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Northern California's Urban Camp Meeting Intentionally Engages with Community

Unique Adventist gathering redefines "camp meeting."

Pastor Damian Chandler of the Capitol City church leads out in praise and worship at Urban Camp Meeting.

Damian Chandler, pastor of the Capitol City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento, California, leads out in praise and worship at the 2019 Urban Camp Meeting in Stockton. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt 

After two years in one location, the Northern California Conference’s Urban Camp Meeting said goodbye to Stockton, California, on June 20-22, 2019. This year’s theme was “Time to Engage” — for next year, the camp meeting will engage in a new place. And it’s all part of the plan.

The goal of Urban Camp Meeting is outreach. Every two years it moves to a new city in the area. In the two-year rotation, the first year’s goal is to lay the groundwork for evangelism, while the second year has a strong emphasis on citywide evangelism.

“When we talk about this time to engage, this is part of the initiative that we have here in Northern California where we want to engage our calling … then we want to engage our churches and when we engage our churches, we’ll be able to engage them and get them out so we can engage our community.” said Chanda M. Nunes, associate pastor of the Capitol City Seventh-day Adventist Church in Sacramento.

For the second and final year in Stockton, about 1,000 people attended throughout the three-day event.

With the theme in mind, the camp meeting focused on immigration with workshops and laity training for immigrants and providing immigrants needed resources. “We’re trying to equip ourselves, educate ourselves, train ourselves how do we help our brothers and sisters,” said Willie Johnson, African-American Ministries coordinator for the Northern California Conference.

Other workshops on Friday included topics on the power of rest for ministry effectiveness, and a cooking class by chef GW Chew of The Veg Hub restaurant in Oakland. Immanuel Temple’s health van was onsite for anyone needing blood pressure and diabetes testing, as well as for health consultations.

The lead in for this year’s camp meeting was a small mission trip to work on a project with Habitat for Humanity in Stockton. For three and a half days, youth from six different churches worked on three different houses.

“We’ve been out here in this 100-degree weather building homes for families that need homes.” said Moises Ramirez, youth pastor of the Grand Advent Seventh-day Adventist Church, “We want to be a body of Christians that engage with more than just Seventh-day Adventists … more than just the people we see every Sabbath. And the best way of doing it, the most interactive, and the most difficult work was us getting out there [with] our hands and blessing someone.”

Urban Camp Meeting 2019

Mission to Cities

Urban Camp Meeting started three years ago on the campus of Pacific Union College. The gathering was initially called the African-American Convocation, which began more than 30 years ago. “Our intent and focus of Urban Camp Meeting is different from when it was an African-American Convocation. We wanted to be intentional, we wanted to make a difference and impact the cities … so we changed the name to Urban Camp Meeting to be more inclusive. [We] wanted to make sure that all cultures and ethnicities felt invited,” said Johnson.

“You know what makes Urban Camp Meeting different than any other camp meeting? It’s focusing on our cities. We have a mission to our cities,” said Marc Woodson, president of the Northern California Conference.

“It’s kind of funny to talk about a camp meeting when you’re talking about a city, but you know camp meeting is really about God’s people coming together to be a part of an initiative that will make a difference in our cities and in our communities, where our people are,” he added.

Elder Paul Anderson speaks a few words before having the ordination prayer for his Nephew, Pastor Garrett Anderson Sabbath afternoon.

Paul Anderson, director of Adventist Chaplaincy Ministries for the North American Division, speaks a few words before having the ordination prayer for his nephew, Garrett Anderson, on June 22, 2019. Photo by Pieter Damsteegt 

Follow Up

Currently, literature evangelism students from SOULS West (Pacific Union Conference’s evangelism training school) and Youth Rush are canvasing the Stockton area to be followed up with Bible work. In September, a health event for the community will be held; and in October, evangelist and speaker José Rojas will conduct meetings.

The goal is to raise two churches before moving on to Oakland, where next year’s Urban Camp Meeting will start its two-year cycle.

In aiming to focus on relevant ministries, the leadership, from the inception, chose social justice as a theme. Johnson notes they have been asking questions such as, “What role can the Church play?” and “How do we prepare our members to be advocates in the community without violating the law [and] while being true to the Bible and what it teaches?”

“There has been something special, something sacred about this year’s Urban Camp Meeting,” said Nunes. “It has really been a time of encouraging us and inspiring people to get out into the communities. We want to be God’s hands and feet and His heart here in the community of Stockton.”

— Pieter Damsteegt is video producer for the North American Division.