Leonard Santucci marks ten years as Vernon Temple pastor
The Reverend Leonard Santucci is celebrating a significant milestone – ten years as pastor at Vernon Temple AME Church.
Last Sunday, Vernon Temple held a special service to mark the occasion. Dr Santucci credits the achievement to being a part of God’s plan, as he didn’t see himself pastoring in Bermuda after leaving the island in 2005 to take a role as pastor of the St Paul AME Church in East Orange, New Jersey.
Dr Santucci recalled being assigned to Vernon Temple on the June 15, 2013. “The assignment was made at our headquarters in Philadelphia on a Saturday,” he said. “Those pastors who were within immediate travelling distance were able to go to their assignments for the very next day. However, because mine was in Bermuda, I was able to fly in the following Saturday.
“I flew in on June 22, I met with stewards and trustees on Saturday evening, we had a time of sharing, a time of prayer, had dinner together and I was in the pulpit for the first service at 7am.”
As a pastor of 32 years’ experience with four churches, Dr Santucci was “accustomed’ to preaching two sermons each Sunday, at the 7am and 10am services.
Over ten years, Vernon Temple has experienced many changes, from the physical property being cleared, allowing for more parking and fellowship events such as barbecues, to congregational changes.
Covid-19 contributed to a “natural decline” in attendance; Vernon Temple now operates one service for a 9am start. That is one of several changes Dr Santucci has seen at the church.
"We're reporting an average of 375 people, but during the ten years I have been here, we have experienced several deaths just as we have experienced several births,“ Dr Santucci said.
“We have experienced a transition in membership as some have transferred, and we have received some as well, but overall I would say the actual number is the same.
“I think one of the greatest changes is people have probably been challenged to strengthen their relationship with God.
“Sometimes, people make the mistake of following other people and then sometimes end up being led astray. I'm big on what I call personal faith and practical faith. Because I believe the individual should be able to foster a relationship with God for themselves.
“A pastor should not have to order your steps or dictate your every move. They ought to be able to encourage you in your personal spiritual growth and development.”
Thinking back over the challenges of pastoring a congregation for a decade, Dr Santucci said: “I would argue that for most pastors, their greatest challenge in pastoral ministry is helping people to embrace the reality of the truth.
“Everybody is not prepared to accept the truth, no matter how real or practical you make it out to be. And I have often said even in the confines of the church, the house of God, for some people, it is easier to lie to them.
“They would walk away happy, [with the] lie, but the moment you tell them the gospel truth, some become challenged, some become adversarial, so trying to get everybody on the same page is not easy, no matter how practical you try to make it.
“And so I would argue at Vernon Temple, we’ve seen several highs and lows, but at the end of the day, folk have come to grips with the reality of the truth.”
Asked about the most rewarding aspects of pastoring over the last decade, he said: “There are multiple. Seeing people receive Christ as Saviour and Lord of their life is one. Weddings and baptisms are significant. Ministering to people during their greatest moments of despair and helping them to reaffirm and renew their faith even through a death experience.
“For some families, the loss of a loved one will constitute their greatest crisis, and when you can come along beside them and link arms of faith together, walk together, uplift them, reaffirm them, and reassure them that the Lord will see them through, it’s a tremendous ministry.”
Although Dr Santucci prefers to celebrate others rather than himself, Vernon Temple organised a special service to commemorate the ten-year milestone in ministry.
Dr Santucci recalled the day's events. “We did have guests, we had the Woman’s Day Choir singing, we had liturgical dancers, members of my family and extended family.
“And there were people who normally worship in their own houses [ and other fellowships] who thought it not robbery to come and to be with us. That was a blessing.
“My 91-year-old mother was in attendance. Glenn Bascome, who led me to Christ some 43 years ago, was present and extended a tribute. They had a special programme with expressions of gratitude. All of that was very touching.”
As for the next ten years, Dr Santucci, a published author and active member in various political and community endeavours, hopes to one day return to the US and continue writing and publishing books and teaching future ministers.