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CHRISTIAN LIFE IN LONDON | OCTOBER 2021 EDITION
The Churches of London:
London Seventh-Day Adventist Church

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Published March 2021
By An Interview with Tony Kulpa



This month I had the opportunity to talk with Pastor Juan Carlos Atencio of London Seventh-Day Adventist Church, to hear about his history, the history of the church, and the remarkable things that God has been doing in the community.

Please tell us a little about yourself and about London Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

I came to Ontario from Quebec almost 8 years ago, and this is my 17th year in pastoral ministry. In 2013, we moved to the area to pastor the St. Thomas and Woodstock Seventh Day Adventist churches. In January of 2018, I came to pastor the London Seventh-Day Adventist Church as well as the London Hispanic Seventh-Day Adventist Church.







I’ve been involved in various cultural ministries, starting in Quebec, where I had the privilege to pastor French churches. I worked with people of several different language and culture groups there, but London SDA has been a full blown multicultural experience. We have about 50 different nationalities represented, which makes for a nice challenge, but it is also a beautiful experience. I imagine what it must have been like in the times of the Apostle Paul, or with the disciples during Pentecost. And when we have potlucks or cultural days, it’s a nice day to be present.

The SDA church has been in London for more than 120 years. London was actually the first headquarters for Adventism in Canada, before it moved to Oshawa. Sometimes we’ve been a little more reserved, perhaps, and in the last 20 years we’ve been trying to get more involved in the community and be present.

What exciting ministries would like to share about?

I inherited a great group of leaders and programs, especially our community service reaching out to the London community. In the years prior to COVID-19, we were opening our doors once a month to about 80 families to give out clothing, groceries, and special needs items. For the last 8 years, we’ve been teaming up with Ark Aid on Dundas to provide a meal at least once a month, and since last year we’ve been reaching out to the homeless by bringing weekly sack lunches, or even serving a hot meal.

In addition, we provide sack lunches to the two mobile shelters that have been opened in London, and we work with those in the tent city, handing out gloves, blankets, coats, and school bags. Last year we contributed almost $28,000 in donations to our community through programs like Ark Aid and the shelters, and that’s not counting the hundreds of dollars in food items and other needed goods that were donated.

We know that London was hit pretty badly by COVID-19, and a lot of services and volunteers were not equipped or able to stay active. In our own church, we have several volunteers who, because of their age, have had to step back, still doing their part but staying safe. So it’s been important to us to stay engaged.

How have your ministries responded to COVID and the lockdowns?

Well, especially at the beginning, we made sure to keep checking on people to see that everyone was doing fine, that their spirits were up. We are very grateful to God that we have not had a single case of someone being hospitalized because of major complications. At the same time, we’ve taken strong precautions by closing the church and going online. Like for everyone else, it was a whole new experience and challenge for us. We had to figure out how to do something meaningful in a whole new medium that could bring people together and attract families and friends.

We made a crucial decision at the beginning, that we were going to prioritize community over quality. We wanted to do something live, even if it wasn’t perfect, to feel the community effect, rather than recording everything before-hand in high quality and broadcasting it later. We wanted people to feel that we were all here at the same time, together. That meant we made a few mistakes, had a few hang-ups while we were learning

Then one service, everything finally came together. We had one of our singers who sang very beautifully, live, and I just broke down in front of the camera. I tried to close down my video feed, but I had to preach right after. I told them that this was what church and fellowship is all about. It’s not about the four walls of our building. It’s us coming together and having a spiritual moment, not in Jerusalem, not in Samaria, but wherever we decide to worship in spirit and in truth.

When the most recent lockdowns started, we of course shut down again, and things have been a little different this time. We have moved more toward better quality, largely because more people are conscious of being recorded and put on YouTube. We are exploring how we can continue to build community and have fellowship, and we are constantly changing and improving.

I think that, as a community, we have kept pretty well. We thank God for that, because we know many churches have been hit hard. We continue to try to envision what it is that we’re here for, what it is that God wants us to do.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

I would love to share about our little school. We try very hard not just to train good Christians or good students, but strong Christian leaders for today and tomorrow. In 2019 the administration started a program to provide a chromebook for every student. So when the lockdowns started in March of 2020, we were all ready to go online, because they already had the chromebooks. After the lockdowns lifted, the school was functioning with about 20 students meeting in person, with the rest working online. We’re happy that the program continues forward.

Because of the school, because of dedicated parents and other school ministry programs, in February of 2020, we were able to start a teen baptismal class. We began meeting in small groups, face-to-face before COVID and later over Zoom, and after we reopened our doors in August, nine of those youth gave their lives to Jesus and were baptized in the fall. To me it was such a victory, reminding us that COVID-19 does not have the last word. Jesus does.

This pandemic has shown us that we do not know our tomorrow, and it has reminded us of the great task that we have to share the gospel with people around us. Certainly with family and friends, but also with those outside our circle of influence. It was beautiful to be a part of those baptisms, and to be reminded as a church that, be there war or famine or pandemic, we still have a mission to accomplish. We cannot let our guard down. Yes, we will respond to the call to protect each other, our elderly, and our youth, and will follow the protocols of our government. But at the same time, we’ve got to find ways to share the gospel, to share the life of Jesus. Check out London Seventh-Day Adventist Church at www.adventistlondon.ca

. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

About Interviewer, Tony Kupla, Christian Life in London Contributing Editor.

Tony is the second oldest child in a family of 11, and, in his words, “I absolutely adored being the big brother and the “responsible one” in the family. As a result I’ve had a lifelong love of children and of leadership.” Tony has always felt that service lies at the heart of the true Christian experience. Even as a youngster, he was deeply sensitive to others’ needs and hurts, and felt drawn to help. He also has always had a passion for Biblical teaching. More than anything else, he is delighted and excited by exploration and exposition of the universal truths found in Scripture, and the application of those truths in practical ways to problems both global and day-to-day.

It was no surprise that he wound up teaching for most of his career. The first school he taught at was Quisqueya Christian School in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. In addition to the Caribbean, Tony has taught in South America and East Asia, as well as in Canada. Mostly Tony’s teaching has been at Christian schools, though he also had the notable opportunity to teach at an Islamic school for a few years.

In 2015, Tony completed a Master of Biblical Studies from Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary in Cochrane, Alberta. He actually started the degree in person and finished it while living and teaching in Asuncion, Paraguay. His specialization was in Biblical languages, especially Greek.

Since 2016, Tony has been a London resident.

“I am excited by what God and the Church is doing here. I have learned so much about the community and the everyday heroes that the Lord is using for great things through the Christian Life in London publication