Calvary Chapel Newport News Celebrates 25 Years of Unity & Diversity
Story by Carmel Flippen
Photos by Tom Price
On Sunday October 4th, 2020, Calvary Chapel Newport News (CCNN) celebrates 26 years of ministry. This article, which first ran issue 83, in the Spring of 2020, recalls the celebration of CCNN’s 25th anniversary.
In August 1994, a church member walked into Tony Clark’s office at Calvary Chapel Vista, CA, where Tony was an associate pastor. “The Lord gave me a word for you,” the man announced, pointing Tony to Acts 18:9-10, where God encourages Paul to speak boldly, “…for I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10b). Weeks earlier, Tony had committed to begin what would become Calvary Chapel Newport News (CCNN), VA. He remembered, “I began to pray, All right, Lord, You want me to reach many people. So, when God began to bless our church several years later, I was humbled but not shocked.”
Pastor Tony Clark’s grandson and wife Jenise look on from the back of the stage during the church’s 25th anniversary celebration.
CCNN’s 25th anniversary celebration in October 2019 evidenced God’s faithfulness to many prayers. The days-long celebration included most of its 3,000 regular attendees, as well as many of the tens of thousands it has reached through the years as part of a military community. More amazing than CCNN’s numerical growth, however, is its growth in diversity. Its congregation is a melting pot of races, generations, different cultures, and 30-plus nationalities. While stories of racial and cultural division fill American headlines, CCNN seeks to exemplify Christ-like love large enough to bridge any gap. “Jesus said, ‘By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another’ (John 13:35),” Tony testified. “When people see all of us from different cultures loving on each other, it’s a little reflection of heaven.”
Tony Clark fellowships with members of the multiracial, multicultural congregation.
Moved to Minister
Fittingly, Tony’s walk with God began halfway around the world as a young Marine stationed in Okinawa, Japan. During his three-day onboarding process, Smitty, the man checking him in, unofficially shared the Gospel with him personally. In two months, Tony was teaching a Bible study; in nine, God revealed that he would someday be a senior pastor.
Meanwhile, God worked on his wife Jenise’s heart as she remained stateside with their infant daughter. She accepted Christ after his return. They joined an all-black Pentecostal church in Oceanside, CA, where Jenise became the choir director and Tony the associate pastor. Though they loved their church, it was through KWAVE radio that Tony felt spiritually fed. The Clarks passed Calvary Chapel Vista on each commute to church—one Sunday, they decided to visit. “There were five black people—Jenise and I were two of them,” Tony remembered. “When black people go anywhere, we’re looking for people who look like us. That tells us it’s OK for us to be there. But this white man came up to me after the service and made me feel so welcome that I didn’t care that there weren’t people who looked like me.” It was difficult to leave their first church, and some there felt betrayed that the Clarks were attending a “white” church, but the Clarks thrived under CC Vista’s teaching and community. Two years later, the senior pastor began giving them ministry opportunities. “After I was faithful in small things, the Lord opened the door to more,” Tony explained. As that happened, he noticed CC Vista’s African-American attendance increasing: “When I did announcements, that changed the game. When I came on staff, again that totally changed the game.”
CC Newport News’ (CCNN) congregation is a mix of all ages, races, nationalities, and colors.
In 1994, Tony visited the Virginia Beach, VA, church plant of CC Vista friend Joey Buran. While there, Tony taught a Bible study for 15 people in Newport News—they had been driving over an hour each way to receive the verse-by-verse teaching which had transformed Tony’s life. “At the end, I told them I’d be back to start a church next month.” He laughed, “Then I had to return and tell my wife.”
Though understandably taken aback, “I got on board,” said Jenise. “Moving to Virginia felt like being in a barren land. I didn’t know anyone, didn’t have KWAVE, and now I’m looked at as the pastor’s wife? What does that even mean? I dug into the Word like never before. I felt God was saying, ‘Don’t worry about people’s expectations, just do what I’ve called you to do.’ I learned that my place was to be there for my family; anything I was able to do for the church was extra. That desert place was a sweet time with the Lord; I would never give it up.”
David Guzik, pastor of Calvary Chapel Santa Barbara, CA, is warmly welcomed at the anniversary service.
The Bible study doubled in size by Tony’s return, and for years the church grew happily and steadily. In 2010, however, CCNN hit a crisis. Ongoing conflict between Tony and some of his leadership team resulted in 40% of the church leaving. Tony hit his breaking point the day he found Jenise sobbing on their living room couch, having received a one-line email from another church leader announcing he was leaving, too. The two of them had served together since CCNN’s inception.
The group Katinas highlighted the musical worship.
“My wife is really tough,” Tony declared. “We’ve been together since we were 14—that was the first time I saw her cry. I’m a Marine; I don’t understand the word ‘quit.’ But I was at the point where I wanted to tell God, You want this church, You can have it. Looking back, God used that time to discipline me on things I had grown slack on. God is concerned more with the man than the ministry, but I was no longer doing the things that cause internal growth. Ministry was becoming more about me than the Lord, and He had to correct that. I sensed Him saying, ‘No, I’m not going to let you quit. You’re going to take this spanking like a man.’ After Jacob wrestled with God, he walked with a limp. That limp was a reminder never to wrestle with God again; 2010 was when I got my limp. Before then, I was more Marine than I was shepherd. I was disciplined and expected everyone else to be. I am a different pastor now, more compassionate towards people’s shortcomings because I see I have them as well. Had I left, I wouldn’t have learned from God’s discipline, and would’ve missed out on all He is doing now.”
