Seventh-day Adventist education is a topic which crosses the minds of many parents and church members. Those who choose to place their children in Adventist education often observe that the school is comprised primarily, if not entirely, of students from one particular ethnic group.
Fayetteville, North Carolina, is a city where the local Adventist churches fall within either the South Atlantic Conference (SAC), a primarily African-American regional conference, or the Carolina Conference, a primarily Caucasian non-regional conference (although both conferences include members from various ethnic groups). For years, a separate school served each conference; although these schools were approximately six miles apart, numerous members from the churches questioned why the schools did not combine. The answer is found, in part, in how the Adventist Church has structured its conferences, and the impact which this structure has had on racial relations within the church.
Over the years in Fayetteville, as conversations have taken place between church members, the topic of combining schools has surfaced multiple times. In 2010, meetings took place in individuals’ homes, as well as town hall meetings in the churches. The topic resurfaced, and it appeared as though the majority was open to the idea. However, due to opposition from a few key leaders, the issue returned to a dormant state. Nevertheless, some members continued to pray.
A pivotal change took place in the spring of 2013, when the Carolina school closed. Although I am a member of the Abney Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church (part of SAC), my family visits and enjoys the friendship and fellowship of members from our sister church, the Fayetteville Seventh-day Adventist Church (part of the Carolina Conference). I, along with others, encouraged our friends from the Fayetteville Adventist School to place their children in the Abney Chapel Christian School.
Due to their commitment to Adventist education, some of the members from the Carolina Conference’s school made the decision to place their children in the South Atlantic Conference’s school. In order for their children to gain an Adventist education, it appeared as though members from both congregations welcomed the thought of the children being “taught of the Lord” together. That same year, a family from a nearby Spanish Seventh-day Adventist church also enrolled their children in the school, which opened the door for more Hispanic students.
Exploring the Possibility of Unification
While I was serving as the Home and School leader in 2013, I conducted a meeting with the sole purpose of discussing and praying about the possibility of the two churches working together for one unified school. The pastors, church members, parents, students, and school staff attended that meeting. Many complex questions were raised. One major point made was that the students had questioned in class why their schools had not joined together at a much earlier time, and why their schools were separate in the first place.
The overall tone of the meeting was that the majority were in favor of unification, but were uncertain as to how it could take place, given the structure and various aspects of the conferences. No one offered answers except to fast, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to lead and guide.
The meeting resulted in the formation of the Greater Fayetteville Area Exploration Committee, which polled the three Adventist churches in Fayetteville, as well as another church nearby, as to whether or not the members wanted to explore the idea of a unified school. The result was an overwhelming yes! At that point we contacted the education leaders of the South Atlantic Conference, the Carolina Conference, the Southern Union, and the North America Division (NAD), and informed them of our increasing interest and desire to form a unified school across conference lines.
The powers that be were not opposed to the concept, and encouraged the local leaders to explore further. The Exploration Committee held a number of conference calls with the vice president of education for the NAD, who recommended that the committee develop a unified constitution. A constituency meeting for all the churches was held on March 23, 2014, with local leaders, conference leaders, and a representative from the NAD as the facilitator. The churches voted to form a committee to write the constitution; the committee took approximately one year to complete it, and to receive the endorsement of the education leaders of the SAC, Carolina Conference, Southern Union, and NAD.
Birth of a Unified School
At a constituency meeting on May 22, 2015, the church members voted yes for the unified constitution, and the Greater Fayetteville Adventist Academy (GFAA) was born! The constituent churches are Abney Chapel Seventh-day Adventist Church (SAC), Fayetteville Seventh-day Adventist Church (Carolina Conference), and Fayetteville Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church (Carolina Conference). St. Paul’s Spanish Seventh-day Adventist Church (Carolina Conference) has children who attend the school, and the church has future plans to officially become a constituent church.
Due to various circumstances and challenges, a number of significant changes took place during the journey. The school temporarily relocated from the SAC property to the Carolina Conference property, although it remains under the administration of SAC. The school boards temporarily merged prior to the official date of unification in order to ensure proper operation of the school. SAC and Carolina Conference leaders worked together to devise a plan which allowed an SAC teacher and a Carolina Conference teacher to work simultaneously at the school.
There have been, and will continue to be, unexpected issues and challeges for GFAA, the constituent churches, and members. However, many, including myself, continue to look to God’s promises in His Word and His power to complete the work He has begun through GFAA in Fayetteville.
The Blessings of Unity
The Scripture that inspired the birth of the Greater Fayetteville Adventist Academy is found in 1 Corinthians 1:10, which refers to putting aside differences and working together in the same mind and thought. The leaders and many church members in Fayetteville are committed to putting aside the differences that have hindered us from working together for the sake of Adventist education, which is in a critical decline in some aspects.
Many more blessings have resulted from the journey beyond the intended goal, which was to provide a standard of excellence in Adventist education and prepare God’s children for the world to come. One such blessing is the impact it has had on racial relations, which are often estranged in the Adventist Church. GFAA includes African-American, Asian, Caucasian, and Hispanic students, teachers, board members, and church members. The formation of the unified school has created an environment which increases ongoing opportunities for members of different ethnic groups at both the local and conference levels to work together for a common goal. Ultimately, it has improved racial relations in the church, which is a testimony to the church and the world of the transforming power of God.
On April 17 of this year, GFAA conducted a fundraiser and rebranding event (see top photo). A parade of nations culminated the event, symbolizing the acknowledgement, embracing, and celebration of different ethnic groups in the school, the local Adventist churches, and the community. The support for the event from the constituent and supportive churches was overwhelming.
The leaders at GFAA have accepted a challenge from the education department at the NAD to form a model for the unified school with the goal of inspiring other conferences to form and sustain such schools. We hope that many more Adventists will reap God’s countless and insurmountable blessings by taking a journey towards a unified school across conference lines.
Watch a video interview with GFAA leaders discussing how the unified school has impacted race relations among Adventists in Fayetteville.
If you would like more information about starting a unified school in your area, please contact Joan Daniels at [email protected].