[Among our Homecoming Sunday visitors was former ABC Pastoral Assistant (1985-1987) Ed Reitz. He is now a retired pastor, rehab service director, and counselor for Opportunity Homes, living with his wife, Emy, in Hemet, CA. They have been connected with ABC from the mid-70’s through 2003 as members, deacons and Sunday School teachers. In addition to his time on the pastoral staff, Ed has also been VBS director and has sung bass in the choir. Since moving to Hemet they have stayed in touch with some of the members and with Pastors Connie and George. In keeping with the current preaching theme of the church, Ed wrote this article as a way of talking about “Seeing Jesus Through the Eyes of ABC, Past and Present.”]
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Years ago, the Seven-Up Company decided to brand itself as the Un-Cola, a unique alternative to the more common and highly popular “colas” like Pepsi and Coke. I’d like to borrow that phrase to dub Altadena Baptist Church a unique UN-CHURCH. Here’s what I mean.
ABC was never a “super-church” with multiple choirs, staff, services, and programs. It was, by the standards of the megachurch movement that began in the ‘70’s, a “small” congregation. After 1972, when George Van Alstine was called to pastor ABC, it began to diversify, racially and ethnically, as well as to open up ministry opportunities for women, all this at a time when such movements were considered very novel and NOT endorsed by most Christians, far and wide. Actually, this UNLIKELY church ultimately became a LIKELY ministry, ahead of its time.
Pastor Connie Larson DeVaughn was called to be the Assistant Pastor in 1988.She followed another woman in being Ordained to the Ministry by ABC (Stephanie Dodrill, currently one of the church’s supported missionaries) at a time when ordaining women was not under serious consideration in most of evangelical Christianity, including in the Baptist General Conference, now Converge International, of which ABC is a part. Connie is now the Lead Pastor. She and Pastor George have served the congregation for a total of approximately 86 years. This UNEXPECTED leadership longevity and creativity has become the EXPECTED.
The pilgrimage of ABC through the decades, including its recent step to include recognition of LGBTQ+ folk in its fold, may have seemed UNBELIEVABLE at some point in time. It is now, however, BELIEVABLE, a testimony to what ABC has become and is still becoming.
With this in mind, I refer to Romans 12, where Paul implores the Church to be a sacrificial living community, using the gifts of its members to foster togetherness among all kinds of people and seeking to live out the love of Christ in a world looking for hope:
I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, on the basis of God’s mercy, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your reasonable act of worship. Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God — what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me, I say to everyone among you not to think of yourselves more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the encourager, in encouragement; the giver, in sincerity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. (Romans 12:1-8)
I believe Altadena Baptist Church is attempting to follow the guidance of Romans 12, and I have therefore designated it an UN-CHURCH, a unique alternative to much of the popular (“cola”) Christianity of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Truly refreshing!
Rev. Edmund J. Reitz