By Barbara Simpson, Freelance Writer
Rev. Dr. Sam Vassel - File
"I REMEMBER with fondness, my ordination sermon in 1984 at Holiness Christian Church in Jamaica and I have aspired to use the topic which was 'God's man in God's place will be taken care of by God's resources' as my motto, because I am always available to do what God wants me to do.
"Incidentally, my parents were also ordained ministers in the Holiness Christian Church."
Those are weighty words and they were spoken by Rev. Dr. Samuel C. Vassel, pastor of Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene.
Vassel was born in Brighton, St. Elizabeth, but grew up in Black River. He attended Black River Primary School and then Cornwall College. After graduating from Cornwall College, he went onto the University of the West Indies and studied Botany and Chemistry and in 1978, he graduated with a B.Sc. in Natural Sciences. Between 1978 and 1979, Vassel taught Biology and General Science at St. Jago. After St. Jago, he went to the Jamaica Theological Seminary for one year as a special student, as his curriculum was designed for an easier transition.
Vassel received the Billy Graham Centre Scholarship to Wheaton College Graduate School in Illinois, where he received his M.A. in Theological Studies, New Testament. This scholarship is only attainable at Wheaton because it is the alma mater of the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham. While at Wheaton, he won the Tenney Award for New Testament Studies. Vassel said, "I was a successful student at Wheaton and graduated in 1983. The title of my Master's Thesis at Wheaton was on the socio-political concerns of the gospel in Luke."
Rev. Vassel said that as soon as he graduated, "I returned to Jamaica immediately because I never thought I would return to live in this country." He remarked, "One should never say never!"
He taught full-time at the Jamaica Theological Seminary beginning in 1986, where he was the senior lecturer in the Department of New Testament when he left. In 1990, Vassel became Pastor of Bethune Avenue Holiness Christian Church, which is in Rose Town, the deep inner-city of Kingston.
"In 1994, I became very interested in wanting to know the reason there was such an absence of men from the church, so I enrolled in a programme at the United Theological College of the West Indies, which was run jointly by Columbia Theological Seminary in Atlanta, Georgia, where I did my Doctor of Ministry degree. My thesis was 'Understanding and addressing the absence of men from the Jamaican church. In 1997, I graduated from Columbia Theological Seminary."
Vassel joined the staff of Inter-Schools/Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship (IS/VCF) working in the schools in Jamaica for seven years. He was on the staff from 1979-1986. In 1988, he became Bishop of the Holiness Christian Church.
Gleaner: You said after graduating from Wheaton you could not wait to leave for home. How did you end up returning and have for over two years been the pastor of Bronx Bethany?
Vassel: In 1992, I returned to the US to raise funds for my church, Bethune Avenue. A friend of mine, who is also a member of this church, introduced me to the church and I was asked to tell the congregation what we were doing in Jamaica at Bethune Avenue. That visit was the beginning of my association with Bronx Bethany Church of the Nazarene."
After many visits, Vassel was invited to be the successor of founder and first pastor of the church, Rev. Dr. V. Seymour Cole (brother of the late Rev. Curtis Cole, pastor of the Calvary Gospel Assembly, St. Andrew). The church is 39 years old and Vassel is the second pastor. It could have been higher intervention, which brought these two stalwarts together
year-old David, May 2000. In September 2000, Vassel was installed officially. At the ceremony, Mr. Hermes Carabello, a staff member from the Bronx Borough President's office, said that he had never seen a smoother transition from one pastor to the other, especially as Pastor Cole was the founder.
A GREAT CHURCH
There are two associate pastors: Rev. Carlene Reynolds, associate pastor for children and Rev. Althea Taylor, associate pastor for administration and youth.
Gleaner: Are you glad you accepted the pastorship?
Vassel: I am very happy I came because I think we have a vital role to play in the community and in the church here in the Bronx. The church is growing in such a way that on November 4, 2001 we added another service on Sundays which begins at 7:45 a.m. Also, our figures have indicated that our average attendance has increased by 200 on a regular basis.
Vassel said they have the signature work of Rev. Cole, "so we know we must carry on the legacy we have inherited." God has been good to us.
At Bronx Bethany, there is a passion to serve the Northeast Bronx. Vassel said: "In the Kingdom of God, Christ said the greatest among you are those who serve. We would like to be a great church because we love to serve. We have a passion for men and youths. We have committed ourselves to respond practically and compassionately to human needs and we are in the process of establishing Bronx Bethany Community Corporation through which we will minister to the needs of the community.
"By the autumn of 2003 we hope to (a) host a charter school; (b) to run an after school programme and (c) to have full established what we will call The Dorothy May Cole Family Service Centre after Rev. Coles' wife. This centre will deal with counselling and support services for the family. Other activities are also in the offing."
There is a vibrant growing youth programme at the church. The Nazarene Youth International is held every Friday nights for youth. There are groups of children ages 8-11 and teens ages 12 through young adulthood.
Mrs. Vassel is a scientist with a B.Sc. in Natural Sciences from the UWI. Before returning to New York she worked at the Scientific Research Council (SRC) in Jamaica where she published the Scientific Research Journal. One of the programmes in which Mrs. Vassel is extremely active at the church is the Married Fellowship. This programme is geared to help married couples strengthen their relationship, iron out difficulties and anything that would weaken the marriage. Mrs. Vassel is also the care group leader, a group which is the main means of pastoral care.
Rev. Dr. Vassel said his wife's strengths and optimism enabled the family to make an otherwise harried transition to a very worry-free one from Jamaica to New York. At that point, Rev. Althea Taylor interjected with "a nicer woman you can never meet and she is so humble."
Behind the efficient running of any organisation and in this case the church, there must be a conscientious, loyal efficient and effective staff. The Associate Pastors and Rev. Dr. Vassel are blessed with a secretary who is quiet but works efficiently and effectively, is courteous and always greets visitors with a beaming smile. She is Ms. Colette Campbell. She makes sure appointments, meetings, visits are kept.