“What is The One Project about anyway?” This is a question I hear articulated in one form or another almost every time the gathering comes up in conversation with someone who hasn’t attended before.
For those unfamiliar with The One Project, the stated desire is celebrate the supremacy of Jesus in the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The gatherings are typically two days long and consist of teachings focused on Jesus, immediately followed by times of small group reflection. Worship, a mixture of hymns and contemporary Hillsong-style worship music, usually opens and closes each session.
It all started in 2010 with Japhet De Oliveira, Alex Bryan, Sam Leonor, Tim Gillespie, and Terry Swenson deciding to meet in a Denver hotel room. To learn more of what happened in that hotel room and focus of The One Project I spoke with Japhet De Oliveira, Chaplain of Andrews University and co-chair of The One Project, as well as Sam Leonor, Chaplain at La Sierra University and part of The One Project board.
We have heard how The One Project started in a Denver hotel room. What happened there that was so significant you had to share it?
Sam: There wasn’t a big agenda. We just decided to fast the day before we met, then talk and pray a lot; that was the big plan. The first half of the day we just verbally vomited on each other. Then a miracle happened. There was an awakening to the centrality of Jesus. I got on the plane to Denver frustrated, and came home a brand new person because I understood the centrality of Jesus. We spend so much of our ministry and our lives on the periphery that we need to take time to remember that Jesus is the main thing.
What was it like hosting the first public gathering in Atlanta?
Atlanta was initially supposed to be twenty-five people. And then we found out that it had grown to 170 people, so we decided there had better be more than holding hands and singing “Kumbaya.” Atlanta was also stressful because we bankrolled it ourself and initially we didn’t know if anybody would come.
The night before Atlanta began, the five of us were up all night because we were all stressed out. What have we done here? Monday night after the first day we were speechless from what had happened.
One of the best things about Denver was the power of being in a room with people who you don’t have to worry about judging your journey. Not only that, but knowing I’m not alone, I have these five people who are in a similar place as I am. From the moment we all walked into the room in Atlanta there was a sense of comfort and the knowledge that at least there are 170 people that feel the same way.
What has been the best and worst surprise you have encountered while working with the 1 Project?
Japhet: Best surprise: that we are not alone. It is as Tim Gillespie has said “a sacred echo.” Worst surprise, that a few have felt our vision “Celebrating the supremacy of Jesus within the Seventh-day Adventist Church” is a critique on the Church. It would be comparable to birthday parties being viewed a critique on the rest of the year.
I’m sure you hear this question a lot, but what are your goals for the One Project gatherings?
Sam: First, people who love Jesus getting together to encourage and affirm each other in our pursuit of him. Second, being able to say, “No, being more Christian doesn’t mean that we are less Adventist”. Third, saying Jesus is Lord. Because I affirm this point, I have a new way to preach the issues I have on my heart. I am now preaching because Jesus is Lord; all these issues are now aligned by the cross. To summarize: all we want is a more focused Christology. In Adventism we have a tendency to treat Jesus as the starter kit, and then more on into “more important things.” My overall goal is that someday we won’t need The One Project, because Jesus will be so central to everything we do.
You recently had a board retreat. What are some of the upcoming events we can look forward to?
Japhet: We posted the minutes of our board retreat online. We have a lot of dreams for a healthy trajectory. Placing a high value on Christology can only be positive for the Kingdom of God and Heaven. I like going to Church every week. My local community, One Place, brings huge joy in my life. Should I stop because I know it is true? Should I stop because I experienced it once before? It is the same for the One project gatherings. They are the much needed space for refreshingly open engagement in the significance of Jesus. Of course as Alex Bryan would say, to talk on and of Jesus, has implications. What are these implications? Herein lies one of the strengths of the gatherings, which make them different to conferences, summits or conventions, we offer time for recalibration, during that time the application takes place and it is different for everyone.
Recently I had the privilege of being a One Project table facilitator for the recalibration small group time in the last two North American gatherings. These recalibrations provided times for participants to discuss differences and questions in a safe environment. In the facilitator training meeting prior to the gathering, facilitators were encouraged to change the conversation points away from conservative/liberal labelings, to a discussion of whether the person thought an issue was central or peripheral to their Christianity. There would still be different opinions, but it would be harder to label someone a “peripherist” or “too central” if they didn’t agree with you on a specific topic, and thought that topic less crucial.
This philosophy enabled the discussions to be much more open, as people at my table spent much more time in discussion about a person’s background and opinion than in argument. At the end of the last One Project in Chicago a young woman remarked how much our table had seemed to grow into a “church family” who enjoyed talking even during the breaks when most people were walking around.
I would also echo Sam’s sentiment regarding the power of realizing you aren’t alone. Following the Seattle gathering last year, a pastor revealed to me that she thought this conference would be the final straw that made her feel like she couldn’t identify as Adventist any longer. Instead, she shared how she had left hopeful for Adventism and excited that she had met a large group of people who were hopeful in the same way.
If you desire to know more of the theology and focus of these gatherings, past talks are available online at the1project.org/media.html. Three talks I would recommend as a starting point would be Jesus In Our Theology, Jesus (1888), and A Second Touch.
—Caleb Henry pastors at the Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento, California.