Jenise Clark (right) thanks the women who put on the event at CCNN.
Tony was given a copy of R.T. Kendall’s Total Forgiveness by one of his new associate pastors, a former senior pastor himself who sensed Tony’s lingering hurt. “That book helped me forgive and seek reconciliation with those who wounded our church trying to get to me. Once the healing took place, God was able to bless our church. From 2011-12, we grew by 1,000 people.”
Unity from Diversity
Calvary Chapel Newport News is even more diverse than it seems at first glance. “You see a black majority, but if you talk to that person, they may be from Africa or speak Spanish,” Tony commented. Its diversity stems partly from the nearby immigration lottery office and numerous military bases. Mostly, however, it is because CCNN treats diversity as a goal to pursue, not an obstacle to overcome. In CCNN’s Calvary Connections class, Tony tells new members, “Some of you come from a background where people are swinging from the chandeliers in church—we need to bring it down a little. Some of you are so serious, if someone claps, you think they’re Pentecostal. You need to bring it up a little. We meet in the middle.
Members of Tony and Jenise’s family raise their worship to the Lord.
“The reason that 11 a.m. is still the most segregated hour in America is because people build their churches around their culture, and therefore only their culture comes,” Tony testified. “If you’re surrounded by people with the same situation and struggles as you, you can become blind to what’s going on with those who don’t look like you. But there’s no black or white section in heaven. Healing for our land has to come from God’s house, not the White House.”
…There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all. Colossians 3:11
Michael Banks grew up in an all-black charismatic church. “Coming to CCNN for the first time, I dressed in a three-piece suit, mentally prepared for the same church experience I had everywhere else. Only it was not like anywhere else I’d gone.” Different clothes, races, and music; and deeper teaching—Michael’s intrigue overcame his discomfort. Initially he found what he thought of as “white” worship style unimpressive; but after soaking in Tony’s teaching, he realized the song lyrics repeated truths he was learning about God. In his previous church, he explained, “worship was about making you feel something; music was the gateway to an experience with God. At CCNN, I learned worship is also about understanding who God is.”
Tony Clark is encouraged by his granddaughter Bella before the dedication of the new children’s center and 2,000-seat sanctuary.
As CCNN’s worship pastor since 2010, Michael utilizes the strengths of both his backgrounds. He elaborated, “Our worship intentionally covers a wide range of music —gospel to contemporary Christian to traditional hymns —and incorporates different styles and languages. This is intended to improve the experience I had when I came to CCNN but, more importantly, to reflect Pastor Tony’s heart for the whole church—using diversity to incite unity.
“Unity despite diversity is a poor process. It doesn’t look to develop oneself or highlight what is useful about those who are different from you. Unity from diversity celebrates the beauty of differences. Where I’m lacking, you’re filling up. It’s not just being around different people; it’s being intentional. Sit down to a meal—that’s what Jesus did. Are there things that need to change? Let’s change them. Are there things we need to incorporate? Let’s explore that.”
Tony opens the new facility with the help of his granddaughters. Many of those involved throughout the years crowded around behind.
Michael often sees the process that CCNN’s leadership seeks for the whole church reflected in his own marriage to Mata, an American Samoan. During their engagement, Mata tried to get his attention in a crowd with a whistle-like call used in her culture. “I was enraged,” Michael recollected. “’Do you not know my name?!’ I said. I made an assumption, which is a big problem we have in the church. We make assumptions about what others do, and assume our way is the one way to do it. To me, whistling means you’re not important enough to speak to directly. To Mata, it was a term of endearment—something reserved for family. Now I see that whistle as a beautiful part of who she is.”
The Garden of Eden’s serpent is one of many Bible reminders as people tour the new children’s area.
CCNN’s leadership understands this movement from judgment to celebration is crucial in their mission to the world. Michael continued, “In America, it’s typically the black/white divide. The black experience and the white experience have something to offer each other if we’d open our hearts, seek a discussion, and love one another in a way that celebrates our differences. The Bible itself proclaims that in all cultures, through history, we find our unity in Jesus. It’s encouraging that when God’s kingdom is established, He’s not going to homogenize everything. Instead, the variety of people, languages, and cultures will be an expression of His greatness. Our heart as a church is to use diversity not only as a means to unity, but a way to glorify God. We want to be a reflection of the worldwide Church, and the future Church God delights in.”
“[You] have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Revelation 5:9b
Tony shows Pastor David and Marie Rosales of Calvary Chapel Chino Valley, CA, the entrance to the children’s center. Goliath’s feet guard the entrance. Behind that, children can climb into the belly of the giant fish that swallowed Jonah.
The children’s ministry performs at the celebration.
CCNN’s worship team rejoices as they sing praises unto God.
The new sanctuary holds more than 1,200. CCNN is a melting pot of races, generations, and cultures from 30-plus nationalities. The church seeks to exemplify Christ-like love in its diversity.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version.
© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.