SuCasa, the Spanish-American Seventh-day Adventist church located on the campus of Southern Adventist University in Collegedale, Tennessee, is a small, unassuming building. Its brick and white exterior houses a snug interior that can hold more attendees than one would assume at first glance. And it’s a good thing, too, because the church was packed when I visited on a Sabbath this year.
The large number of congregants that crowd the sanctuary regularly is probably due to how welcoming and social this church is. In fact, they state outright that one of their goals as a church is to connect more with their community, and it certainly seems like they are putting in the effort. When I first walked in, I was greeted warmly by the head elder, who took time to introduce himself, learn my name, and ask where I was visiting from. When I sat down in the small sanctuary, the women seated beside me took time to shake my hand and greet me with warm, wide smiles. Three times during the service, we were asked to greet the people around us, including once with a big hug.
The church also hosts a wide variety of social activities. At 8:00 a.m. on Saturdays, they hold prayer sessions in the sanctuary for anyone who wants to join. Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m. are for small groups. The day I visited, they had planned a Sociedad de Jovenes meeting, a common Hispanic tradition similar to Young Adults (formerly Adventist Youth Society), at 5:30 p.m., followed by a game night. The lead pastor, Gamaliel Feliciano, is available for visits as well as counseling. Additionally, they are currently filming interviews with each family in the church so that the rest of the members can hear each other’s testimonies.
The sense of community carries over into their worship service. The song services are glorious ensembles led by a large worship choir and soloists, with a small orchestra consisting of a piano, violin, saxophone, cajon, trumpet, and even chimes. The team even sang some verses in English, creating a more welcoming atmosphere for any visiting non-Spanish speakers. The service is streamed to 4–6 overflow/mothers’ rooms as well for all to participate in and enjoy. A particularly nice touch was when Pastor Gamaliel asked for any two members of the church to come to the front to pray with him before his sermon.
Additionally, this church appears to have thriving programs for the kids. The most recent project they were working on was called the “Love Olympics,” where kids learn how to better love different aspects of God’s creation—their bodies, the elderly, the Bible, nature, etc. At the end of the Olympics, those who have completed all the love challenges (or gone 100 meters, with each love challenge worth approximately 10 meters) will receive a gold medal. Completing 80 meters worth of challenges gets a silver medal, 60 meters gets a bronze medal, and 10–50 meters gets a certificate.
The church was going through a sermon series on the book of Daniel. Pastor Gamaliel preached on Daniel 7 and took time to discuss not only the prophecies in the chapter but also how to bring some real-life applications out of it. For example, Gamaliel highlighted how God knows our future, so he therefore knows our pain and suffering and is with us through it. Because the future belongs to God, he is the king, and we can rest in him and his love—not in what other people tell us about who he is.
After a rousing closing song from the praise team, I was greeted heartily by a few more people before I walked out the door. Just as I was about to head to my car, I heard a bloodcurdling scream. I whirled and saw a woman running through the crowds of the church. “Help me!” she screamed. “I can’t find my son! He’s special needs and I can’t find him!” She was loud and very visible, yet only a few people began to help her in a churchyard packed with congregants. I joined the search for the missing boy, but after returning empty-handed, I was surprised to see again how few people were helping the woman. She was still sobbing and screaming for help and others were screaming the boy’s name, and yet many churchgoers simply observed the goings-on or continued with their conversations. The few who were helping the woman were genuinely concerned, holding and comforting her and searching as best they could. Eventually, the boy was found and reunited with his mother, but I left the church feeling disturbed at some people’s apparent indifference to the situation, even though only minutes before I had been pleasantly surprised by the church’s warmth.
During my visit to the SuCasa Church, I learned how heartwarming it is when people put in the effort to make you feel like you belong. I also learned churches are comprised of imperfect humans (how many times have we heard that statement, right?). We try our best to build communities of love, only to realize again and again how imperfect that love is. Perhaps this is where grace steps in, covering our humanity and helping us love our neighbor better. I know many in SuCasa are striving toward the goal of loving each other more. And even with their human imperfections, I could still feel that love pushing through—in their messages, in their songs of praise, and in their smiles.
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 12 different Adventist churches in the North American Division and write about the experience. 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.
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.
Previously in this series:
“What It's Like to Worship at Crosswalk Redlands” by Ezrica Bennett.
“Visiting the District Community Church Plant in Washington, DC” by Jacklyn Frias.
Josué Vega is a marketing professional from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a graduate of Southern Adventist University’s School of Journalism and Communications.
Photos by Josué Vega.
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