from the beginning. “I actually began looking for people who wanted to be part of a church plant right when the pandemic hit in 2020,” she says. “I basically had to connect with people virtually and start building a core team and together create a beautiful community. We had a few virtual services, hangouts, popups, and gatherings in person and online as we worked toward launch in September 2022.”
The Capital Memorial Church building.
The church focuses on a passion for God and people. Its mission is to equip fully engaged, missional disciples of Jesus by connecting people with God, connecting people with each other, connecting people with the community, and connecting people with a life of spiritual growth.
These four action steps are vital to their mission to move people from having little interest in spiritual things to living a vibrant Christian life. Each step in the process represents a progressive advancement in discipleship toward spiritual maturity. The church frequently takes opportunities to connect with the surrounding community. They hosted an Easter party for the community and related the holiday with Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins.
Another way the church connects with its community is through social media. The church has a steady Instagram presence, sharing inspiration, messages from the pastoral staff, and information like “What is baptism?” While scrolling, I found the church values family and children’s ministries through regular Vacation Bible School announcements and several picnic days in the summer.
During the pandemic, District Community hosted "midday hope" every day on Instagram to pray and encourage people. The church’s first baptism was for a woman named Carmen, who found the community via social media and to this day shares the church values on her TikTok account.
Joanne Cortes also has a steady Instagram presence of her own. Not only does she share her own inspirational messages, she also shares glimpses into her family. Her bio simply states: “Love, Inspire, and Empower.” Cortes is also one of the few Adventist pastors I’ve seen with a TikTok presence as well, which shows that the church values meeting people where they are and connecting through meaningful ways.
Pastor Joanne Cortes speaks at District Community.
Joanne Cortes is described as a person who has a passion for ministry and a heart for people—empowering individuals to be who God calls them to be. Her desire is to lead others to believe boldly, love compassionately, and live wholeheartedly while trusting God completely. For over 20 years, she has ministered actively with her husband, Jose, in youth ministries, church planting, and church leadership. The couple has two kids, Jose III and Joel Benjamin.
I wanted to visit District Community for myself to really know what being a member is like there. Immediately upon driving up, the sign at the front says "church for all people." And when I entered the sanctuary, Pastor Cortes immediately came up to greet me and guided me to their VIP room, where they have an assortment of snacks and drinks for people and a place to fellowship before and after the service. It was a nice little icebreaker, and I got to say hello to the church volunteers.
Once the service started, I noticed that the pews from the back to the middle were roped off. I was told this is to encourage people to sit closer together in the front and not hide in the back. And honestly, sitting there among everyone, I felt a bit more connected than I would isolating myself in the back row. The day I attended, there was an average of around 40 people there for the service.
This church has a very come-as-you-are style. There were people wearing dresses and suits, and you had people dressed in more casual wear. Everyone melded together as the praise team led out in song. The words “Be Love” were up front and center stage. I was informed later that “Be Love” is the church's core mission. This statement is also printed on the hoodies that I was given after the service, a physical reminder to be love wherever I am.
One detail I noticed was the lack of printed programs. And honestly, I liked that. The church didn’t need them as the service was perfectly simple. Beginning with praise music, then prayer, more music, the main message, and then music again, I didn’t lose focus once during the program. And while the main service is going on, there is a children’s church in the Sabbath school rooms for the younger kids. When I was a kid, the main service felt boring and I was always so excited for special programs. So I love that these kids get that opportunity each week.
The Sabbath I visited was also a very special day because the church was celebrating the baptism of a new young member. The little girl was so excited to join the church family in baptism—you could see it on her face. I could feel the joy all around me.
This kind of church family is vastly different from many of the traditional churches you see everywhere. And for me, it’s extremely refreshing.
Editor's note—Thank you for reading this installment of the 12 Churches Project, a special 2023 series from Spectrum.
Thanks to readers like you who donated to our Grow the Vision campaign for the Bonnie Dwyer Journalism Fund, we’re commissioning reporters to visit a different Adventist church each month and write about the experience. Post-pandemic, what’s church like? Who’s showing up and who’s not? What’s changed? What’s working? What needs to change? The goal is not deeply investigatory but merely to witness worship and share. Hopefully, we can all learn something from these first-person experiences.
Readers will learn about 12 churches in the North American Division this year. We’re aiming for diversity—at least one in each of the nine NAD unions—with a focus on key examples of various church bodies and worship styles.
Previously in this series:
"What It's Like to Worship at Crosswalk Redlands" by Ezrica Bennett.
Jacklyn Frias is a freelance content creator and streamer and the face of @Adventist_Tea from Spectrum. She enjoys drinking lots of tea and creating video content.
Pictures by the author.
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