Our vision for the future
Three years after the Camp Fire destroyed much of the town of Paradise, including our own Paradise Adventist church buildings, our members are often asked, “Have you rebuilt your church yet?” And, while we sincerely appreciate the interest of our friends and neighbors who are anxious for us to once again worship in a beautiful sanctuary, let us assure you that we have been very busy!
In the past three years, our focus has been three-fold:
- Ensure that all our members are connected and supported, even those who have had to move away from our area
- Support our schools to be as sustainable as possible
- Create ministries that would support the rebuilding of our community
With those areas of focus being our priority, we put the actual rebuilding of our church aside. We built sheds (with Maranatha International), we delivered groceries for those who needed to stay protected at home during the pandemic, and we partnered with Adventist Health to distribute households goods and furnishings to families who are rebuilding their homes here on the ridge.
Our own church facility needs were not as critical, as we were able to worship on our property under the beautiful, untouched oak trees. Additionally, the school gym has been our “sanctuary” since the pandemic sanctions were eased.
This summer, we started to envision what our new church facility might look like, with input from our church family to identify what we most want in a church to support the needs of our current church ministries. That team has developed an overview of a new Paradise Adventist Church, and we are excited to see their final recommendations as we design our future facility to continue to be the ‘light on the hill” for many generations to come.
In the aftermath of the Camp Fire of 2018, the Paradise Adventist Church found itself with an amazing gift, a school campus that was mostly intact. In spite of the damage to the campus (the K-4 classrooms were a total loss, the gymnasium damage was extensive and the solar panels were unrepairable), the remainder of the campus was relatively untouched by the fire.
Led by Richard Cochrane, MD, a focused effort was made to assess, evaluate and complete the necessary repairs, renovations and clean up required to make the school usable again. And, in the fall of 2020, Paradise Adventist Elementary (PAE) was able to open its doors, effectively complying with COVID-19 requirements for schools in Butte County. They were one of the first in Butte County to have a COVID-19 waiver for classroom instruction approved, setting the model for other schools to follow.
In fall 2021, Paradise Adventist Academy (PAA) also returned to Paradise as a joint constituency academy (9-12) with Chico Adventist Church and Paradise Adventist Church, PAA has an enrollment of nearly 60 students. PAE has 56 students in grades K-8, making the combined enrollment for both schools to be nearly that of pre-Camp Fire totals. Some traditions have continued, including the annual Wagon Trip coordinated by David Vixie, PAE principal and 7th and 8th grade teacher. The pandemic may have delayed one such excursion, but not even COVID-19 could stop the wagons from rolling on. “This is evidence that our experiential learning is slowly recovering and students were able to travel local historic trails in an authentic environment,” said Mr. Vixie. “We still have far to go.”
In addition to housing both schools, the campus also currently provides office space for the PAC pastors and staff. Worship services are held in the gymnasium, which has been repaired and upgraded with an infrastructure for audio and live-streaming capabilities.
Church without walls means staying connected
When the coronavirus removed the opportunity for indoor services, PAC worship coordinators retooled and created an online opportunity through Facebook, providing a much needed connection with church members while isolating for protection. When it be- came apparent that outdoor activities with appropriate spacing and masking would allow for gatherings to be held in an outdoor setting, a shady spot on the church property provided the perfect location for church “Under the Oaks”.
Online streaming was still offered to allow as many as possible to participate at their own comfort level. A close-range radio frequency provided an audio broad- cast for those who preferred to sit in their own cars, while still “gathering” with fellow believers.
Outdoor activities were also attracting small groups who had been self-isolating together, and these camp- ing, hiking and backpacking events helped to safely allow in-person socialization that is so critical for emotional health. “Church Without Walls” was born. As these activities brought different generations together, other options soon followed. In order to help young teens learn basic car mechanics and auto repairs, Shop Night was started as a weekly opportunity for adults and teens to learn together. A Vespers Series was organized each season and was held on the Quad at the school campus, again complying with all COVID-19 safety requirements.
Church growth continues
Youth members have actively participated with ministry activ- ities including leading worship praise and vespers programs, helping to keep the intergen- erational involvement of the Paradise Adventist Church alive and well. Thirteen baptisms have been held and incoming membership transfers have continued to support growth and sustainability for the Paradise Adventist Church.
Love without strings . . . A year of growth
After two phases of the Shed Project, it was apparent that the community was now facing a different dilemma. Food insecurity was on the rise due to workforce layoffs and isolation from the pandemic. Quickly shifting gears, Paradise Adventist Church’s Love Paradise ministry leader, Successfully delivered the last sheds in 2021. Joelle Chinnock put together a grocery assistance and delivery program. The goal was to reach 150 households directly with grocery delivery. Grant proposals were sent to several generous donors who had participated with the Shed Project, including North Valley Community Foundation, Paradise Rotary Foundation and Feather River Health Founda- tion. They eagerly joined in to help feed the community, creating Love Delivers. This program grew from a few direct grocery deliveries in April to more than 1200 Farmer to Family food boxes distributed weekly through May of 2021, thanks to an organization called City Serve and the USDA.
Now, food insecurity concerns are being addressed through community support for the Simple Gestures Green Bag program, which encourages contributions of non-perishable goods (8-10 items) six times a year through a special “green bag” that is placed on the porch for easy pick-up by volunteers. All donations are collected and sorted for distribution to other food banks in town. The Center Street Warehouse in Paradise is the newly-designated distribution site. Local craftsmen who supported the Shed Project have also collaborated with Love Paradise to create Love Builds, a housing partnership with Academy Mortgage, Lowe’s and other strategic partners to help uninsured families to rebuild their homes on the ridge, using donated services, building resources and volun- teers. One home has been completed. In partnership with Adventist Health and the Feath- er River Health Foundation, this changing and growing community outreach is now offering Love Gives to distribute furniture and larger household items to qualifying families. These items are shared through Inspire Hope, a local redistribution program that as- sists nonprofit partners with items intended to improve the quality of life for individuals in the communities they serve. World Vision is the international nonprof- it that connects businesses who have donated these goods with the charities that can distribute them. Love Gives has a team of nine volunteers and staff who work out of The Center Street Warehouse.
We are so grateful for the many donors who have helped us along the way. We are particularly thankful for the North Valley Community Foundation, Paradise Rotary Foundation and Feather River Health Foundation. Their generosity has supported our various ministries and have enabled us to continue to grow and evolve to serve our community with our best efforts.
Pastoral and church office staff: (front row, l to r) Dawn Horning, Julie Kitto, Delinda Hamilton, Joelle Chinnock, Kathy McFarland. (back row, l to r) Larry Graack, Tom Adams, Steve Hamilton, Chuck Wisener, Mark Lockwood.
On my heart
Being part of the past three years of disaster recovery has been one of the most inspirational and rewarding experiences for me. Seeing the love and tenacity that the Paradise Adventist Church has had in the recovery of both the church and school community is nothing short of amazing.
In addition, the infrastructure and program- ming developments as well as the massive community service endeavors by our church members – who have lost so much of their own yet continue to work for others – is awe-inspir- ing, and something I will treasure for the rest of my life.
The friendships and strong bond of love that has been developed during these difficult times is the picture of the Christian church I cherish. Please pray for us as we continue to share the love of Jesus on the ridge.
– Steve Hamilton, Senior Pastor