Matt Chambers, pastor of South Whidbey Assembly, describes his first 25 years of service as abounding with a strong sense of community, yet replete with changes.
When he graduated from Northwestern University in 1987 with a degree in missions, the state religious organization asked him to come to South Whidbey to serve. He and his wife Barbara had no idea where Whidbey Island was.
When they arrived at the church, the congregation consisted of 12 people.
“We came there thinking we’d stay two years,” Chambers said. Two years of service are required to partake in overseas missions, which Chambers was eager to do.
“Then two years became five years,” he said.
At 10 years, Chambers said he asked God if that was the time to go overseas. He said he felt God had given him the heart to go overseas but was saying, “This is where I want you.”
Then 10 years became 25 years of community service and expanding and improving the church. The congregation will celebrate a quarter-century of Chambers’ service from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6 at the church, located at 5373 Maxwelton Road in Langley. The community is invited to attend.
When Chambers first joined the church, it was located in the small building in Clinton that now houses Cooper Automotive. In 1989, the church was relocated to Maxwelton Road.
The Chambers’ founded Island Christian Academy in 1990, where Barbara has taught for more than 20 years.
In 1994, Chambers started the Celebrate America annual public fireworks display at Freeland Park as a service to the community.
The South Whidbey community has also seen changes over the years.
“When I first came here, the standard church attire was a dress shirt and tie. Now, people wear whatever they want to wear, including me,” Chambers said.
Twenty-five years ago, there were about 1,500 youths in the community. That number increased to 2,300 but is now back to about 1,400, Chambers said.
“We feel that same impact. It means there’s less young families in general,” Chambers said.
There also was no cable TV or internet when Chambers first came to South Whidbey. Now, everyone is “on” all the time, Chambers said, adding that this impacts stress, marriages, finances and more.
People are busier in general, Chambers said. Twenty-five years ago, a regular church attendee went to church 50 Sundays out of the year. Now, that number has dipped to 30, Chambers said.
Regardless, Chambers has shaped the church into a community-centered organization. The goal is to create a church that is so meaningful to the community that even if the community doesn’t agree with its beliefs, they would miss the church if it disappeared, Chambers said.
“The church is so generous, whether they’re giving to Good Cheer or Helping Hand or orphans,” Chambers said. “The church has been great to our family.”
The Chambers have five children, Nathan, 27, Amey, 25, and Robin, 22, and adopted twins, Kelly and Kyle, 14, from Cambodia. With the twins, Chambers said the church was extremely helpful.
A unique aspect of South Whidbey churches is that they are all like family.
“We have a great working relationship with the churches on South Whidbey, so the camaraderie with the other pastors is a unique thing. We have this mutual support and camaraderie and friendship and you actually like each other and support each other. That’s not always been a reality, but it’s unique on South Whidbey,” Chambers said. He described the camaraderie as one of the highlights of the past 25 years.
The pastors studied the same Scriptures to teach in their churches for six weeks, then on the seventh week, they drew names out of a hat and preached at different churches. The pastors also get together monthly to pray.
“It’s really just praying for the community. Praying for businesses, praying for the school district, praying for the economic situation, praying for some of the families that are struggling, people that are battling chemical addictions,” Chambers said.
“Part of our idea behind churches is we want to be part of the community and we feel we are part of the community,” Chambers said.
South Whidbey Assembly has a booth at the Whidbey Island Fair each year to raise money to support orphans, they put on Celebrate America, they donate to the Good Cheer Food Bank and more. Chambers has embarked on short overseas missions to Uganda, Romania and other countries and has included other South Whidbey church members in these missions.
After 25 years at South Whidbey Assembly, Chambers has no plans to leave.
“Here’s where I’m at. I’m supposed to pray for the community,” Chambers said. He recited a Bible verse from Jeremiah 29:7: “And work for the peace and prosperity of the city where I sent you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, for its welfare will determine your welfare.”