Briana Bunn belongs to the Church of the Advent Hope, located just east of Central Park in New York City. Her congregation describes itself as a “diverse community” whose members “share a love for Jesus and a commitment to demonstrating and spreading the good news of His transforming love to our neighborhoods, the city of New York, and the world.”
Briana became a baptized member in 2009, more than a decade after other members of her family (who were praying for her) had become Adventist.
She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She worked in complex commercial, and in labor and employment, litigation for two law firms in the city before shifting into education, where she is now employed in the office of the Dean of Students at the Brooklyn Law School.
Briana is married to Timothee Ranisavljevic, whom she met during Sabbath School at her church. She and her husband are expecting their first child, a daughter, at the end of December.
On its website the Church of the Adventist Hope publishes a brief statement of beliefs. One sentence says that through “Jesus’ death and resurrection humanity has been forgiven from and sin and given hope to live a new kind of life.” The website also lists congregational values. One is “conversation” as a response to “our own finite perspective”; others are community, wholeness, service, rest and hope.
Here is Briana Bunn’s perspective on her church:
Question: Would you say your congregation is flourishing — with steady or growing participation, adequate financial stability, deepening member commitment? Either way, why? What’s the most important reason?
Answer: Yes, Advent Hope is flourishing in all of the ways described above. What is it that makes Advent Hope so great? It’s the people. Our church is a place where you are free to be completely yourself, and no matter what form this may take, you are embraced and feel as though you fit in.
Question: Congregations are not clubs. Members come from different backgrounds — ethnically, culturally, intellectually. How, amid diversity, does your congregation inspire trusting relationships? How does it encourage honest conversation, theologically and otherwise?
Answer: Our church reflects the beautiful diversity of our City, with members of all ages hailing from numerous regions of the United States and the world, serving in various occupations, and holding a range of theological perspectives. This diversity is actually what makes Advent Hope so great. For example, a Sabbath School discussion often contains a rich exchange of ideas fueled by the varying experiences of the participants that allows us to see the complexity and universality of God.
Of course, these wonderful exchanges could not exist without the open and respectful atmosphere that has been set by the church leadership. Below are just a few examples of the way in which our leadership sets this tone:
- Our church constantly incorporates the members into the worship service and varying ministries, sending a message of inclusion;
- Sabbath School facilitators (intentionally termed facilitators rather than instructors) are trained to encourage and guide well-balanced discussions, thus giving all participants a voice; and
- The pastor, associate pastor and other board members are easily accessible to all attendees and genuinely interested in the ideas that members bring to the table.
Question: Does your congregation participate in some form (traditional or not) of evangelism? One way or the other, how do you feel about this?
Answer: I agree with Advent Hope’s outreach approach, which has been one of identifying the needs and interests of our community and working within those needs and interests. For example, on Sabbath afternoons, we have often participated in Meals on Heels, where we deliver (on foot) meals to elderly and shut-in members who reside on the Upper East Side where our church is located. This allows us to meet a basic physical need and oftentimes an unmet emotional need, as many of these residents are lonely and enjoy the time spent just talking. If they are interested, then we may pray with them, but nothing is ever pushed on them. We have also visited domestic violence shelters, detention centers and nursing homes and followed the same philosophy.
The church recently started a program aimed at the health interests of New Yorkers. This series of film screenings has included documentaries such as Escape Fire and Forks Over Knives and offers an opportunity for members of our community who may not be interested in conventional religion to come into our church and speak with members of our congregation about an important element of our beliefs and lifestyle.
These non-traditional forms of evangelism comport with the nature of our city, where people are often interested in social justice and health and may respect individual spirituality yet remain skeptical about and suspicious of organized religion. Through these forms of outreach, non-members come into direct contact with the caring, compassionate and intellectual people who make up our congregation and are available should the non-members wish to learn more about God and His love.