Abner Campos will never forget the last day of his Theology 1 class with Dr. Thomas Toews. At the end of the class, the professor told his students to remember just one thing. Campos expected to hear something about theology or religion. “Instead Dr. Toews said, ‘Be a life-long learner,’” said Campos. “That spirit is something I’ve carried through my ministry for the last five years.”
Campos brings this love of learning to his work as pastor at Volunteer Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Seattle, Washington. He said, “I believe that it is the role of the pastor to continually learn with the church and for the church, to interpret scripture as well as interpret culture. We should learn about certain topics that the church is struggling with and help the community to navigate through some of those difficult waters.”
Campos and his wife Debbie (Pinto) both graduated from Union in 2017. The four years that Campos spent studying at the college were made especially busy with his work all around campus. Not only was he a teaching assistant in the Religion Program, but he also worked with other academic programs and in Campus Ministries.
“Union gave me the opportunity to lead in an environment that was both spiritual and academic,” said Campos. “That atmosphere allowed me to flourish. I found myself struggling with a bunch of great ideas, and my mentors at Union were great voices in my life who were formative in helping me process my faith. Being able to verbally process ideas with them and having them point me to resources or help me find an answer was incredibly valuable. To this day, I’m kind of a bookworm when it comes to theology. I still love learning and reading about it.”
However, Campos’ education was not confined to the purely academic. Every fall, Union sends its senior theology majors to an Adventist church where they gain practical experience under the mentorship of a senior pastor. Campos was assigned to the Brighton Seventh-day Adventist Church in Brighton, Colorado. “At Brighton, I got to work hard and learn well from a great mentor,” he said. “I gained lots of experience.”
In fact, Campos was asked to preach on his very first week in Brighton, when the pastor he was serving with had to travel out of state unexpectedly. He said, “When I arrived, the pastor told me, ‘I’m driving out of state right now; you’re preaching this week. You’re on.’ That was a moment of learning how to swim the hard way.”
Campos quickly gained a sense of what it meant to lead a church, instead of simply assisting. He ran meetings, visited members of the congregation in the hospital and helped at the local church school. He credits his practicum semester with giving him the experience to make the transition to full-time ministry easier. “That semester was really great for lessening the shock factor once I was out in my career,” said Campos. “There wasn’t a huge surprise about what ministry was, because I had already been doing it in college.”
Campos carries his experiences at Union College with him as he and his church develop their ministry in the city of Seattle. “My time at Union was a great balance between rich biblical theology and rich practice serving people,“ he said. “I learned from the difficult and challenging moments, but also from the beautiful and redemptive ones.”