When one hears the words “mission field,” one rarely thinks of the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States. Philadelphia has six million residents, and yet only 10,000 Seventh-day Adventists. So when Tara Vincross ’02 got a call with her husband Caleb ’03, both theology majors, to come to Philadelphia and start urban ministry there, it was something special.
“I’m the only woman pastor serving in this conference, and our conference president knew that it would be a major objection for the church,” says Vincross. “He first approached them with all my qualities and who I am as a pastor but not saying my gender. He said, ‘Is this the pastor you want to have?’ And they said, ‘Absolutely, when can he come?’ And then he told them who I was and showed a picture and they said, ‘No way.’ And he said, ‘What changed?’
“We came and interviewed and it was one of the most profound and moving experiences I have ever had with the Holy Spirit working,” she says. The church held a 3½ hour interview. Vincross preached, shared her testimony and took questions.
“There were tears, people saying I was against you but now I see God’s leading,” she says. “We had so many confirmations that we were meant to be here. And God has really backed that up by giving me the strength to do it.”
Today Vincross is senior pastor of Chestnut Hill Church in downtown Philadelphia, and has inherited a city and a church with a rich heritage. Vincross has seen church records dating back to the 1870s, stating that in its previous location, her church was located over a storefront in the 1800s, with likely visits by James and Ellen White.
Before Tara and Caleb came to Philadelphia, they were located in Washington Conference, where they served for 2½ years before heading to the Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan. In 2008, Tara saw an ad for a pastor to come to Philadelphia and to help the church make a difference in an urban context. It was just what she wanted to do, but she dismissed it because of where it was. She got three phone calls from people who felt she was being called to pastor the church.
The church’s urban ministry really started after Vincross led the elders and the church board to pray for them to love their community in the same way they would love their children. That led them to the Pennsylvania Youth Challenge Program with 30 youth and young adults who are engaged in mission for nine weeks during the summer. And it also led them to realize that they wanted to keep the ministry going year around, leading to the sponsorship of seven two-year internships under the umbrella of Reach Philadelphia. Ministry includes a tutoring program, urban agriculture and block parties, and has led to a church planting.
“We definitely make it up as we go along,” says Vincross. “We ask God every day what to do next. I’ve been trying really hard as a leader to not speculate, and only share what I have been given. Sometimes God will give us clarity for something and we’ll go with that, and we will not know the next step until we get there.”
Vincross feels “extremely blessed” with mentors throughout her young life, including strong relationships with professors at the Seminary, as well as influential professors and pastors at Southwestern. She thanks Lloyd Willis and Bill Kilgore for their mentoring, Lane Campbell for his willingness to delegate and let students learned while they ministered, and Ron Halvorsen, Jr. and Ron Halvorsen, Sr. for infecting her with the joy of evangelism.
Tara Vincross, theology, 2002