Written by: Amanda Blake and Matthew Orquia
Editor’s Note: The Accent published the first version of this article online on Oct. 7. The following version adds additional perspectives to the story.
Ron Halvorsen Jr., senior pastor of North Cascade Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) Church in Burlington, Washington, will be the next senior pastor of Collegedale Church of Seventh-day Adventists.
Gary Rustad, president of the Georgia-Cumberland Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, announced the decision on Saturday, Oct. 7, during worship services, emphasizing Halvorsen’s background as a praying leader who has already pastored three Adventist college and university churches.
In a press release issued by the conference, Halvorsen was quoted as saying: “I like working with all the different age groups, but I like the life and vitality that comes with campuses of kindergarten through [graduate] level work and the dynamics of that setting.
“I am excited to again be in a setting working with the schools, working with the church team,” he continued. “While it is a local church, it is also a university and a [K-12] academy church. How can we be a church that reflects Christ to these young people?”
At the Oct. 7. Adoration service, Rustad said Halvorsen will officially begin his tenure in Collegedale alongside his wife, Buffy, on Nov. 1, and he is excited to have him join the team.
“Ron is an experienced pastor and administrator,” Rustad said. “He brings with him a passion for prayer, and he has a gift in leading members closer to their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Ron has pastored university churches before, and he knows and loves this setting, so much so that when he accepted this week, he said, ‘I’m gonna be there in two weeks.’ So on Oct. 21, Ron and Buffy are going to be here to celebrate with y’all the fall festival.”
The search committee’s selection of Halvorsen follows an extensive period of transition for Collegedale church, which started five months ago with the departure of David Ferguson, the congregation’s most recent lead pastor. As reported in a recent Accent article, Collegedale church has lost four pastors in the past year.
When the Accent asked Halvorsen via email about the difficulty of assuming the role of Collegedale’s senior pastor at this time, Halvorsen replied stating that God’s call is of the utmost importance, a lesson he’s learned throughout his career.
“I’m not sure why, but God has brought me to places in challenging times before,” he wrote. “I know the kind of difference He can bring to such circumstances. Early in my ministry, when I had a call to a place, I tried to learn as much as I could about the problems, etc. But the last half of [my ministry], I don’t even ask anything about that. So, for years now, the question isn’t how hard or easy it is, it’s just: ‘Is God asking me to it?’”
“Ron has pastored university churches before, and he knows and loves this setting, so much so that when he accepted this week, he said, ‘I’m gonna be there in two weeks.'”
Carole Verrill, the church’s pastor for children’s ministries, was quoted in the previous Accent article saying that the conference plans to involve the new lead pastor in hiring individuals for the other three vacant pastor positions.
Halvorsen wrote in his email to the Accent that he will seek input from members of the church and university regarding the hirings.
“I will need to lean more heavily in this instance on those with a knowledge of the church, school and community since I will be new to Collegedale,” he stated, “because in building a team, you need more than a person with the right talents. You need a person who works well with others and also would work well in the local environment.”
Halvorsen hopes church members will work and pray together to develop a vision for the church, he wrote. He added that he personally will strive to bring the community closer together, and, in every aspect of his work, he will aim to help the church serve as a witness for Jesus.”
According to Halvorsen, church attendance and participation in ministry has declined since the onset of COVID-19. He plans to challenge the Collegedale church to strengthen its dedication to God.
“We in the West have such a rugged individualism, but that is not necessarily a strength when it comes to being what church was created by God for,” he wrote. “I will be calling the campus and church to something more. I will be calling us to greater unity and love. We must grow in our commitment to God, His cause and each other. And, frankly, the ‘each other’ part is a big part of His calling to us.
“I look forward to being with you soon SAU,” he continued. “I hope you will give me the chance to be your pastor. I would consider it a great honor. Through the journey of seeking God’s will about this call, I already know it’s what He is asking me to do. See you soon.”
Who is Halvorsen?
Halvorsen is the son of the well-known Seventh-day Adventist evangelist Ron Halvorsen Sr., who passed away in 2015. In a 2006 Southern Tidings article, Halvorsen wrote about his life and the life of his sister, Diane, as children of the well-known and well-traveled evangelist.
“Growing up Halvorsen meant living in every region of the country, in more states than I care to count,” he wrote. “ … It meant a life of serving God and caring for others.”
In the conference’s press release, Halvorsen said he came from a family that consistently incorporated prayer into its ministry. He and his wife have participated in a continent-wide prayer group for nearly three years, the release added.
Bridgett Massengill, a search committee member and head elder at Collegedale, is quoted in the release saying that Halvorsen has a “deep passion, a heartfelt passion for God. The kind that literally, when he spoke with the [search committee], when he spoke with the church board, there were tears in that room. His heart for Christ, his heart for our church, his heart to follow the lead that God has, with a servant leadership mindset, it was amazing to see.”
The North Cascade church’s website describes Buffy as not only Halvorsen’s partner for many decades but also his longtime associate in team ministry. Halvorsen and Buffy have two adult children: their daughter Stephanie, who is a counselor living in Washington state, and their son Ronnie and daughter-in-law Josie, both nurses, who, along with their three sons, live in California. His mother lives in Florida.
According to additional information on the website, Halvorsen was president of the Ohio Conference of Seventh-day Adventists before moving to Washington. He also has pastored College View Church at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska; Sligo SDA Church at Washington Adventist University (WAU) in Takoma Park, Maryland; and Keene SDA Church at Southwestern Adventist University in Keene, Texas, according to a WAU biography on the pastor.
According to Halvorsen’s Facebook profile, he studied at Union College and Andrews Theological Seminary at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, in the 1980s. In 2016, he received a Doctor in Ministry degree from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
The Search Process
In his email to the Accent, Halvorsen wrote that he was first asked if he would be willing to be considered for the Collegedale senior pastor position in June. Later that month, he met with the church’s search committee on Zoom, and in August, he met with the committee and church board in person. He officially accepted the position on Oct. 2.
He wrote that the process of learning about the position and eventually accepting it was a prayerful one.
“I am not one who feels like I know without a doubt one way or another if I haven’t had time to pray and think on it,” Halvorsen wrote. “If it’s not obvious to me, I say, ‘Go ahead and leave my name on the list.’ And that’s what I did. I’ve found that the journey will make it clear before it’s over.
“It was a long prayer process,” he continued. “Lots of wrestling, not so much with pastoring a college church again, [but with] how it would work for [my] family.”
According to Halvorsen, the last time he pastored a college church was almost 10 years ago at Union College. He accepted the call to return to a college campus because he believes God is leading him to Southern.
Massengill and Franklin Farrow, another search committee member, described the search process as Spirit-led, the conference’s press release stated.
“We stopped many times mid-meeting and had prayer to ask the Holy Spirit’s guidance,” Farrow said, “and the process was extremely spiritual.”
Massengill is especially appreciative of “the integrity and spirit of committee members” as they searched for a new lead pastor, according to the press release.
“Every individual person in that room expressed their opinions, their thoughts [and] listened to their own stakeholders that they were there to represent,” she is quoted as saying.
Southern President Ken Shaw, who also served on the search committee, wrote in an email to the Accent that he specifically appreciates Halvorsen’s love for young people and Adventist education.
“I am delighted that Pastor Halvorsen and his wife have accepted the call to come and serve,” Shaw wrote. “ … I know he will have an instant connection with our students, staff and faculty. I look forward to their arrival.”