A New Vision is Born
In 1993 the Azalea Garden Church celebrated its 60th Anniversary as a fellowship of believers. In its first sixty years, Azalea Garden distinguished itself as a congregation whose mission was synonymous with fulfilling the Great Commission. Fifteen years later, as Azalea Garden celebrates its 75th Anniversary, the mission hasn’t changed, but the vision for accomplishing that mission has continued to evolve in an effort to address the diverse needs of an ever-changing culture both here at home and around the world. Part of this process was the decision to plant a Hispanic satellite congregation as a way of reaching out to a growing Hispanic population in the community. In 1997 Senior Pastor Aubrey Maye set forth Pastor Carlos and Teresa Ramos to lead Azalea Garden’s first Hispanic satellite congregation in Norfolk. Under the leadership of Pastor Ramos, Iglesia de Dios (Adonai) has become a thriving Hispanic congregation with an average weekly attendance in excess of 175 people, and has gone on to plant two addition satellite congregations in the greater Richmond area. The Adonai church plant was Azalea Garden’s first successful attempt to establish a permanent satellite congregation, as the coming years would demonstrate; it would not be the last.
Possess the Land
In the late 90’s another part of Azalea Garden’s vision for ministry began to come into focus. In an effort to expand the physical plant to accommodate a growing ministry, a parcel of land was purchased on Azalea Garden Road directly across the street from the church. After some time it became apparent that the purchased land could be sold at a sufficient profit which would enable the purchase a larger tract of land and thus, the property was sold and the search for a more suitable parcel of land began. After months of searching, a nine acre parcel of land was located on Centerville Turnpike in Virginia Beach. Though the task of moving the Norfolk based congregation nearly ten miles to a new location in Virginia Beach seemed daunting, the church was confident that God had opened a new vista for expansive future growth. With proceeds from a capital stewardship campaign, Possess the Land, and with funds from the recent sale of the property adjacent to the Norfolk campus, Azalea Garden took yet another visionary step of faith and purchased the Centerville property.
Build the Temple
In the fall of 2000 the church began a second stewardship campaign for the purpose of raising funds for the first phase of construction at the Centerville location. In January 2001 funds from the Build the Temple campaign started coming in as parishioners made their first contributions in this three year campaign. During this time, construction on the first phase of the project began and on May 21, 2001, Azalea Garden Church held its first service at the new property on Centerville Turnpike in Virginia Beach. The first phase consisted of a large multi-purpose sanctuary equipped with an attached kitchen, an educational wing and a few administrative offices. With the completion of this first phase came the beginning of a new chapter in the life of Azalea Garden. For sixty-eight years Azalea Garden found its home base in Norfolk, but in 2001 the church now found its home in Virginia Beach.
As the church made the move to the Centerville location, the decision was made to maintain the properties in Norfolk as they were the long-term home of Azalea Garden Christian School. Within a short time after making the move to Virginia Beach, the vision was birthed for a return to the Beamon Road location in the form of a second satellite congregation. In September 2001 long-term Youth Pastor Larry and Becky McMasters returned to the Norfolk campus to serve as pastor of the Azalea Garden Church of God Lighthouse congregation. A small core group from the Virginia Beach congregation returned with the McMasters and from that group a second satellite congregation was born. It was also during this period that a second Hispanic congregation, Vino Nuevo, was founded at the Centerville Campus under the leadership of Sergio and Marcella Matviuk. For many years Azalea Garden has been known as the mother Church of God congregation in Tidewater, the Lighthouse and Vino Nuevo congregations are just the latest to spring forth from this historic church.
The addition of the Lighthouse congregation was not the last expansion of Azalea Garden’s vision for ministry. In May 2001 long-term staff member of AGCS, Bonnie Beninati was named as the church’s first Children’s Pastor. Later that year, the Azalea Garden Christian Preschool was founded at the Norfolk campus under the direction of Ann Simmons. Two years later, a second preschool (Centerville Preschool Academy) was started at the Centerville location with Judy Owens serving as director. Both preschools continue to serve as vital outreach ministries of the church to pre-K children and their families in our community.
Another significant expansion of ministry that took place in the early part of this decade was the intensified commitment placed upon world missions. For decades Azalea Garden had demonstrated stalwart advocacy and financial support for world missions’ projects and causes around the globe. Shortly after the transition to the Centerville location, Pastor Maye saw the opportunity to expand the church’s commitment to missions by transforming what had historically been a weekend world mission’s conference into a week-long event. This would provide more opportunity for the congregation to interface with the missionaries supported by the church and would assist the missionaries in refreshing themselves and getting even more connected with their supporters. The results of this decision have been astounding. The number of missionaries supported by the church has increased substantially and the overall financial support saw tremendous gains as well. Short-term mission trips increased in number and in scope to include an annual outreach in Honduras known as Christmas for the Children. Today in 2008, more than twenty missionaries receive regular financial support from Azalea Garden, and in the fiscal year 2007-08 only six Church of God congregations in the entire movement contributed more funds to world missions than the Azalea Garden Church. Indeed God has blessed this great church to be a blessing both here at home in Hampton Roads and to the uttermost parts of the earth.
Enlarge the House
In the fall of 2003 the church decided that it was time to begin the second phase of construction at the Centerville campus and with that decision came the third capital stewardship campaign, Enlarge the House. Enlarge the House as its name implies was designed to raise funds for the purpose of enlarging the building structure to include a new Fellowship Hall, Children’s Center, Benevolence Warehouse, and more classrooms. It is also important to note that this expansion also provided the church with a long awaited Prayer Center. The Prayer Center is a room that is dedicated for the purpose of both corporate and private prayer. It is furnished with numerous kneeling benches, cushions, and reminders on the walls of items that need the diligent prayers of God’s people.
Enlarge the House was a very successful stewardship campaign that marked the period of time between December 2003 to December 2006. This period of time was a significant period in the life of Azalea Garden due to its success, but it was also significant because it marked a period of expansion and refinement of roles on the pastoral staff. Staff positions became more specialized and portfolios more narrowly defined to one or two areas instead of multiple areas of responsibility. This restructuring included the addition of the church’s first full-time Pastor of Worship and the Arts, Lorne Crabtree. Although this role had been filled by full-time staff members before, Pastor Crabtree was the minister of music who was able focus solely upon the area of worship and the arts. Another significant addition to the pastoral staff was the creation of an Executive Pastor position. In August 2006, Rodney Vickers was installed into this newly created role. As Executive Pastor, Pastor Vickers became responsible for the day to day operations of the church and oversaw the pastoral and office staffs. This addition was made in order to allow Pastor Maye to focus more exclusively on prayer and study, leadership development, and missions. If the earlier part of the decade seemed more focused on developing ministry extensions of the church such as satellite congregations and daycare centers, the years 2003-2006 seemed more like a time of preparation within the mother church for a future that included growth at home as well as abroad. Azalea Garden has always enjoyed a rich heritage of God’s faithfulness, this period of preparation was an intentional effort to ensure that this great heritage would be passed along to the next generation.
From Generation to Generation
In the fall of 2006 God placed a burden on Pastor Maye’s heart for the next generation at Azalea Garden. In response to that burden, the church entered into a fourth capital stewardship campaign known as Touch Tomorrow Today. The vision for Touch Tomorrow Today was simple. The current generation of adults in the church must make investments of their time, their talents, and their treasure in the next generation if the future of Azalea Garden was to exceed the brilliance of its past. In short, the church made a significant financial commitment to underwrite the church payment, the Children’s Ministry, the Worship and Arts Ministry, and structural improvements at both the Norfolk and Centerville campuses in an effort to invest in the church’s future.
Another step that was taken to impact the next generation was an increased emphasis on prayer and the need for revival. In 2007 this emphasis began with periodic Sunday evening prayer services in the prayer center. As many as fifty or more prayer warriors would gather together to pray for God’s Spirit to be poured out on the sons and daughters of the church in an atmosphere of revival. Beginning in January 2008 these prayer services became a regularly scheduled weekly service and congregates of all ages have continued to come each Sunday evening to the prayer room to meet with God. From these prayer services the Lord has continued to bless Azalea Garden. Weekly attendance at the morning worship service has steadily grown, and this year, 2008, is on schedule to be a record-breaking tithe year for Azalea Garden. Souls have been saved and lives have been touched as a result of this commitment to prayer, but the fullness of what God has in store for Azalea Garden is still on the horizon. With this commitment to prayer and to seeking God’s presence, it can truly be said that for Azalea Garden, the best is yet to come.
The Changing of the Guard
A major area for planning for the future at Azalea Garden was the hiring of a new Executive Pastor. Rodney & Angela Vickers came to us in 2006. They served with excellence under the leadership of Pastor Maye. Five years would pass and Pastor Maye felt the Lord saying that it was time to pass the torch of leadership to Pastor Rodney. On Sunday, January 24, 2011 Rodney & Angela Vickers, along with their boys, Andrew and Will, were set forth as our new Senior Pastor and family. To this day they provide great leadership to the family of believers here at Azalea Garden Church.
For seventy-five years Azalea Garden Church has served as a vital part of the advance of the kingdom of God in Tidewater and indeed the world. Many churches who reach this milestone in their history have long since settled in to a pattern that is resistant to change and innovation. Azalea Garden is not such a church. At age seventy-five Azalea Garden remains a life-giving congregation who simultaneously seeks to expand the kingdom both inside and outside of its borders. While it is true that Azalea Garden does have a rich heritage in which it can be proud, there is no desire for this great church to rest on its laurels. With the mandate to reach the world for Christ, Azalea Garden remains committed to exhausting every resource in an effort to be faithful to the Great Commission. From this deep missional commitment, Azalea Garden’s vision for the future springs forth, and new life for this historic congregation remains a present reality.